For children who were not legally adopted or made a ward of the state, it is especially difficult to locate information and records about the child's time in 'care'. Many children were placed in foster care or were 'boarded out' as a result of private or quasi-private arrangements made by individuals or by children's homes or charitable organisations. In such cases, finding records 'is usually a more complicated process'.
In a conference paper in 1999, Jenny Glare described the particular problems relating to records of fostering/boarding out:
People often do not know where to go to look for records. The name of the organisation that arranged the placement may have changed, or ceased to exist, or the building may have been demolished. Even when the appropriate organisation or its successor is located, it may only be, to discover that records have not been retained from a previous era, or that records may have been destroyed, accidentally or intentionally.
Some arrangements for boarding out and fostering were made through government child welfare services, or by authorised agents. Others were private or quasi-private arrangements made through non-government children's homes or between the individuals themselves. Many of these arrangements were made to ensure the solution to a problem of disposing of an unwanted child. This phrase is not meant to minimise the trauma or distress that a birth mother faced at the time of arranging her child's future care, but in fact is the language used in many of the records from previous eras.
Anecdotal evidence and research data would suggest that much secrecy surrounded many of the earlier arrangements for the fostering of children. Children were not always informed that they were not their foster parents' birth children. They may have been told that they were orphans, hence the need to be placed with foster parents or in an institution. Often this was untrue.
Despite these added complications, the fostering or boarding out of a child is likely to have left some trace in the records kept by government and non-government agencies. The Where to Start page contains details of organisations who will be able to help with the research process, and offer support as required.
Sources used to compile this entry: Glare, Jenny, 'Learning from Past Practice: Maintaining Client Records and Providing a Service to Adults who as Children were in Foster Care', in International Foster Care Organisation Conference 1999, 1999.
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 5 April 2011, Last modified: 11 January 2023