The Methodist Babies’ Home in South Yarra was established in 1929. It organised the adoption of many babies in Victoria.
In 1974, it became the Copelen Street Family Centre, offering foster care and preventive family services.
The establishment of the Methodist Babies’ Home in 1929 coincided with the implementation of Victoria’s first adoption act (passed in 1928).
The Home was a major player in adoption in Victoria. In its first five years of operation, it arranged for 198 babies to be placed in adoptive homes.
The Methodist Babies’ Home relieved pressure on staff at Methodist Homes for Children in Cheltenham to care for young babies.
Those children in Babies’ Home not adopted by the age of four were transferred to the Children’s Home at Cheltenham. The Babies’ Home Committee retained legal control of these children even after they were transferred. These wards of the Babies’ Home were transferred yet again at the age of nine, this time to the farm school at Tally Ho.
Matron Grant was the first matron at the Methodist Babies’ Home, and she did not retire until 1962.
The money for the property at 12 Copelen Street, South Yarra, was largely raised by the Young Men’s section of the Methodist Church’s Laymen’s Missionary Movement. The well-known social reformer, F. Oswald Barnett, was a key figure in the establishment of the Methodist Babies’ Home.
The Babies’ Home was opened in December 1929. According to one history:
The opening was a remarkable event with a massive crowd of 8000 people, many of whom had travelled from country regions. The final £3000 needed to pay for the building was raised from the crowd in a matter of minutes, making it debt-free, an astounding achievement at that time when many were themselves struggling.
The surviving records of the Methodist Babies’ Home demonstrate how this institution subscribed to the ‘clean break theory’ of adoption which was popular in the twentieth century. The registers show how children admitted to the Methodist Babies’ Home were given an ‘alias’ by staff.
In 1959 the Methodist Babies’ Home merged with the Boards of the Methodist Homes for Children (Orana) to form the Methodist Department of Childcare, led by Rev Keith Mathieson. The two institutions continue to operate separately under this new governance structure.
The passage of the Adoption Act 1964 changed practices at the Methodist Babies’ Home. The process of becoming an ‘approved adoption agency’ under the new legislation led to the appointment of the Home’s first social worker, Rev. Graeme Gregory to manage the placement of babies and children. From the mid-1960s, babies and toddlers from the Home spent a period in foster care before they were adopted.
In the 1970s, the changes continued and the institution moved away from congregate care towards smaller, more ‘family like’ groups of babies and young children. The buildings were renovated and new ‘cottages’ were built on the site.
From the early 1970s, the direct care of ‘neglected’ babies was phased out in favour of family, unit-based support services and foster care.
In 1971, the Methodist Department of Childcare merged with the Presbyterian Department of Social Services in 1971 to create the Child Care Service of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. This Child Care Service (whose Director was Graeme Gregory) was the sole Victorian agency supervising inter-country adoptions and placements of children from Vietnam during the 1970s.
In 1974, a Parents and Children’s Centre was established in the buildings of the home at 12 Copelen Street South Yarra. This centre offered a variety of family services programs, including a day care centre, parent skills training, a drop-in centre, and family counselling and support. The Methodist Babies’ Home ceased to be around this time, and the agency became known as the ‘Copelen Street Family Centre’.
In 1995 the Methodist Babies Home site at 12 Copelen street was sold. The buildings were demolished sometime after, probably in the mid to late 1990s. The new buildings constructed on the site were designed to look similar to the original ones. There is a plaque on the site commemorating the Babies Home.