Adoption and fostercare: Departmental records


The Victorian Government’s role in legalising adoption and formalising the process meant that the Department of the day created its own records for adoptions. Although the department’s adoption records date back to the early 1900s (the De facto Adoption Registers), most date after 1961 with the Social Welfare Branch’s inception and the establishment of a centralised adoption registry. Legal adoption in Victoria

Before the Adoption of Children Act 1928, unofficial (de facto) adoptions were arranged by government and non-government organisations as well as individuals.

From the 1870s, the introduction of boarding out made 'quasi adoption' more desirable for the Victorian government as it provided 'free homes for children who would otherwise be long-term costs'.

With the passage of the Infant Life Protection Act 1907, adoptions organised by charitable organisations and private citizens had come under scrutiny – the department was concerned with the way adoptions were being brokered, often through daily newspaper advertisements with inadequate attention being paid to the child’s circumstances.

The 1928 Act legalised adoptions in Victoria and provided for the transfer to adoptive parents of parental rights, duties, obligations and liabilities and offered both the child and the adoptive parents secrecy, safety and stability. The Children's' Welfare Department had responsibility for administering legal adoptions.

In 1961, a new administrative structure was developed to unify and expand the government’s social welfare functions. The Social Welfare Department was created with a Director-General presiding over six divisions: Family Welfare, Youth Welfare, Prisons, Probation and Parole, Training, and Research and Statistics. Foster Care and Adoptions came under the Child Care Section in the Family Welfare Division.

The Family Welfare Division’s work in Foster Care and Adoptions was confined to arranging the adoption of suitable and available wards, and acting as guardian ad litem when appointed by the Court to do so, particularly in the case of relative and de facto adoptions involving department and external solicitors.

The Adoption Act 1964 banned all private adoptions and required organisations to be registered as approved adoption agencies. Under the 1964 Act, the Division had the extra responsibility of arranging non-ward adoptions and of exercising guardianship over these children pending their adoptions. The Division was also required to approve private adoption agencies, provide the Court with reports concerning adoptions, and approve or reject payments made in connection with adoptions. Because of the increased workload, in July 1965, the Foster Care and Adoptions became a separate section.

In the late 1960s, the numbers of babies available for adoption fell well below the number of couples seeking approval. Application lists were closed and the section’s focus changed to facilitating adoptions of children who were hard-to-place, such as disabled, traumatised, and inter-racial.

Inter-country adoptions in particular became a focus. Previously, these were mostly children with relatives in Victoria, but the publicity surrounding Vietnamese and Cambodian orphans generated a high level of enquiries and the Adoption and Foster Care Section developed a new program focus.

In the 1970s, the policy of regionalising services resulted in transfer of the ward foster care program to Regional Services Division in 1976. The Central Adoptions section developed a number of Regional adoption sections in Barwon, North-Eastern Suburbs, and Goulburn Valley regions. As a result, the centrally administered service was available statewide and integrated with the regional services.

In 1977, the Social Welfare Department became the Department of Community Welfare Services that incorporated the Adoption Section under Family and Adolescent Services. Adoption services had three units: General Unit, Inter Country Unit, and Special Needs Unit each with responsibilities (regionally and centrally) for specific adoption types.

In 1984–85, the change to Department of Community Services had quite an effect on the Adoption Section, now called Permanent and Long Term Family Placement.

The Adoption Act 1984 had shifted Victoria’s adoption policy to focus on the needs of adopted children, and enshrine a child's right to access information about his or her family of origin. Permanent and Long Term Family Placement (the new Adoptions Section) was regionalised, placing case responsibility to each of the relevant regions. Applicant assessments and placement supervision for overseas adoptions was moved to International Social Services.

In 1992, the adoption program was fully regionalised, and records management decentralised.

The adoption process today

Department of Health and Human Services: Adoption website informationExternal Link
Information for people considering placing their child for adoptionExternal Link
Information for people wishing to adoptExternal Link

The Foster Care Process

During the 1950s and 1960s, the community services sector experimented with foster care. Many agencies established foster care programs as alternatives to placing children in residential care, or to reduce the number of children already in residential care. The Department made payments for wards under school age who had been placed in non-government foster care.

During the late 1950s, the Department implemented a team of field staff to increase the number of wards being placed into the lower cost and socially preferred option of foster care and dealing with the obstacle of parental permission. The Department conducted its own foster care program for the placement of wards through the Foster Care and Adoption Section of the Family Welfare Division and ensured 'the acquiescence of parents was no longer regarded as a requirement'.

During the 1960s, the Department mounted concerted publicity campaigns to recruit foster carers, with mixed success as most prospective applicants 'were characterised by a lack of understanding of the true nature of fostering'. Initially, most foster care placements were longer term, sometimes becoming de facto adoptions. By the 1970s foster care was defined as a service enabling the placement of a child or children with a selected family for a planned period while work occurred with the natural family towards the child’s return home or to a permanent placement.

The different forms of foster care were:

  • Short/long term placement: Up to 2 years
  • Emergency: Up to 8 weeks
  • Reception: Up to 3 months awaiting formal legal procedure
  • Pre-adoptive: Up to 2 years (child with a consent awaiting adoption)


  • Home release to relative
  • Ward placement with a relative

In 1974 only two foster care programs were officially in the field: the Child Care Service of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, and Mercy Family Care.

The administration of foster care programs (as opposed to individual placements) was not funded by the Government until 1975, when a $5000 establishment grant per agency was approved, increasing to $20,000 in 1976. Agencies were then paid $315 per placement and were required to place two wards for every non-ward. An ongoing maintenance fee of $10 per week was also paid to carers, but the cost of providing foster care far exceeded the level of subsidy provided.

In 1977, the first consolidated list of community based foster care agencies appeared in the files. Two were foster care programs implemented by the Department's own regional centres. Two others were subsidised by the Department and the rest were community or agency supported.

Indefinite-term Foster Care

  • Geelong Foster Care
  • Child Care Service Broadmeadows
  • Anglican Foster Care Northeast
  • Central Highlands Regional Centre
  • North Western Regional Centre

Reception Foster Care

  • Geelong Foster Care
  • Wodonga
  • Wangaratta

Emergency Foster Care

  • Geelong Foster Care
  • Goulburn Community Care
  • Cairnmillar (Melbourne)
  • Broadmeadows Family Service
  • Wodonga
  • Wangaratta
  • Maryborough Emergency Parents
  • Bendigo Hospital
  • Wimmera Foster Care (Protestant
    Church and Catholic Church)
  • Careforce (Northeastern Region)
  • Ballarat Emergency Foster Care
  • Christian Brethren

In 1977–78, regional reception foster care was developed to complement the use of reception centres and provide an additional service to the subsidised 'indefinite' foster care programs run by the community service sector and the Department. The regional administration of foster care made it possible for children to live in familiar areas and maintain contact with natural parents, while also making it possible for agencies to develop services in line with local needs.

Nine emergency foster care services had been developed by community service agencies, mostly in rural regions, providing temporary crisis care for children in private homes in their own locality. The children involved were not wards and the foster care was seen as additional regional family support.

Program documentation available at the time covered:

  • Foster Care
  • Temporary Emergency Child Care
  • The Victorian policy framework for developing foster care services
  • Requirements for the Approval of a Certified Agency
  • Policy Statement on special needs
  • Foster Care

A new foster care subsidy scheme was approved by the Premier in 1979:

  • Establishment grant of $10,000 per agency
  • 90 per cent salary subsidy
  • One ward to every non-ward to be placed by the agency
  • Parents fostering non-wards to be paid the same amount as parents fostering wards ($20 per week)

By August 1981, it was Departmental policy to hand over the operation of foster care programs to non-government agencies, dependent on agency availability.

Approved foster care programs as at March 1983 were:

  • Geelong Foster Care (Mercy) plus sub office Colac
  • Central Gippsland Foster Care (Gippsland Family Services)
  • Central Highlands Foster Family Care (DCWS)
  • Kilmany Family Care
  • Glenelg Foster Care
  • Goulburn Foster Care (DCWS)
  • Inner East Foster Care
  • Copelan Street Family Sharing Program
  • FOCUS (Community Health Centre)-pending
  • Fitzroy Social Planning Office- pending
  • St Luke's Family Care Bendigo
  • Mallee Family Care
  • North East Foster Care 239 Murray St Preston
  • North West Foster Care- NOW Centre (Depart)
  • Outer East Foster Care
  • Careforce Foster Care Croydon
  • SHAG Blackburn Baptist Church
  • Kids-in-Care Ringwood
  • Upper Murray Family Care Wodonga (plus sub-office Wangaratta)
  • Wodonga Murray Valley Emergency Care Yackandandah
  • Western Foster Care (DCWS)
  • Foster Care Westernport-plus sub office Mornington
  • Wimmera Foster Care (DCWS)

In May 1983 establishment grants were provided to:

  • Glenelg Foster Care Program
  • Central Gippsland Foster Care Program
  • Inner Urban North Foster Care Program

By 1983–84, foster care was provided in 16 regions by 21 non-government agencies and 3 Departmental services. The following year, foster care programs were established in the final two regions (Wimmera and Southern).Reception foster care programs were available in most regions. By 1990–91, the number of foster care programs had increased to 32 non-government and three government services.

Social Welfare Branch of the Chief Secretary’s Department Central Adoption Registry

In 1961, under the Social Welfare Branch, the sub-section Foster Care and Adoptions brought together the adoption and foster care case file system for administration within one central registry. The registry files indicated the applicant’s status within the adoption/foster care process, closing the files when applications were unsuccessful or withdrawn.

The files of applicants who successfully adopted a ward of state have been emptied. Those files remain in TRIM marked with a cross reference to the child's ward file, where information about the application is presumably stored.

The main reasons for the closure of an applicant’s file are:

(A) Successful adoption
(B) Application or foster carer withdrawal
(C) Unsuccessful application including:

  • Removal of birth parent consent
  • Age, medical or criminal history of applicants
  • No child suitable
  • Inter-country applicants did not fulfil conditions required (motivations of inter-country applicants were carefully studied).

The files for Adoption Applications/Relative Adoptions are arranged in two very clear sequences:

  • Pre-1967 files are arranged alphabetically by applicant’s surname
  • Post-1967 files are arranged by a single sequential file number.

The post-1967 files have been colour-coded (either with coloured tape attached to the file, or coloured file covers) to indicate the type of case relevant to the application.

Adoptive Applicants/Relative Adoptions Files comprise files arranged according to:

  • 'IC' (Inter-Country) prefix files
  • 'AFC' (Adoptive & Foster Care) prefix files
  • Applicants' names
  • Relative Adoptions.

The following colour key appears to have been used:

  • Pink/Red File or Tape-general application file for adoptions and foster care;
  • Blue File or Tape-interstate and inter-country cases;
  • Pale Green File or Green Tape-parental consent for adoption was revoked;
  • Yellow / Bone File or Tape-relative or de facto adoption;
  • Bone Folder Slashed with Red-the child had died, had been adopted by another applicant, or when fostering was terminated in extenuating circumstances (i.e. foster family no longer suitable).
  • Dark Green Printed File-Vietnamese and Cambodian Inter-country adoptions/ foster care.

From the mid-1970s, the records represent the diminishing levels of ward of state adoptions and foster care, and increasing cases of relative and inter-country adoptions, which become the major type of case file represented. This system of colour coding seems to have been altered when the inter-country adoptions became the predominant category: the inter-country files are represented across all the different coloured files covers (the system changes require further research).

Access to Adoption Records

For detailed information on the Department’s collections of adoption records, see the collection guide to Departmental adoption records

The Adoption Act 1984 regulates access to records of people adopted in the state of Victoria.

Sections 82 to 104 of the Act regulate access to adoption records. In particular Section 102 discusses the Adoption Information Service (AIS) which was established to provide assistance to people seeking information about adoption. According to Section 102 (c) the AIS is required to receive applications for information under this Part. It is also required to "make arrangements for the provision of counselling in relation to applications under this Part." (Section 102 (b).

These services are now provided by the Family Information Networks Discovery (FIND)External Link .

FIND enables people to place their name on an information register, to obtain information and to make contact. It also offers counselling and intermediary services.

Contact FINDExternal Link on (03) 8608 5700, or (local call) 1300 769 926


Please note that this administrative history is provided for general information only and does not purport to be comprehensive. The department does not guarantee the accuracy of this administrative history.


Guide to Out of Home Care Services 1940 – 2000 Volume One Agency Descriptions, Compiled by James Jenkinson Consulting North Melbourne, November 2001.

Genealogical Finding Aid, Adoption Records. Compiled by Sarah Lethbridge, Archival Services, Department of Human Services. June 1996.

Adoptions Act 1928
Social Welfare Act 1960
Adoptions Act 1964
Social Welfare Act 1970
Community Welfare Services Act 1970
Adoptions Act 1984

Reviewed 24 April 2019