'Boarding out' was the term used to describe the placement of children and young people in foster care in private homes. It became part of the child welfare landscape in Victoria in the early 1870s, following the 1872 Royal Commission on Industrial and Reformatory Schools, which condemned the industrial schools system. The Commission urged that the industrial schools system be replaced with the boarding out system, 'under which the children would be boarded in respectable cottagers' homes, under regular supervision by honorary local Ladies' Visiting Committees'. The first legislative reference in Victoria to the boarding out system was in 1874.
Concerns about conditions in 'industrial schools' led to an increase in children being boarded out to foster homes from the early 1870s. Foster parents were paid a weekly allowance by the state to cover a child's board.
An amendment passed in 1874 (Neglected and Criminal Children Amendment Act 38 Vic., No.495 1874) contained the first provisions relating to boarding out, with s.16 providing that children in industrial schools may be boarded out. In practice, the government had been boarding out 'neglected' children for a number of years by the time the amendment was passed. The 1874 Act also gave recognition to the position of Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools.
In Victoria, the boarding out system was overseen by the Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools, and its successor, the Department for Neglected Children.
Much of the clerical and inspectorial work was conducted by ladies' committees, who were responsible for visiting and supervising the foster homes.
Two South Australians, Catherine Helen Spence and Caroline Emily Clark, were significant figures driving the introduction of boarding out in Australia.
In 1893, Spence reported to the International Congress of Charities, Corrections and Philanthropy on the success of the boarding out movement in Australia. She claimed that the introduction of the boarding out system had emptied Australia's 'barrack-like institutions', with the result that the government only needed to provide a central receiving depot before suitable homes could be found.
Spence's words reflected the belief, underpinning the child rescue movement which emerged in Victoria in the 1880s, that environment was stronger than heredity: 'By getting hold of the children we strike the most effective blow at the hereditary pauper, criminal and lunatic, the curse of modern civilisation'.
The Melbourne Orphan Asylum began the practice of providing support or 'maintenance' to families, effectively 'boarding out' children with their own mothers, around 1876. Edwin Exon (superintendent of the Melbourne Orphan Asylum from 1859 to 1903) spoke about the boarding out system at the Australasian Charity Conference in 1891, and the importance of the ladies' committees and their vigilance in keeping the system from degenerating into 'farming-out'.
In contrast to non-denominational institutions like the Melbourne Orphan Asylum, the Catholic hierarchy in Victoria resisted moves from the 1870s towards boarding out. According to Barnard, a major reason for the Catholic institutions' opposition was that boarded-out children would be sent to the State school nearest to their foster home, rather than receive a Catholic education within institutions.
Barnard writes of how in 1887, St Vincent's Girls' Orphanage requested funds from the Inspector of Charities to make additions to its buildings. The Inspector replied that 'the erection of additional accommodation for the orphans should be discouraged rather than encouraged. All modern ideas are in favour of boarding out'.
Boarding out became less common in Victoria from the 1920s due to a shortage of foster parents. This saw a reliance in Victoria (as distinct from other states) on non-government institutions such as children's homes (of various denominations) for the care of state wards.
Sources used to compile this entry: Barnard, Jill, '"A Secure Safeguard of the Children's Morals": Catholic Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century Victoria', in Provenance, September 2005, https://www.prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/provenance-journal/provenance-2005/secure-safeguard-childrens-morals; Exon, E., 'Three complementary methods of care for dependant children', in Spencer, Anna Garlin and Charles Wesley Birtell (eds), The care of dependent, neglected and wayward children. Being a report of the Second Section of the International Congress of Charities, Corrections and Philanthropy, Chicago, June 1893., The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1894; Spencer, Anna Garlin and Charles Wesley Birtell, The care of dependent, neglected and wayward children. Being a report of the Second Section of the International Congress of Charities, Corrections and Philanthropy, Chicago, June 1893., The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1894; Tierney, Leonard, Children Who Need Help, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1963.
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 16 April 2009, Last modified: 6 March 2013