The Winlaton home run by the Mission of St James and St John from 1951 was taken over by the Children's Welfare Department in 1953. That year, the Department's annual report stated that:
'... during the year it was decided to erect at "Winlaton", Nunawading, a training and rehabilitation centre for delinquent girls. In three sections accommodating fifteen girls in each and with all the necessary facilities for training, education and treatment, this establishment will equip the Department with the means to cope with its teen-age problem girls.'
Following the completion of construction work, Winlaton Youth Training Centre received girls and young women from 1956 onwards, and became the main state-run institution for female adolescents.
In 1956, the Department set out the objectives of Winlaton in its annual report:
'Winlaton's objectives are, broadly, to teach a girl:- (i) How to live as a well-adjusted, self-reliant member of the community; (ii) a craft or skill; (iii) how to use her leisure hours; (iv) to know and care for herself and, indeed, to care for others later on as a home-maker.'
Winlaton consisted of a main compound, with 3 residential sections, and a central Admitting Office. Girls were accommodated in three cottages, each housing up to 15 girls, in single rooms. The cottages were known as 'Goonyah', 'Warrina' and 'Kooringal'. The Department described the system at Winlaton in 1956: 'Promotion is made from one cottage to another. Conversely, of course, demotion occurs sometimes'.
There were separate programs at Winlaton for girls and young women admitted under child protection orders, and those committed to the centre under custodial orders. The latter group were referred to as 'trainees', a term that was introduced by the Social Welfare Act 1960.
Before the establishment of Winlaton, 'delinquent' girls who were Catholic were placed at the Abbotsford and Oakleigh convents of the Good Shepherd. Similar placements for Protestant girls were not available at the time. Consequently, these young women were mostly accommodated at the Remand and Reformatory Section of the Department's Royal Park Depot (known as Turana from 1955).
In order to reduce over-crowding at Turana, the Department opened its own purpose built institution for 'delinquent girls', the 'Winlaton Girls' Training School' at Nunawading in 1956.
In June 1957, the 'Goonyah' section of Winlaton was declared to be a reception centre for females aged 14 to 21 years. From 1959, the reception centre was in a building known as Winbirra.
The Leawarra Girls' Hostel was added to the Winlaton complex in 1959. The Hostel helped with the overcrowding at Winlaton, and also functioned as a 'privilege' section. The Department described Leawarra in 1960:
'Leawarra … has proved itself ideally suited to the accommodation of girls who have completed their training, and are worthy of a trial in private employment to enable them to adjust to proper social standards during a period of unsteadiness until they are capable of managing for themselves, or returning home.'
From the 1960s, the general process of de-institutionalisation, combined with a policy commitment to diversion in the field of juvenile justice, led to significant reductions in young people detained.
The Social Welfare Department annual report for 1968-69 stated that a Pre-Release Centre had been opened in the building formerly known as Leawarra House.
'All youth training must be a preparation for release but as the final days approach increased emphasis
is necessary on deportment, physical appearance, letter writing, interview technique, money management, travelling to work and, in fact, all aspects of being socially in the community. This pre-release course attempts to give this and as experience grows in conducting such a course it is expected to provide an adequate reintroduction to real life problems (p.30).'
The Department also reported that Goonyah, 'traditionally used as a disciplinary section is now the unit for the more psychiatrically disturbed girl or the one for whom limit setting in open situations is impossible' (p.30)
Despite the lower number of girls being placed in Winlaton, the living conditions in this institution deteriorated markedly in the 1970s. In 1981 Deborah Forster reported in The Age newspaper that Winlaton was 'run down' and 'like the teenagers who live there, the institution looks tired.' Even Leawarra, the more homely open hostel section looked neglected.
Winlaton was overcrowded and understaffed. In an institution designed to hold 95, there were 104 in February 1981. The girls suffered from boredom and as the superintendent observed: 'when you put young women into an institution that is neglected they find even less reason to care about themselves'.
In the 1970s, Triad therapy was introduced at Winlaton. According to the Finding Records website:
'The purpose of triad therapy was to enable trainees to change destructive and negative aspects of their behaviour and/or attitudes. The therapy program was undertaken across all of the residential sections (Karringal, Warrina, Goonyah), the Winbirra Remand Centre and the Leawarra Hostel.
Each triad therapy group consisted of a mixture of trainees who had the same problem, people such as youth officers who had never had the problem and people who had once had the problem but had resolved it, such as ex-Winlaton trainees. A triad group usually consisted of the trainees from a particular section. Each trainee had to attend a triad group five times a week. The problems of a particular trainee were discussed during group sessions.
Mini-triad groups consisting of one trainee, one staff member and one ex-resident or more advanced trainee, were also held to accomplish a particular purpose, for example to help a trainee to control self-damaging behaviour. Advanced triad groups were held for trainees who had got to a stage where it was felt that they had a good understanding of their problems. People from the outside community were encouraged to attend triad sessions.'
At the hearings for Case Study 30 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Respones to Child Sexual Abuse in 2016, there was testimony about triad therapy at Winlaton. The report concluded that triad therapy was 'an inappropriate forum to receive and respond to' reports of sexual abuse of residents (p.13).
Former residents of Winlaton also gave testimony about absconding at the hearings in 2016. Some witnesses told the Royal Commission that they absconded from Winlaton because they had been sexually abused and to avoid further incidents of sexual abuse. The Royal Commission found that 'there was an attitude to children of youth training and reception centres at the time which meant that police did not inquire into why residents abscond'.
The Winlaton Youth Training Centre for girls (aged 14 - 21 years) had a population of about 100 in the mid-1970s, which reduced to about 70 in the mid-1980s and about 25 at the time of its closure in 1991.
It became known as the Nunawading Youth Residential Centre (or Nunawading Youth Residential Service) in 1991, a facility for both male and female young people.
27 July 2023
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000192
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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