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Victoria - Archival Series

De Facto Adoptions Register (1908 - c. 1980)

c. 1980

The De Facto Adoptions Register comprises records dating from 1908 to around 1980, and includes De Facto Adoptions Registers and Index Books maintained by the Neglected Children's Department (1887-1924), the Children's Welfare Department (1924-1960), the Social Welfare Branch (1960-1971), the Social Welfare Department (1971-1979), and eventually held by the Child Protection Branch of the Departments of Community Services (also known as Community Services Victoria, 1985-1992) and Health and Community Services (1992-1996).


Access Conditions

Conditional Access - The De Facto Adoptions Register records can be accessed through Family Information Networks and Discovery (FIND). People can access records which hold their personal information, however the records are not open to the general public.


Each register has an alphabetical index of the 'Name of [Adoptee] Child' as well as the 'Person by Whom Adopted'. Additional information provided includes: Name of Child; date of adoption registration, Child's Date of Birth; Mother's Name (and on occasion Father's name), including residential location where known; Names, Address and Occupation of Persons by Whom Adopted; and Remarks, including adoptive person's relationship to child, by whom/which agency the adoption was arranged, whether any payment was received, or death of the child.

Since the 1870s there had been mounting public concern about the fates of infants placed with paid nurses, often referred to as 'baby farmers', and in 1883 an amendment to the Public Health Act placed the monitoring of such arrangements under the control of Local Health Boards. These local boards of health became responsible for the registration of premises and persons other than parents, relatives or guardians who were responsible for the care of infants. The boards were required to maintain a register of premises and those responsible for the care of infants were to keep a register and to notify the coroner or a justice of the peace of the death of any child in their care. In 1890, under the provisions of the Infant Life Protection Act 1890, the Chief Commissioner of Police assumed responsibility for the registration of homes used for the purpose of nursing or maintaining infants, that is, taking charge of a child under two years of age 'for the purpose of maintaining such infant for a longer period than three consecutive days' or 'for the purpose of adopting such infant'. The clause referring to adoption was intended to regulate the work of people who brokered adoptions by taking charge of surrendered infants and matching them with adoptive parents for a fee. At this time, there was no law providing for an adoption to be recognised in law and it was not unusual for informal adoptions to be negotiated through 'baby farmers'.

In 1907 a subsequent Infant Life Protection Act extended the definition of infants to include all children under five years of age and also transferred the administration of infant life protection measures to the Chief Secretary and the Department for Neglected Children, later known as the Children's Welfare Department in the Chief Secretary's Department. The passing of the Infant Life Protection Act 1907 (No.2102) was partly in response to concerns about 'baby farming'. The Act required parents to register voluntary foster placements with the Neglected Children's Department and pay for the upkeep of the child or risk the child becoming a ward of the state. Registered carers also became subject to inspection. The Infant Life Protection Act 1915 was a re-enactment of the 1907 provisions, and was consolidated in the Children's Welfare Act 1928. The renaming of the Neglected Children's Department in 1924 signified the Government's awareness of the stigma which had become attached to the term 'neglected child', and did not reflect a change in functional responsibility or status.

Up until the Adoption of Children Act 1928, which became law in July 1929, unofficial, defacto adoptions had been arranged by Government and non-government organisations as well as individuals. With the introduction of boarding out from the 1870s, 'quasi adoption' became more desirable for the Victorian government as it provided 'free homes for children who would otherwise be long-term costs'. However, adoptions organised by charitable organisations and private citizens came under more scrutiny with the passage of the Infant Life Protection Act 1907 due to increased Departmental concern regarding the way in which adoptions were brokered, such as through daily newspaper advertisements where, in many cases, no care was taken by those arranging the adoption as to the adoptive person's circumstances. The Adoption Act 1964 banned all private adoptions. From this time, organisations had to be registered as approved adoption agencies under Victorian legislation.

Sources used to compile this entry: Email and attachment from Elise Atkinson (Family Information Networks and Discovery, FIND, Department of Human Services) to Sarah Green (Find and Connect web resource), dated 1 April 2014 (held in the project files at the University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre). The information in this entry is compiled from "FIND's own description of the de facto adoption register, and information provided by Information & Records Services (Archives) taken from TRIM our records management system".

Prepared by: Rachel Tropea and Elise Atkinson