'Boarding out' means fostering children in private homes and was and remains the preferred system of care for dependent children. Under the boarding out system, government agencies paid foster parents a fee - the boarding out allowance - which was usually around five shillings a week but could be more for babies or children needing extra support. From 1896 the mothers of destitute children could receive a half-rate of the boarding out allowance, if they were considered 'deserving'.
Boarding out was introduced in New South Wales after widespread criticism about the way destitute and neglected children were treated, by being massed in large institutions such as the Roman Catholic Orphan School, the Protestant Orphan School and the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children. Boarding out was seen as a positive improvement, that provided 'waifs and strays' with a fresh start, freed from the monotony of the barracks but also from the influences of their own families, which were seen to be damaging.
In 1879 a Boarding Out Society was formed to 'experiment' with removing children from institutions and placing them in the homes of working class people, for a fee. The members of the Boarding Out Society argued that this method of caring for destitute children provided a new family for the children and was far preferable to placing them in the large orphanages. It was thought that placing destitute and neglected children in working class families would encourage the children to take on positive values of industry.
The State Children's Relief Act 1881 created the State Children's Relief Board (SCRB), from members of the Boarding Out Society. Fees were paid to foster parents from funds in Consolidated Revenue. For the first 15 years, the SCRB could only board out children who were already in orphanages - it had no power to remove them from their parents or receive them voluntarily. Once removed from the asylum or orphanage, however, the child became a ward of the state.
From 1896 the SCRB gained the power to commit children to its care directly, as well as to board children out to their own mothers, paying half the rate due to foster parents. Within a short period of time half the children who were considered to be in state care were actually with their own mothers, or close family members.
An important point about the boarding out system was that, as Naomi Parry has argued, the State Children's Relief Board considered all children in its care to be boarded out, whether they were fostered or not. Cottage homes, like those at Mittagong, were considered to be within the boarding-out system, as were probationary farm homes and babies' homes.
Aboriginal children were generally excluded from the boarding out system as it was assumed they were not acceptable to non-Aboriginal foster parents. However, some lighter skinned Aboriginal children were boarded out in non-Aboriginal families and their Aboriginality was forgotten.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Child Care and Protection Guide', in Museums of History NSW website, Museums of History NSW, https://mhnsw.au/guides/child-care-and-protection-guide/; O'Brien, Anne, Poverty's Prison: the poor in New South Wales 1880-1918, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1988, 256 pp; Parry, Naomi, 'Such a longing': black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940, Department of History, University of New South Wales, 2007, 361 pp, http://hdl.handle.net/1959.4/40786; Patrick, Sheila, 'Children who need foster parents' love: State gives everything except true family life', The Australian Women's Weekly, 28 May 1952, p. 21, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/46228664.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 26 October 2011, Last modified: 30 August 2013