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:
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).
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
Created: 25 October 2011, Last modified: 27 February 2015