Filling in the blanks...

Finding information about a childhood spent in institutional ‘care’ is not easy. Even when records are found and released, decisions affecting individual lives may not be clearly explained in case files. Sometimes this is because actions were taken based on standard procedures or common practices, and the organisations involved did not consider it necessary to detail their motives unless exceptional circumstances were involved.

Knowledge of the administrative and policy contexts that institutional homes and social welfare organisations operated in can help to fill in the some of the blanks and gaps in the records. Two new collections located at the University of Melbourne Archives include records that may be of interest to people who spent time in out of home ‘care’ as children, and to researchers in the history of child welfare in Australia.

Australian Red Cross
In October 2014, The Australian Red Cross announced that its archival collection would be donated to the University of Melbourne Archives as a gift to the nation. The donated records relate to the Australian Red Cross National Office and the Victorian Division. Records created by other State Divisions are not held by the University of Melbourne. In total, around 400 shelf meters of records will be transferred to the University.

The first set of records from the Red Cross collection, including correspondence files kept by Head Office and by the Victorian branch, is now available for access by researchers and the public. Among other topics, Red Cross correspondence files cover subjects such as convalescent homes, refugees, prisoners of war (including POW Children’s Home and Camps) and displaced persons tracing services. Individual case files were not created as part of general correspondence.

Red Cross Poster
WW1-era Australian Red Cross Poster, designed by David Henry Souter

Social Policy Archive
Another collection recently acquired by the University of Melbourne is the Social Policy Archive established in 1993 by RMIT associate professor in Youth Studies Dr David Maunders. This collection consists of records relating to social policy, youth and child services. It holds research papers, case files, and administrative records created by a number of organisations and individuals. The community sector was particularly active in the period documented by the archive (c.1970s-1990s), and the Social Policy Archive was set up to preserve a record of community sector organisations operating in the welfare sector, alongside contemporary government policy and academic research.

The Social Policy Archive includes material from organisations such as the Citizens Welfare Service, Youth Advocacy Network and the Youth Affairs Council, as well as reports and research papers written by academics, community workers and government bodies. It also includes a copy of the terms of reference, minutes of meetings, submissions and final report of the Committee of Enquiry in Child Care Services in Victoria (commonly known as the Norgard Inquiry).

Other collections
A number of other collections held by the University of Melbourne Archives are also significant to the history of child welfare and out of home care in Australia. These include the personal and professional papers of social work leaders Len Tierney (whose 1964 book Children Who Need Help provided a basis for substantial and continuing developments in family welfare and out of home care for children) and Teresa Wardell.

If you would like to know more about these collections and how to access them, please contact the University of Melbourne Archives Reference Service.

Keep looking!
There are many similar collections held in archives across the country. Visit the Find & Connect web resource for more suggestions on where to look to help fill in the gaps left in the records of Forgotten Australians.

If you have found an archive or collection that helped piece together your past, please share your story in the comments if you would like to do so.