We hold records about children who were wards of the State, in State-based care or adopted.

If you are looking for records about your own time in care, apply for access to restricted records through the Department for Child Protection.

The Find and Connect website may have information about non-government institutions.

Records of the Destitute Asylum are described separately.

Access conditions

Records of the State Children's Department are restricted from public access for 100 years, to protect sensitive personal information of children. You may have a right to apply for access to restricted records.

If a child was placed in the care of the department, and the file closed over 100 years ago, there may be some open access records available. Ask a staff member to search for these files.

Researching the records

To roughly explain the progress a child made through the system:

  • a child is committed to the care of the Department - often via a mandate (GRG29/121)
  • placed in an industrial school or reformatory - often Magill or Edwardstown (GRG27/9, GRG27/10, and others)
  • boarded out with a foster family - often recorded in GRG27/5
  • may be re-admitted to an industrial school and boarded out again, if the circumstances were unsatisfactory.

You may need assistance from staff to order individual case records.

Indexes and Digitised Records

Mandates committing children to the custody of the Department, 1875-1972

Mandates committing children to the custody of the Department - Destitute Persons Department and successors, 1875-1972 (GRG 29/121)

An index for this series is under development. Ask a staff member to check the draft list for cases which are likely to be over 100 years old.

Children boarded out, 1861-c1921

Ledgers of children boarded out - Destitute Board, later State Children's Department, 1861-c1921 (GRG27/5)

Use a Keyword Search in ArchivesSearch to find open records.

Index to GRG 27/5 Ledgers of Children Boarded Out 1862-1913 arranged alphabetically by name of both the child and the person with whom placed.

Digitised records on FamilySearch - Ledgers of children boarded out from 1862 (GRG 27/5 units 1-9 covering open access period).

Admissions to Industrial Schools, 1884-1929

Register of admissions - Industrial School, Magill 1884-1893 (GRG 27/10)

This index is arranged alphabetically by surname. You can also use a Keyword Search in ArchivesSearch.

Index to GRG 27/10 Register of admissions Industrial School Magill 1884-1893

Register of admissions to the Industrial School, Magill and Edwardstown 1886-1929 (GRG 27/9)

Use a Keyword Search in ArchivesSearch for the open period.

Children placed with licensed foster mothers, 1902-1910

Register of children placed with licensed foster mothers 1902-1910 (GRG 27/18)

This index is arranged alphabetically by the surname of the child.

Index to GRG 27/18 Register of children placed with licensed foster mothers 1902-1910

Applications for foster mothers' licenses, 1889-1910

Register of applications for foster mothers' licences considered by the State Children's Council 1899-1910 (GRG 27/16)

This index records the name of the applicant, date they applied, page in the volume and their address. 

Where the index shows a '+' symbol, the licence was granted and where it shows a '-' symbol the licence was refused or declined. A '*' symbol indicates a child.

Index to GRG 27/16 Licences granted to Foster Mothers 1900-1910 alphabetical by surname of applicant.

Reports of the Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses, 1881-1909

Reports - Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses 1881-1909 (GRG 27/19)

These indexes are arranged alphabetically by the surname of the person being inspected.

Index to GRG 27/19 Reports of Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses 1884-1909 - A - F

Index to GRG 27/19 Reports of Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses 1884-1909 - G - M

Index to GRG 27/19 Reports of Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses 1884-1909 - N - Z

State Children's Department correspondence files, 1887-1927

Correspondence (SCD) files - State Children's Department 1887-1927 (GRG 27/1)

This index is arranged chronologically by year. It also contains information about the Department and its business.

Index to GRG 27/1 Correspondence of the State Children's Department 1887-1899

For the period before 1891 many files are missing.

Orphaned and deserted children taken out of the Destitute Asylum, 1855-1861

List of orphaned and deserted children taken out of the Destitute Asylum 1855-1861 (GRS 3822)

Index to GRS 3822 Nominal list of orphan and deserted children taken out of the Destitute Asylum 1855 - 1861 by name of child

Index to GRS 3822 Nominal list of orphan and deserted children taken out of the Destitute Asylum 1855 - 1861 by name of person with whom child placed

Key Facts

The Boarding-out system

The main duty of the State Children's Council was the boarding-out system, which included:

  • the boarding-out of children under thirteen years of age
  • the adoption of young children
  • the licensing to service of children over thirteen years of age
  • apprenticeships to trades
  • the licensing of children on probation to their parents, who were proved to be respectable and worthy of trust. 

In 1927, the State Children's Department and the Destitute Persons' Department combined to form the Children's Welfare and Public Relief Department.

In 1966, it became the Social Welfare Department. 

Industrial Schools

The State Children's Council was established as An Act to amend ‘The Destitute Persons Act, 1881’ of 1886 (No. 387). It controlled the Industrial and Reformatory Schools and the boarding-out (fostering) of children.

According to the first Secretary of the State Children's Council the objective of the Council was ‘to take control of the “children of the street” and to train them to become virtuous, honest and useful citizens.’ (South Australian Parliamentary Paper No. 39A of 1887).

When the Council was formed, the Industrial School at Magill was first used as a reception house for children waiting for placement with foster parents or apprenticeships.

The Girls Reformatory was located in the southern wing of the Industrial School at Magill. The Boys Reformatory was located on the Hulk Fitzjames, an out-of-service ship moored off Largs Bay.