Research reveals a dark history of children’s institutions in Australia

Research reveals a dark history of children’s institutions in Australia

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse this week released three research reports that shed light on the history of child protection legislation in Australia, out-of-home care residential institutions and past inquiries that have reviewed these institutions.

Royal Commission CEO Phillip Reed said these historical reports, prepared by Professor Shurlee Swain of the Australian Catholic University, provide a much-needed context for the work of the Royal Commission.

“The Royal Commission was set up to investigate where systems have failed to protect children, and to make recommendations on how to improve them,” Mr Reed said. “This research helps the Royal Commissioners better understand the broader socio-political and legislative contexts within which the cases we are considering have taken place.”

Mr Reed said that as a community we have largely moved away from the institutionalisation of children who cannot live at home and have come to rely more on evidence and best practice to guide our policies in this area.

The reports form part of the comprehensive research program supporting the work of the Royal Commission and to inform its findings and recommendations.

The Royal Commission has commissioned a significant number of research projects across a range of themes including the causes, prevention and responses to institutional child sexual abuse and support for victims and survivors.

Read the reports now.

About the reports

History of child protection legislation (PDF 1.40 KB) documents the history of child protection legislation in Australia from its establishment in 1860 to today. It reveals the way different jurisdictions structured their child welfare system initially around concerns of vagrancy to establishing systems of inspection and regulation of punishment. It also includes ways in which parents were treated under legislation, from the desire to prevent them from ‘foisting their children on the system’ to keeping families together. It then documents legislation dealing with special groups such as Aboriginal children, child migrants and children with disabilities.

History of Institutions providing out of home residential care for children (PDF 1.29 MB) examines the history of the many different types of institutions providing out-of-home care for children from 1788 to the de-institutional movement of the 1980s. It sheds light on the complex mix of government, church, charitable and community organisations that provided care.

History of Australian inquiries reviewing institutions providing care for children (PDF 819.0 KB) summarises the history of Australian inquiries that have reviewed institutions providing care for children from 1852 to 2013. The inquiries fall into three main categories: those that examined the establishment and refinement of the child welfare system from 1852 to postwar, those that examined child abuse scandals of 1860s to the 1990s, and those that hear survivor testimony from 1990s to now.