In the 1930s, the 'care' of State Children in Western Australia was governed by the Child Welfare Act 1907 (which until 1927 was known as the State Children Act). Much of this decade was spent dealing with the effects of economic depression and the upheaval this had caused for families in Western Australia. In the 1930s, providing 'Unemployment Relief' was a State responsibility, and the Child Welfare Department played a key role. In 1934, a full-time portfolio for Child Welfare was created for the first time, and the Department came under the control of its own Minister. The State's population in 1930 was 431,610 and when the decade ended it was 472,380.
The 2004 history of the Department of Community Development describes how, as the decade progressed, the structure of the Child Welfare Department changed:
In 1931 the issuing of Unemployment Relief was transferred to the Unemployment Relief Department which, eleven years later, was taken over by the Commonwealth Department of National Service. That same year the administration of the Child Welfare Department was placed under the control of the Under-Secretary for Mines. It was not until 1934, when a full-time portfolio for Child Welfare was created, that the Department came under the control of its own Minister.
In the 1930s, the Department's practices were influenced by 'child rescue' ideals, which became prominent in the late nineteenth century. This was based on a strong belief that the course of a young person's life was greatly affected by the people they mixed with and that children needed to be 'rescued' from undesirable environments (Swain and Hillel, 2010). The Department's Annual Report for 1930 reported that: 'It has not been considered advisable to risk further serious lapses by allowing youthful offenders to return to their former surroundings or to associate with undesirable companions.' On the other hand, though: 'The Department is always prepared to undertake the return of children to relatives who are making good or those whose financial position has improved'. Annual Report, 1930.
The Annual Report in 1931 gave some glimpses into the human aspects of administering a welfare system: '…a fair amount of time is taken up in listening to the complaints of married couples who have had domestic troubles.' 'Many unmarried mothers who have retained control of their children are now finding it difficult to maintain their little one.'
It was the practice in Perth for much of the twentieth century to hold a Christmas party in the grounds of Government House for children who were in 'care'. Christmas 1930, however, had been an exception: 'In Perth the usual Christmas Party was not held by the Metropolitan Boarding Out Committee owing to the depression. These parties from year to year afford an excellent opportunity of seeing the loving care and affection bestowed upon our Wards by the foster parents, and it is hoped to hold it this year' Annual Report, 1931.
In this era, the Department regularly reported on its activities with 'delinquent' children and the following quote is typical: 'The marked decrease in the number of delinquent children is satisfactory. It is usual to release this type of ward, particularly the boys, on trial to secured employment when conduct has been good. The success of this procedure is revealed in the fact that only in two cases has it been found necessary to return Wards to the institution.'
It was also noted that Mr Sydney Watson retired from what was then the Child Welfare Department after 37 years' service, including 15 years as Secretary Annual Report, 1932.
During this period, when a child who was resident in an institution or boarded out under the care of the Department went to school, reports from the school were obtained quarterly. In terms of educating 'backward' children, the Department advocated streaming them in a mainstream school to learn tasks that would improve their chances of employment:
…children (if any) who appear to be backward in any particular respect receive the training that will best equip them for life's work without any 'ugly stigma' attaching to them. The future citizen thus loses none of his self-respect and self-reliance, which, it is generally conceded, total segregation from their more gifted companions usually destroys Annual Report, 1933.
In 1934, the Annual Report outlined the Department's rationale for licensing foster parents - showing that memories of 'baby farming' were still fresh, and awareness of the link between childhood experience and life outcomes: 'The licensing of all foster-mothers to care for children under six years of age results in preventing the ignorant or criminal neglect of young life, and the reduction of infant mortality. Incapacitated adult life with its burden on the taxpayer is appreciably reduced by these early measures' Annual Report, 1934.
The Depression years saw men taking up the role of inspectors: 'The homes of the children are visited by the departmental inspectors - six trained nurses and two male inspectors…209 Wards are attending school' Annual Report, 1934.
Sources used to compile this entry: Department for Community Development, History of the Department to 2004, Proud, Noelene and Klucznick, Brett (2003); and Lee, Audrey and Crake, Mark (2004), 2004; Oakley, Glenda, More Dates!: a Western Australian chronology 1930 to 1989, Friends of the Battye Library (Inc.), Northbridge, Western Australia, 1992; Swain, Shurlee and Hillel, Margot, Child, nation, race and empire., Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2010; Western Australia. Child Welfare Department, Annual Report of the Child Welfare Department, Child Welfare Department, Perth [W.A.], 1928-1972. 1930, 1931, 1932..
Prepared by: Debra Rosser and Cate O'Neill
Created: 15 December 2011, Last modified: 30 January 2015