We hold records about children who were:

  • wards of the State
  • in another arrangement for State-based care, or
  • adopted.

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

Information may be found in:

  • the major series of correspondence files of the former State Children's Department (GRG27/1) - note: many files created before 1891 are missing
  • case files or cards relating to individual children or families, or
  • registers containing information about many cases.

The Find and Connect website may be useful if you have an interest in the care of children by non-government institutions.

Records of the Destitute Asylum are described separately.

Access conditions

Records of the State Children's Department are typically restricted from general 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 committed to the care of the department, and the file closed over 100 years ago, there may be some open access records in part-open series.
Ask a staff member to search for these files.

Researching the records

Most records relating to this subject were created by the:

  • State Children’s Department (GRG27)
  • Destitute Persons’ Department (GRG28), or
  • Social Welfare Department (GRG29).

The relationship between these three agencies and the series they recorded may be complex.

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 a 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 special lists

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

This list is arranged chronologically by year. It also contains some background information about the Department.

Special list for GRG 27/1 - Correspondence of the State Children's Department, 1887-1899

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

A special list 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.

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

This list is alphabetical by surname. You can also use Keyword Search in ArchivesSearch.

Special list for 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 Keyword Search in ArchivesSearch for the open period.

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

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

Special List 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

Ledgers of children boarded out - Destitute Board, later State Children's Department, 1861-c1921 (GRG 27/5)

Use Keyword Search in ArchivesSearch for the open period.

There is a  digitised copy of this series for the open period.

Special list for GRG 27/5 Ledgers of Children Boarded Out, 1862-1913 - arranged alphabetically by name of both the child and the person with whom placed

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

Special list for GRG 27/18 - Register of children placed with licensed foster mothers, 1902-1910 - alphabetical by the surname of the child

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

This special list records the:

  • name of the applicant
  • date they applied
  • page in the volume for their application
  • applicant's address. 

It also uses symbols " + " to mean the licence was granted, and " - " to mean the licence was refused or declined, and " * " to indicate a child.

Special list for GRG 27/16 Licences granted to Foster Mothers, 1900-1910 - alphabetical by surname of applicant

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

These special lists are arranged alphabetically by the surname of the person being inspected, and cover:

  • 1884 -1891
  • 1898 - 1899
  • 1901 - 1902 and
  • 1908 - 1909.

Special list for GRG 27/19 Reports of Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses, 1884-1909 - A - F

Special list for GRG 27/19 Reports of Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses, 1884-1909 - G - M

Special list for GRG 27/19 Reports of Inspectress of Licensed Foster Mothers and Wetnurses, 1884-1909 - N - Z

Digitised records

FamilySearch - Ledgers of children boarded out - Destitute Board, later State Children's Department, from 1862 (GRG 27/5 units 1-9)

Types of records

Correspondence

The major series of the State Children's Department (GRG27/1) covers all aspects of the State Children's Department's business including:

  • maintenance of state wards
  • placement of children
  • suitability of foster homes
  • absconded state wards
  • applications by parents for the return of children
  • applications by state wards for their wages.

Many files created before 1891 are missing.

Incoming correspondence was organised into files, which relate to one particular subject or individual.
Documents received over a number of years may have been placed in the same file. File covers may be annotated with the file numbers of related files. Correspondence files consist of:

  • letters and other documents received by the Department
  • memoranda of action taken
  • internal reports or inquiries
  • brief notes outlining the reply (nineteenth century), or copies of letters sent (twentieth century).

Outgoing correspondence was often drafted in letter books, or paper pressed over wet drafts was bound into books as an early form of copying.

Cases

Children often carried the same registration number with them across different record series.
The number is usually a sequential number followed by the year in which they were first registered.

Our collection includes (but is not limited to):

  • index cards relating to State wards (GRS 4472, c1900 - 1992)
  • registers of admissions to Industrial Schools and the Destitute Asylum (various references)
  • registers of children placed with licensed foster mothers
  • mandates committing children to the custody of the Department (GRG29/121, 1875 - 1972)
  • ledgers of children boarded out (c1862 - 1921)

Information provided in the registers often include:

  • child's name
  • age
  • date of birth
  • date of arrival in South Australia
  • religion
  • nationality and last place of residence. 

There may also be information regarding:

  • relatives in Australia
  • reasons for requiring admission
  • court of committal and recommendation
  • admission and discharge dates and proposed whereabouts
  • child's employment
  • school masters and their remarks
  • date of Inspector's report and comments regarding child's placement, and
  • schooling and general progress.

Key facts

During the latter half of the nineteenth century the South Australian government established a number of social welfare agencies.

These cared for:

  • the aged (Magill Old Folk’s Home)
  • those left destitute (the Destitute Asylum)
  • children requiring custodial control (the Industrial School, the Girls Reformatory and the Boys Reformatory)
  • orphans (through the Boarding-Out System), and
  • people with mental illness or intellectual impairment (Adelaide, then Parkside, then Glenside Lunatic Asylums) - The word "Lunatic" reflects the term in use at the time of the record creation.

The Boarding-out system

The greater part of the State Children's Council's responsibility lay with the boarding-out system, which included:

  • the boarding-out of children under thirteen years of age in approved homes, at a fixed weekly subsidy
  • the adoption of young children by respectable persons having no children of their own
  • 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.

The Children's Welfare and Public Relief Department, established in 1927 combined the operations of the State Children's Department and the Destitute Persons' Department. In 1966 it became the Social Welfare Department. 

Industrial Schools

The State Children's Council was established under An Act to amend ‘The Destitute Persons Act, 1881’ of 1886 (No. 387).

It assumed control of the Industrial and Reformatory Schools, and the boarding-out (fostering) of children.

In the words of 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).

At the time of the Council's inception, the Industrial School, located at Magill was used primarily as a reception house for children awaiting placement with foster parents or in apprenticeships.

The Girls Reformatory was housed in the southern wing of the Industrial School, Magill.

The Boys Reformatory was located on an out-of-service ship, the Hulk Fitzjames moored off Largs Bay.