The Victorian Children’s Welfare Department began its Family Group Home Program in 1956. At first, each of the Department’s group homes accommodated eight children, under the care of a cottage mother (and often a cottage father too). By 1974 there were 40 Departmental homes housing 209 children in the inner and outer suburbs of Melbourne as well as more regional area across Victoria. From the 1980s, the Department offered other models of residential ‘care’ services, in addition to family group homes.
In 1956, the Children’s Welfare Department began to offer family group home accommodation partly to relieve overcrowding at Turana, the sole reception centre (from 1955 to 1961) for children committed to State care.
Dr Phyllis Tewsley, Medical Superintendent at Royal Park Depot and Turana from 1948 until her retirement in 1959, was one of the pioneers of the small family group idea for children as an alternative to the established system of caring for them in large institutions.
In 1957, the Department’s annual report described the family group homes as ‘an adjunct of Turana’. It also reflected the growing popularity of the Family Group Home model of ‘care’, which occurred at the same time as large-scale, ‘congregate care’ was being phased out.
The first family group homes established by the Department were manufactured by the ‘Concrete House Project’ of the Housing Commission in northern metropolitan Melbourne.
Each house was under the care of a cottage mother, although seven of the homes had a ‘cottage father’ as well. Within the Department, the family group homes were supervised by a trained social worker.
By 1958, there were four houses in Preston, and two houses in Heidelberg, Northcote and Coburg respectively. Each home was given a name (e.g. Kanangra, Moonyah, Bunyarra, Lentara, and Arunga). In 1960, the Department established another two family group homes, in the rural town of Ararat.
By 1974, the Department operated 40 family group homes around Victoria, housing 209 children. It also reported plans to establish another 11 homes by the end of 1974.
From the 1980s, the Department offered other models of residential ‘care’ services, in addition to family group homes.