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.
Records of the State Children's Department are restricted from public access for 100 years to 31 December from the last year noted in the record (e.g. a record ending in June 1935 would be restricted to 31 December 2035 and publicly accessible from 1 January 2036). This is to protect sensitive personal information of children. You may have a right to apply for access to restricted records.
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)
Index to GRG29/121 Mandates committing children to the custody of the Department, 1875 - 1920 arranged alphabetically by surname of child(ren). See index for further instructions about how to access these files.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
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.
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.