Private child was a term that was used for a child or young person who was in out-of-home care, but whose board was not subsidised by the State Government of Western Australia. Up until about the 1970s it was very common for families to place their children in out-of-home care during times of illness (particularly if the mother was sick and the father had to work) or when marriages broke down, or when parents had to move to the country to work and didn't have family accommodation available. Based on statistics collected from institutions during the twentieth century, the government has estimated that the number of private children who were in out-of-home care was about the same as the number of children who were placed by the state.
Private child was a term used in the nineteenth and twentieth century in Western Australia to describe someone who was in out of home care, but whose board was not subsidised by the State Government.
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 was asked, 'by whom are the private children maintained?'. He answered (p.19): 'Usually what happens is this: a parent, or parents, promise to pay as much as the Government pay. Some of the parents pay, while in the majority of cases no payment at all is made. Then the institution has to bear the cost.'
The Anglican Archdeacon of Perth also spoke to the Select Committee about private children generally and about older children who stayed at the institutions beyond the usual term. He explained (p.24) that a government subsidy (maintenance) was available for state children up to the age of 14 years. After that, boys were sent out to service. However, the institutions were reluctant to send girls out to service until they were 16 so they employed them in the institutions, paying them the wage specified in the Act just as if they were in service elsewhere. They counted these girls among the private children as the institution was not receiving a subsidy for them and had to 'keep them at our own expense'. Although they were working, they were not counted as staff.
The procedure for obtaining maintenance from parents of private children was also outlined for the Select Committee by the Anglican Archdeacon: 'We try to get 10s a week. We used to get 7s for private cases, which is the amount that the Government give us. But through the war and many other things we cannot maintain the children for 7s and we try to get 10s. We let them [the parents] know that if they do not contribute the 10s we shall have to return the children to their care or to the care of the department [for State Children].'
Private children generally matched the religious domination of the institution, though there were exceptions. At different periods during the twentieth century, institutions reported how many private children were resident at year end.
In the research conducted for the finding aid Signposts: A Guide for Children and Young People in Care in WA from 1920, it was estimated that there had been approximately the same number of children placed privately as had been placed by government authorities.
Sources used to compile this entry: Hetherington, Penelope, Paupers, Poor Relief and Poor Housing in Western Australia 1829 to 1910, UWA Publishiing, Crawley, Western Australia, 2009. pp.92-93.; Information Services, Department for Community Development, Signposts: A Guide for Children and Young People in Care in WA from 1920, Government of Western Australia, 2004, http://signposts.cpfs.wa.gov.au/pdf/pdf.aspx; Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the State Children Act Amendment Bill [Document], Date: 19 November 1918.
Prepared by: Debra Rosser
Created: 31 May 2012, Last modified: 8 February 2019