State child was a term used in Western Australia from 1907 to 1927. The State Children Act 1907 (s.4) defined a state child as 'a destitute child or neglected child received into a Government institution or a subsidised institution or apprenticed or placed out under the authority of the Act.' In 1919, the State Children Act Amendment Act 1919 (s.3) extended the definition to include 'an incorrigible or uncontrollable child.' The term state child was replaced by ward in 1927 as a result of changes made in the State Children Act Amendment Act 1927(s.3).
A state child was also known as a government child. In evidence to the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the State Children Act Amendment Bill in October 1918, the Catholic Archbishop of Perth defined government children as 'those who are being paid for by the Government, and were put in [institutions] by the State [Children] department' (p.19).
These children received a maintenance payment from the government until they were 14. There were exceptions, as the Anglican Archdeacon of Perth (p.24) explained in his evidence to the Select Committee: 'The secretary [of the State Children Department] the other day allowed me an extra year's maintenance for a girl who has a cripple foot who was no use for house work. We are trying to train her to keep herself by needle work'.
Institutions were required to take any child who was sent to them by the State Children Department, but it was general practice to match the institution to the child's religious denomination where possible, though as the Anglican Archdeacon reported to the Select Committee, they did have a number of non-conformists and one Catholic in their orphanages: 'We do not run after them; we would not refuse on that account if it was impossible for the child to go to its own denomination'.
It was not unusual for parents to try and get their children back from an institution. A case published in the Western Argus (11 July 1922, p.28) is an example. The mother was charged in the Children's Court: with 'having taken her two children…from the care of the State without authority'. The mother entered a plea of 'Morally not guilty; it is just what a mother would do'. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Children's Court did not agree, the mother was fined £15 and the children remained as state children. This case also shows that children could be sent very far away from home. These two children who had been committed for neglect in Kalgoorlie were sent to institutions in Perth.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'The laws - Western Australia', in Bringing Them Home: Human Rights Education Resources for Teachers, Australian Human Rights Commission, 2010, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/site-navigation-21; Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the State Children Act Amendment Bill [Document], Date: 19 November 1918; Western Australia. Charities Department, Report by the Superintendent of Public Charities and Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Government Printer, Perth, [W.A.], 1899-1907. 1902..
Prepared by: Debra Rosser
Created: 26 October 2011, Last modified: 2 March 2015