The Adoption of Children Act 1928 became law in July 1929 and the first legal adoption in Victoria was registered in October of that year.
Before that time unofficial, de facto adoptions, which were not recognised in law, were sometimes arranged by both Government and non-government organisations, as well as by individuals (most notably midwives, as well as solicitors).
Donella Jaggs identifies the first reference to 'official quasi-adoption' in the 1869 Annual Report of the Department for Industrial and Reformatory Schools. She writes that with the introduction of boarding out from the 1870s, 'quasi adoption' became more desirable for the Victorian government, as it would provide 'free homes for children who would otherwise be long-term costs'.
Voluntary and charitable organisations, such as the Victorian Infant Asylum founded in 1877, also organised adoptions, long before the passage of the 1928 legislation.
Private adoptions organised by charitable organisations came under more scrutiny with the passage of Infant Life Protection legislation in 1890 and 1907, which required the registration of adoptive parents. Information about adoptions can sometimes be found in Infant Life Protection records.
The Neglected Children's Department declared in its Annual Report for 1907: 'We feel that it is a deplorable thing that children can be disposed of in the easy manner now existing - through daily newspaper advertisement - in many cases no care being taken by the person arranging the adoption as to the class of mother or home the child is going to.'
Jaggs writes of the growing movement in favour of adoption legislation, that would provide all parties with 'secrecy, safety and stability'. She writes of the Act's effect in Victoria:
'Voluntary organisations responded enthusiastically, since the Act did appear to advantage all parties. It advantaged adopters by giving them security of tenure. It advantaged mothers of illegitimate children by offering them the certainty that their children would become permanent members of good families and that their own guilty secret would be kept. It advantaged children by giving them security and most advantages of legitimacy. It advantaged the charitable agencies, because it enabled them to develop a prestigious and satisfying service which extended their work with destitute women and children. It also appeared, at least to some enthusiasts, to offer a means of reducing the number of slum-dwellers.'
The 1928 Act for the first time provided for the transfer of parental rights, duties, obligations and liabilities to adoptive parents and offered secrecy, safety and stability to the child and the adoptive parents.
People seeking information about adoptions should therefore bear the year 1929 in mind. Because of the unofficial nature of adoption before that time, there are generally no records that can be called 'adoption records'. Researchers may, however, locate information or clues in other records, such as records of state wardship, fostering, boarding-out, court records, and maintenance records and in printed material such as the Police Gazettes. Information may also be available from non-government organisations which are or have been involved in child welfare and adoption.
The Adoption Act 1964 banned all private adoptions. From this time, organisations had to be registered as approved adoption agencies under Victorian legislation.
The 1984 Adoption Act was a significant shift in adoption policy in Victoria. The 1984 Act focused on the needs of adopted children, and enshrined a child's right to access information about his or her family of origin. The Hon. Pauline Toner (who died in 1989) was an important figure in the introduction of this legislation to the Victorian Parliament.
A four-year national project into the history of adoption commenced in 2010 (The Search for Family: A Social and Political History of Adoption in Australia).
04 August 2023
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000155
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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