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Australian Capital Territory - Glossary Term

Neglected Child (1905 - 1986)


A neglected child was defined in various ways depending on the legislation applicable at the time. As a result, it can sometimes be hard to tell what the word neglected means in government and church records. The first categories of neglect in the laws of New South Wales (which applied in the ACT) included being found begging, wandering, living with thieves or prostitutes or classified as uncontrollable.


While the Australian Capital Territory was transferred to the Commonwealth by the state of New South Wales in 1911 (two years prior to the naming of Canberra as the national capital in 1913), NSW legislation remained in force and continued to be administered by the authorities of the state provided that all revenue received in and related soley to the territory belonged to the Commonwealth. This meant that the definition of a neglected child specified by the Neglected Children and Juvenile offenders Act 1905 (NSW) applied to the territory.

The Neglected Children and Juvenile offenders Act 1905 provided for action to be taken for the care and protection of children who were not provided with 'proper' food, clothing or care and accommodation, or who were found to be begging in a public place or to be living or associating with women engaged in prostitution or people considered to be reputed thieves.

The definition of a neglected child was amended by the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Ordinance 1949 which added that children could be considered neglected and subject to action if they were found to be destitute or 'subject to bad associations or moral danger.'

Children could also be considered neglected if they were not attending school regularly, if their parents were thought 'not fit to retain them in their care,' or if the children were believed to be under 'incompetent or inproper guardianship'. The definition applied to children whose parents were thought to be either 'drunkards,' 'insane or dead' and to those who appeared to have 'no lawful means of support' or 'fixed place of abode.' The Ordinance of 1949 was repealed by the Child Welfare Ordinance 1957 after which the legal definition of a neglected child remained the same.

The Children's Services Ordinance 1986 abolished procedures which resulted in children considered 'in need of care' being charged with a criminal offence such as neglect. The Ordinance reflected a major shift in thinking around approaches to children, introducing offences for the abuse of children along with the requirement of compulsory reporting of abuse. The definition of a child considered 'in need of care' differs considerably to the definition applied by the legal term 'neglected child.'

Repealed by Children and Young People Act 1999.

(Taken from the Neglected Child and Juvenile Offenders Ordinance 1949 Explanatory Memorandum, and the Children's Services Ordinance 1986 Explanatory Memorandum, )

Related Legislation


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: Parry, Naomi, 'Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act 1905, New South Wales', in Find & Connect New South Wales, Commonwealth of Australia, 2011,

Prepared by: Naomi Parry