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New South Wales - Concept

Truancy (1881 - )

Term commonly found on child welfare records
Alternative Names
  • Truant

Truancy means intentional absences from schooling. Throughout the twentieth century truancy was one of the most common reasons children came to the attention of welfare authorities. It was seen as a marker of juvenile delinquency and an early symptom of antisocial behaviour. As a result, children who truanted sometimes received disproportionately harsh treatment from welfare authorities.


In New South Wales education was made compulsory in 1881, under the Public Instruction Act, and truancy became an offence. This meant children charged with truancy could be arrested by police or truancy officers and committed to industrial schools and reformatories. When Children's Courts were introduced in 1905, magistrates could fine parents for allowing a child to truant, and order the family be supervised under the probation system, or remove them from their families and commit them to an institution.



  • McLean, Donald, Children In Need: An account of the administration and functions of the Child Welfare Department, New South Wales, Australia: with an examination of the principles involved in helping deprived and wayward children, Government Printer, Sydney, 1955, 173 pp. Details

Prepared by: Naomi Parry