'State ward' or 'ward of state' was the term used to describe a child under the guardianship of a State child welfare authority (such as the Victorian Child Welfare Department).
Victoria abandoned use of the term 'ward' with the Children and Young Person's Act 1989, when the language shifted to 'children in need of protection'. However, some young people remained as wards until the expiry of their order, that is, till the early to mid-1990s.
The term 'ward' first appeared in the 1887 Neglected Children's Act.
The State, as the ward of state's 'guardian', assumed responsibility for the care, custody and control of the child to the exclusion of parental rights. A decision was made in the Children's Court, according to the provisions of different child welfare legislation, for example the Children's Welfare Act 1954.
A state ward was judged by the authorities as being 'in need of care and protection'. An application for wardship could be made on various grounds, depending on the terms of different child welfare acts. A child could be classed a ward because they were deemed 'neglected', or 'uncontrollable', or 'in moral danger'.
State wards in Victoria were generally 'processed' at the reception centre at Royal Park (known as the 'depot' and 'Turana') before being placed in an institution or boarded out into foster care.
From the 1920s, due to a shortage of foster carers, it became more common for state wards to be placed by the government in institutions, such as orphanages or children's homes. These institutions were run by religious or charitable organisations, who received regular 'per head' payments from the state for the 'care' of wards. The government also reimbursed institutions for state wards' expenses.
By the 1950s in Victoria, around half its state wards were in institutions. This figure increased to 85% by the early 1960s, and did not start to decline until the end of the decade. Victoria's relied on the non-government sector for the care of state wards much more than other states of Australia. From the 1950s, the government began to establish a number of state-run institutions for children and young offenders.
State wards who experienced out of home 'care' as children are more likely to have some personal records about their time in 'care' than people who were 'voluntarily' placed in institutions not overseen by the government.
The 'Forgotten Australians' report noted that 'non-wards' experienced particular difficulties in their search for records about their time in care.
Because we were not legally 'Wards of the State', we have no records except for admission data [Submission 6, quoted in Forgotten Australians].
Because of this paucity of records, 'non-wards' were described in the Report as 'largely invisible' to the state authorities in Victoria [see 9.22 of the Report].
Sources used to compile this entry: Victorian Government, 'Victorian Government Submission to the Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care (Submission 173)', in Inquiry into Institutional Care: Submissions received as at 17/03/05, July 2003, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/submissions/sublist; Brendan Nathan (Team Leader, Freedom of Information), Corporate Integrity Information and Resolutions unit, Department of Human Services.
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 16 April 2009, Last modified: 17 February 2015