Children's Homes

St John's church and the King's Orphan Schools, 1831(Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Children's Homes for the orphaned, destitute and neglected children of Van Diemen's Land began in 1828 with the establishment of the 'somewhat Dickensian' government-run King's Orphan Schools. Agitation by Benevolent Societies in the 1850s and 1860s over the many street children known as 'City Arabs' resulted in two Acts in 1867 which enabled the establishment of training schools for young offenders, and industrial schools for homeless, destitute, or orphan children. Industrial schools for girls, run by voluntary committees, were opened in Hobart (1864) and in Launceston (1877); and in 1869 Alfred Kennerley opened the Hobart Boys' Home and Industrial School which also took northerners. These Protestant social welfare providers were joined in 1879 by the Catholic Church's St Joseph's Industrial School and Orphanage in Hobart.

All homes provided religious instruction and some formal education, and stressed industrial training: domestic work for girls; gardening, milking and rural pursuits for boys. Although hard work was expected, both in the home and later employment, the voluntary industrial schools provided more care and affection than large government institutions and recalled children if their employers proved unsuitable.

Until the establishment of the Boys' Training School in 1869, delinquents as young as eight or nine commonly went to gaol. The School housed approximately fifty inmates who were committed to the institution by court order, although a gaol sentence was not precluded. The boys attended night school after seven hours of manual and agricultural labour each day, gaining the institution a certain renown for its prize-winning pigs. In 1922, the School moved to Deloraine (renamed Ashley Boys' Home) to improve farm training and remove the decadent city taint. The Hobart Girls' Training School operated from 1881–1905 at the Old Gaol Building, Anglesea Barracks, where girls were locked in the cells each night. The girls, aged 15–18, were trained to become domestic servants. In 1905 this school merged with the Girls' Industrial School.

After half a century of providing mass care for children, the government orphanage closed in 1879, unlamented. Numbers had dropped since 1862 with the introduction of outdoor relief to some families, and the Boarding-Out Scheme as an alternative to institutional care. Efforts were made to keep siblings together in foster homes and to apprentice them near each other in service employment, although some children who failed to settle were transferred to industrial or training schools. The Clarendon Children's Home developed from an 1890s Anglican establishment caring for 'fallen women and their children', and in 1893 the Mt St Canice Convent of the Good Shepherd commenced its care for women and girls in need – ultimately growing into the largest private charitable institution in the state.

Not all facilities were run by religious groups, and the non-sectarian Northern Tasmanian Home for Boys opened near Launceston in 1921 (closing in 1982). From 1945 to 1956, Boys' Town in Glenorchy provided residential care and schooling for orphans and needy boys (aged 5–16 years) including British migrants. Established by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, it was later run by the Salesian of Don Bosco Fathers and developed into Savio College. The Salvation Army provided residential care at two separate locations in New Town: Maylands Girls' Home (formerly the Girls' Industrial School) opened in 1945, and Barrington Boys' Home from 1946. Both closed in 1981, but Maylands ran a residential programme for teenage girls until 1998. Some other churches ran smaller children's homes in this period. A state reformatory, Wybra Hall, opened in 1953, and operated until the late 1980s.

Major change came from the 1960s with social reformers stressing the importance of family life for children's emotional needs and arguing for de-institutionalisation; and the state's increasing role in assisting families through provisions such as the Supporting Mothers' Benefit (1973) making it less likely that parents would relinquish their children. Large institutions closed, replaced by family group homes run by cottage parents – such as the 1969 transfer from St Joseph's Orphanage to cottages at the Taroona Child Care Centre (which closed in 1999); similarly, Mt St Canice girls moved from dormitories to hostel care (which closed in 1974), as did Clarendon's children, and in the late 1970s, shelters for young women were established in Hobart and Launceston.

Inspired by the federal report 'Forgotten Australians' about victims of child abuse, and a report by Ombudsman Jan O'Grady, by 2006 the Tasmanian Government has given both a formal apology and the maximum grant of $60,000 to more than 500 former inmates of state care who were abused as children.

Currently children are placed with foster carers or, wherever possible, with kinship carers; Clarendon Children's Home and Kennerley Children's Homes are still operational; and juvenile offenders are housed at Ashley Youth Detention Centre in Deloraine which caters for both sexes aged 10–18 years.

Further reading: A Alexander, 'The public role of women in Tasmania, 1803–1914', PhD thesis, UT, 1989; Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission, A piece of the story, Curtin, 1999; J Brown, “Poverty is not a crime”, Hobart, 1972; Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Forgotten Australians, Canberra, 2004.

Wendy Rimon