The term 'voluntary placements' was used to describe children who were in 'care' but had not been made a ward of the state under Victorian child welfare legislation. A child in such a situation was sometimes referred to as a 'voluntary ward'. Such children were often placed in Homes by their parents during times of hardship or crisis, and often only for short-term stays. People who came into 'care' in Victoria under such 'voluntary' arrangements can experience particular difficulties in locating and accessing records.
It is difficult to pinpoint when the term first came into use, or how many children came into 'care' as 'voluntary placements'. The colony/state of Victoria is notable for its reliance on the voluntary sector to run children's institutions, particularly from the late 1880s when the 'child rescue' movement became influential. The Inspector of Charities used the term 'voluntary admission' in his report for 1891, to distinguish between children who were placed in children's homes via the courts, and those who were placed 'voluntarily'.
In its submission to the Forgotten Australians inquiry, the Victorian Government stated that between 1928-1970s there were large numbers of children placed in care voluntarily by their parents, who did not become Victorian state wards. The submission also stated that in the period 1949 to 1954 there were at least 1,900 children in children's homes who were not wards at any one time, compared to 1,100 state wards in the same children's homes. It is not known how many of these 1,900 children went on to become state wards, and it is not known whether periods of time in care were similar for both groups.
Swain and Howe describe the 'voluntary' placements in children's homes in the nineteenth century as more likely to be 'respectable' children (as opposed to waifs, strays or uncontrollable young offenders, who were more likely to be under the guardianship of the Neglected Children's Department).
Parents would sometimes place their children in a Home on a temporary basis, for example during times of crisis, illness or poverty. For example, in the early twentieth century, the Methodist Children's Home in Cheltenham had many admissions on this 'voluntary' basis. Between 1904 and 1909, 64% of children admitted stayed at the Home for less than six months. Almost 40% returned to their parents after their time at the Home.
From the end of the 1920s, institutions like the Methodist Children's Homes increasingly took in children for longer-term stays and the temporary, voluntary placements declined. The passage of the Children's Welfare Act in 1954 eroded much of the powers of private persons or voluntary agencies to apprehend children, although 'private placements' were still allowed by negotiation with individual parents.
Children who were placed in the system under private or voluntary arrangements left a different trace in the records and archives. The lesser government intervention and oversight of these arrangements usually meant that fewer records were created or kept. Tierney observed in 1963 that the Children's Welfare Department had accurate lists of all state wards but little reliable information about children based on a voluntary basis.
The 'Forgotten Australians' report (2004) noted that 'non-wards' experienced particular difficulties in their search for records about their time in care.
Because we were not legally 'Wards of the State', we have no records except for admission data [Submission No. 6].
Because of this paucity of records, 'non-wards' were described in the Report as 'largely invisible' to the state authorities in Victoria.
There is also less information in the public records and archives about the babies' and children's institutions which were not subsidised by the Hospitals and Charities Commission.
Sources used to compile this entry: Howe, Renate; Swain, Shurlee, All God's Children: a centenary history of the Methodist Homes for Children and the Orana Peace Memorial Homes, Acorn Press, Kambah, ACT, 1989. pp 20, 38, 154.; Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat, Parliament of Australia, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children, Commonwealth of Australia, 2004, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/report/index. section 9.22.; Tierney, Leonard, Children Who Need Help, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1963. p.15.; Victorian Government, 'Victorian Government Submission to the Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care (Submission 173)', in Inquiry into Institutional Care: Submissions received as at 17/03/05, July 2003, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/submissions/sublist.
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 7 April 2011, Last modified: 26 April 2016