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South Australia - Legislation

Community Welfare Act 1972 (1972 - )

Principal Act
Alternative Names
  • Family and Community Services Act 1972 (Also known as, 1993 - )

The Community Welfare Act 1972 (Act No. 51/1972) was assented to on 27 April 1972 and commenced on 1 July 1972. Its long title is 'An Act to promote various aspects of community welfare in this State; to repeal the Social Welfare Act, 1926-1971; the Aboriginal Affairs Act, 1962-1968; and the Children's Protection Act, 1936-1969; and for other purposes'. The Act replaced the Social Welfare Act 1926-71 (also known as the Maintenance Act 1926), the Aboriginal Affairs Act 1962-68 and the Children's Protection Act 1936-69 with one Act. It was renamed Family and Community Services Act 1972 by the Community Welfare (Children) Amendment Act 1993 (Act No. 95/1993).


The Community Welfare Act 1972 replaced the Social Welfare Act 1926-71, the Aboriginal Affairs Act 1962-68 and the Children's Protection Act 1936-69 with one Act. The Act made the needs of the child the 'paramount consideration' in all matters affecting the child. It was based on the principle that the welfare of the family and the welfare of the community were inseparable and that they were central to the welfare of children. The Act focused on preventative measures and led to a move from large institutions to smaller group care. Since 1993, the Community Welfare Act 1972 has also been known as the Family and Community Services Act 1972.

One of the central principles of the Act was the statement that "the interests of the child" were always to be the "paramount consideration" in any action taken to provide care. The Act was also underpinned by the principle that "the welfare of the family is the basis of the welfare of the community". It supported the concept that re-establishing family life and ensuring contact with family was central to the lives of children placed in any form of care. The Act placed a much stronger emphasis on preventative services and the provision of smaller group care, in cottages and residential units, rather than large congregate institutions. Congregate care was recognised as damaging and depersonalising and after the passing of the Act, there was a move to close down all large institutions, both government and non-government, and replace them with new more smaller group facilities. The smaller facilities were to provide a more home or family like setting.

In 1972, in conjunction with the passing of the Community Welfare Act, the department was restructured and decentralised at an administrative level into five metropolitan and country regions - the Central Metropolitan Region, Northern Metropolitan Region Southern Metropolitan Region, Northern Country Region and Southern Country Region. Regional Supervisors oversaw the implementation of new policies in the homes and institutions.

The Community Welfare Act also introduced new methods in the care of children including assessment of children's needs and the development of individual care programs. This approach was based on the recognition that children in care were not all the same but rather that each child was an individual with different and unique needs. With the focus of the Act on family and community, there was a growing understanding that children should not be separated from society but rather that they would be helped by integration into the community. The principles behind that Act were that the community could play an integral role in the care and rehabilitation of children who came into care.

The 1972 Act has been amended a numerous times. The first amendment in 1973 was the Community Welfare Act Amendment Act which removed Minister's power to manage property of Aboriginal people and communities. The Community Welfare Act Amendment Act 1976 included notification requirements in cases of suspected neglect, abuse. The Community Welfare Act Amendment Act 1981 removed the definition of 'Aboriginal' and the Community Welfare Amendment Act 1982 stated that in the administration of the Act account was required to be taken of 'the different customs, attitudes and religious beliefs of the ethnic groups within the community'. Further amendments continued until 2010.


 1843 - 1867 Maintenance Act 1843
 1848 - 1867 Orphans Act 1848
 1863 - 1867 Destitute Asylum Act 1863
       1844 - 1911 Aboriginal Orphans Act 1844
       1867 - 1872 Destitute Persons Relief Act 1866
             1865 - 1934 Lunatics Amendment Act 1865
             1872 - 1881 Destitute Persons Act 1872
             1911 - 1937 Aborigines Act 1911
             1915 - 1934 Apprentices (War Service) Relief Act 1915
             1923 - 1937 Aborigines (Training of Children) Act 1923
                   1872 - 1937 Juvenile Offenders Act 1872
                   1881 - 1927 Destitute Persons Act 1881
                   1895 - 1927 State Children Act 1895
                   1898 - 1927 Affiliation Law Amendment Act 1898
                   1899 - 1937 Children's Protection Act 1899
                   1903 - 1927 The Destitute Persons and State Children's Acts Amendment Act 1903
                   1911 - 1966 Inter-State Destitute Persons Relief Act 1910
                   1934 - 1963 Aborigines Act 1934
                   1934 - 1966 Statute Law Revision Act 1934
                   1961 - 1966 Children's Institution Subsidies Act 1961
                         1927 - 1972 Maintenance Act 1926
                         1937 - 1972 Children's Protection Act 1936
                         1962 - 1972 Aboriginal Affairs Act 1962
                         1966 - 1972 Maintenance Act Amendment Act 1965
                               1972 - Community Welfare Act 1972


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: To Remove and Protect, South Australian Legislation, AIATSIS, 2009,; Mullighan, the Hon E.P., Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry: Allegations of sexual abuse and death from criminal conduct, presented to the South Australian Parliament by the Hon. E.P. Mullighan QC, Commisioner, Children in State Care Commission of Enquiry, Adelaide, South Australia, 2008, 564 pp,;

Annual reports of the Department of Community Welfare 1971 & 1972.

Law Research Service, Melbourne Law School, Law Library, The University of Melbourne. 'Find and Connect Project - South Australia Legislation', 13 December 2013, held in the project files at the University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre.

Prepared by: Karen George, Christine Moje