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Western Australia - Glossary Term

Neglected Child (1893 - 1976)

Term commonly found on child welfare records

Neglected child was a term first used in child welfare legislation in the Industrial and Reformatory Schools Act 1893 to describe children who were deemed to be in need of the protection of authorities. During the twentieth century, the ways of describing a neglected child changed but the purpose of the definition remained constant: children who were found to be neglected could be brought into the child welfare system and placed in institutions or foster care. These children were frequently made wards of the State. The term neglected child was replaced by child in need of care and protection in the Child Welfare Amendment Act (No 2) 1976.


The Industrial and Reformatory Schools Act 1893 (s.6) described the situations that could lead to a child being defined as neglected:

  • 1. Any child found begging or receiving alms, or being in any street or public place for the purpose of begging or receiving alms.
  • 2. Any child who shall be found wandering about or frequenting any street, thoroughfare, public house, or place of public resort, or sleeping in the open air, and who shall not have any home or settled place of abode, or any visible means of subsistence.
  • 3. Any child who shall reside in any brothel, or associate or dwell with any person known or reputed to be a thief, prostitute, or drunkard, or with any person convicted of vagrancy under any Act now or hereafter to be in force.
  • 4. Any child who, having committed an offence punishable by imprisonment or some less punishment, ought nevertheless, in the opinion of the Justices, regard being had to the age of such child and the circumstances of the case, to be sent to an Industrial School.
  • 5. Any child whose parent represents that he wishes such child to be sent to an Industrial School, and gives security to the satisfaction of the Justices before whom such child may be brought, for payment of the maintenance of such child in such School.
  • 6. Any child under fourteen years of age certified in writing by the Chairman of a District Board of Education to be habitually absent from School, and to be beyond the control of his parents.

The State Children Act 1907 refined and extended the definition to increase the power of authorities to declare a child neglected. The new definition of neglected included a child who (s.4.5) was 'under the guardianship of any person whom the Court shall consider unfit to have such guardianship'; was (s.4.6) 'illegitimate, and whose mother is dead or is unable to maintain or take charge of such child; or was (s.4.7) 'living under such conditions as to indicate that the child is lapsing or likely to lapse into a career of vice or crime'. Children could also be deemed neglected (s.4.8) if they were 'engaged in street trading' without having obtained a license to allow that employment. The 1907 definition removed the ability of a child voluntarily surrendered by its parents to an industrial school to be deemed neglected, and children who were habitually absent from school in the 1893 legislation were no longer included in the definition of neglected child.

The Child Welfare Act 1947 kept the 1907 definitions of neglected child, but added (s.138) any child under 14 years who was 'employed or engaged in any circus, travelling show, or acrobatic entertainment, or exhibition by which his life, health welfare, or safety is likely to be lost, prejudiced, or endangered'.

The definition of neglected child was also amended by the Child Welfare Act Amendment Act 1952 (s.2c) to include children whose living conditions placed them in mental, physical or moral danger.

The Child Welfare Act Amendment Act 1969 came into operation on 1 February 1970. It widened the definition of a neglected child (s.3b.i) to include children who were found to be using drug or living where drugs were being used; and (s.3b.ii) children who were physically ill-treated or injured.

The term neglected child was replaced by child in need of care and protection in the Child Welfare Amendment Act (No 2) 1976 (ss.3, 5 and throughout the Act).

Related Concepts

  • Care and Protection (1976 - )

    The term 'neglected child' was replaced by 'child in need of care and protection' in the Child Welfare Amendment Act (No 2) 1976.

Related Glossary Terms

Related Legislation

Related Organisations



  • 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. 1903. Details

Online Resources


Adoption of Children Act Amendment Act 1964
Adoption of Children Act Amendment Act 1964
23 December 1964
State Law Publisher of Western Australia
s.4G c


Sources used to compile this entry: Adoption of Children Act Amendment Act 1964 [Document], Date: 23 December 1964; Child Welfare Act Amendment Act 1969.

Prepared by: Debra Rosser