St James Orphan Asylum and Visiting Society (1877 – 1902)


  • Auspice:Non-Denominational
  • Title or Name:St James Orphan Asylum and Visiting Society (1845–53)
  • Later Names:Melbourne Orphan Asylum (1853–1926), Melbourne Orphanage (1926–65), Melbourne Family Care Organisation (1965–87), Family Action (1987–93), Oz Child (1993–current)
  • Address:Ferntree Gully Road, Glen Waverley 

St James Orphan Asylum and Visiting Society history in brief

In 1851, the Victorian government allocated land in South Melbourne to St James Orphan Asylum and Visiting Society to establish a non-denominational facility for orphaned children, aged three to 16 years.

In 1878, the renamed Melbourne Orphan Asylum moved to a new complex in Brighton with five large 'cottage' style buildings, each for about 30 children, with an administrative building, workshops, an on-site school and a detached hospital.

In 1926, the name changed to the Melbourne Orphanage. After World War II, a wider range of children were admitted including some from broken homes.

By 1955, the Melbourne Orphanage had capacity for about 150 children in the self-contained cottage system: four cottages with up to 30 younger children; one with 12 older children, and one with eight.

During the mid-1950s, the orphanage shifted from large campus-based cottages to community-based family group home care. In 1961, Melbourne Orphanage moved to Ferntree Gully Road, Glen Waverley, and started implementing a decentralised cottage-home scheme and social work support.

By 1962, there were seven large family group homes in the area, each averaging 10 children. Soon, smaller units with fewer children were introduced. By 1963, Melbourne Orphanage had 14 family group homes for up to 106 children of both sexes, aged from babies to late teenagers.

Melbourne Orphanage introduced a focus on preventative work with families in crisis. In 1964, it outlined services it offered in the eastern suburbs: counselling, financial assistance, day care, emergency housekeeping, respite care for parents, guidance, emergency food and clothing, education support, and a foster care program.

In 1965, Melbourne Orphanage changed its name to Melbourne Family Care Organisation.

In the late 1970s, Melbourne Family Care had nine family group homes. In 1977, Melbourne Family Care further reduced the residential program.

Melbourne Family Care established Dandenong Valley Family Care (later Windermere Child and Family Services), Upper Murray Family Care and Mallee Family Care, in conjunction with local welfare interest groups. Each of these agencies became incorporated and legally independent (see separate entries).

In 1987 the agency adopted a new name, Family Action, and increased financial support to the Children's Bureau of Australia. In 1990, Family Action handed its research and information service to the Bureau.

In 1993, Family Action, the National Children's Bureau of Australia and Family Focus, amalgamated to form Oz Child, a child-focused agency working within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Oz Child provides foster care; respite care for children with disabilities; help placing children with disabilities in family day care; shared family care; residential services for adolescents; learning centres to help with learning disabilities; research; information services; and publishes a quarterly journal.

Oz Child’s head office is in South Melbourne, and it manages its wide range of direct services from three offices in the Dandenong area, Bentleigh and Mornington.

Warning about distressing information

This guide contains information that some people may find distressing. If you experienced abuse as a child or young person in an institution mentioned in this guide, it may be a difficult reading experience. Guides may also contain references to previous views, policies and practices that are regrettable and do not reflect the current views, policies or practices of the department or the State of Victoria. If you find this content distressing, please consult with a support person either from the Department of Health and Human Services or another agency.


Please note that the content of 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. For more information on the history of child welfare in Australia, see Find & ConnectExternal Link .


  • Guide to out-of-home care services 1940–2000: volume one – agency descriptions, compiled by James Jenkinson Consulting, North Melbourne, November 2001.

List of records held by the department

Note for readers of the guide:

  • For information relating to the central management of wards of state, please consult the guide to Central department wardship and out-of-home care records. These collections date back to the 1860s, and include ward registers, index cards and ward files.
  • For information relating to organisations and institutions that provided adoption and foster care services, please consult the guide to Adoption and Foster Care Applications, Case Files and Adoptee Enquiries, and the separate guides to the individual organisations.

Defunct Agency Adoption Records (Adoption Information Service) (1920–82)

File; Permanent VPRS Number 17943 / P0001

Content: The Adoption Act 1984 allowed approved agencies to arrange and negotiate the adoption of children. It also required that agencies keep certain records. If an agency’s approval or operations ceased, their records were to be forwarded to the Secretary of the Department.

The Act also required the Department to establish an adoption information service (AIS), with access to both records created by the Department and the records of the former approved agencies. The adoption records now held by the Department were created by as many as 30 different adoption agencies that were in operation at different times. After the AIS was formed, circa 1985, it gathered the records of the various former agencies, numbered the files sequentially with an “A” prefix and created a full index.

Other AIS unnumbered adoption files and card indexes were also transferred at a later date. The records management unit allocated these records different numbering systems to distinguish between the card indexes from the files. The categories of files were grouped by the adoption agency they related to and the function of the file. Some of the file sequences also hold an "A" prefix as adoption files. However, the numbering system is separate to the first collection transferred from the AIS.

Content of files will vary but may include:

  • Application to Adopt form
  • Documents and correspondence supporting the application.
  • Consent to Adopt and correspondence.
  • Legal documents
  • Birth certificates
  • Photographs

Files attributed to the Melbourne Family Care Organisation are numbered in the range A4945 to A4959.
There may be additional files relating to the Melbourne Family Care Organisation outside of this number range.

Voluntary children’s homes files (c.1930–c.1985)

File; Permanent VPRS Number 18069/P0001 and 18069/P0002

Content: The files essentially record interaction between the various voluntary homes and the government. This filing system was created in 1975, combining earlier correspondence and other records to create one system with ‘VH’ prefixes.

The specific files relating to both The Melbourne Orphanage and Melbourne Family Care Organisation, are dated from 1950–86 and include:

File VH-121-1A:

  • holiday arrangements for state wards, including names and placements, 1980–82
  • director’s report on future of family group homes, 1981
  • application for grant to relocate Yallum to the Dandenong Valley, 1981
  • invitation to 130th anniversary of MFCO, 1981•request to department for restocking first aid kits, 1981
  • conversion fund assistance sought for establishment of early adolescent unit in Westernport and establishment of early adolescent unit or family group home in Upper Murray, 1981
  • looking at phasing out Inner East family group homes. 1981
  • report regarding Bales Street, details of children and house parents, 1981
  • recommended closure date of 1985, to meet needs of present children, 1981
  • other family group homes at May Road, Dunscombe Avenue, Muir Street, Bales Street, Pamay Road, 1981
  • regarding southern homes – Mountain Crescent, Calista Avenue (early adolescent unit), Haughton Road (Vietnamese family group home), 1981
  • possible transfer from 13 Mountain Crescent, Mulgrave to 76 Muir Street, Mt Waverley, 1982
  • documents re proposed early adolescent unit in Westernport, 1982
  • ministerial correspondence; correspondence regarding conversion funding and operating deficit for the Westernport early adolescent unit, 1982–83•correspondence regarding possible budget cuts and review of all projects, 1983
  • declaration of approved children’s homes: Pamay Road, Mt Waverley; Dunscombe Avenue, Glen Waverley; Calista Avenue, North Clayton; Haughton Road, Clayton; Muir Street, Mt Waverley; Yallum, Pickett Street, Dandenong, 1983
  • correspondence regarding review of voluntary agencies and residential child care staff, including details of staff positions and salary subsidies, 1984
  • letter requesting consideration of computerised welfare data collection system, 1984
  • MFCO newsletter, vol 7. no. 1, 1985, includes photographs, mainly of staff, 1985, and vol. 5, no. 1, 1983, and vol. 7, no. 3, and annual report, 1985
  • correspondence regarding planned independence of MCFO from Upper Murray Family Care and Mallee Family Care, 1985.

File VH-121-1B:

  • details of holiday placements for wards, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980
  • departmental report on staffing including reference to high level of administrative roles and need for a cost–benefit analysis, 1976
  • report and correspondence on house parents, 13 Mountain Crescent Mulgrave, 1976
  • documentation of a specific family’s situation, 1976
  • minutes of policy and planning subcommittee, 1977
  • list of children in care of MCFO, 1978
  • notification of plan to go into Upper Westernport region and phase down of residential care in Waverley, 1978
  • informal report of an advertisement in a union publication advising members not to join staff of MFCO, 1978
  • departmental memorandum regarding future residential child care program of MFCO, 1978
  • application for family group home in Swan Hill, 1978
  • submission for a Youth Care Project 1978
  • documentation regarding conversion grants with details of grants made to other voluntary agencies for their family group homes, 1979
  • documentation noting concerns in voluntary sector about funding, 1979
  • documentation regarding smoking policy and Ombudsman enquiry in 1978–79, 1979
  • application for conversion funding unsuccessful, 1980
  • documents relating to MFCO program review, 1980
  • minutes and other documentation relating to the needs and set up of services for isolated Vietnamese refugee children, 1980
  • meeting regarding turning family group home at Calista Avenue into an adolescent unit, including summary of adolescent cases who are in need of such a facility, 1980
  • conversion funding application successful; Yallum transfer; purchase of property in Westernport, 1980.

File VH 121-1C:

  • report on investigation of complaint made by father about treatment of his children at the Melbourne Orphanage, 1950
  • inspectors’ reports identify the girls as doing cooking and child care; notes many children educationally behind the average for their age group willing to start an 'opportunity' grade, c.1950s
  • some annual reports
  • report from neighbour of institution about the behaviour and treatment of the children
  • a report from a staff member suggesting Superintendent is not doing a good job, 1955
  • press clipping The Age, 1958
  • correspondence regarding sending wards home for weekend stays with their parents, 1958
  • report on family group homes; three have been running for 18 months and just opened another four; parents are encouraged to visit children in family group homes, 1962
  • request for assistance with primary school books/equipment and travel expenses denied, 1962
  • inspection reports of family group homes, 1962
  • correspondence about funding of children in employment but still residing in an institution, 1963
  • report on progress of Melbourne Orphanage re-organisation scheme, 1963
  • Melbourne Orphanage registers 14 family group homes, 1963
  • Copy of letter sent to all providers asking for help in placing wards, 1964
  • announces plan to become an approved adoption agency, 1964

File VH 121-1D:

  • notes on sudden closure of family group home at 14 Bales Street, Mt Waverly, and dismissal of cottage parents; children moved to family group home at 49 Grenfell Road, Mt Waverly, 1969
  • report on unsupervised party at family group home, 614 High street, Syndal, 1969
  • reports on children who had left care, 1970
  • accusation of house parent hitting a child, 1970
  • summary of cases of financial relief and summary of cases in family group homes: Bales Street, Mount Waverley; Calista Avenue; North Clayton; Dunscombe Avenue, Glen Waverley; Grenfell Road, Mount Waverley; Haughton Road, Clayton; Highland Avenue, North Clayton (x2); High Street Road, Glen Waverley; Meadow Crescent, Mount Waverley; Mountain Crescent, Mulgrave; Muir Street, Mount Waverley; Pamay Road, Mount Waverley; Petter Street, Glen Waverley; Waverley Road, Glen Waverley, c.1972
  • documentation of plans for expanding services for teenagers, c.1973
  • declaration of institution as an approved children’s home in 1973
  • 679 Waverley Road family group home closes and West Flat, 583 Ferntree Gully Road, Glen Waverley, opens (inspection report), 1973
  • report on after care, 1973.

File VH 121-1E:

  • annual reports 1965, 1969–78
  • MFCO newsletters, vol. 1, no. 1 to vol. 1 no .3, 1979
  • Brochure for Dandenong Family Care, c. 1970s

File VH 121-1F:

  • MFCO newsletters, vol. 2, no. 1, 1980 to vol. 8, no 3, 1986, including MFCO annual reports, 1980–82, 1985–86.

Staffing Priorities Committee, homes and hostels files (1976–83)

File; Unappraised

Content: This collection comprises files documenting the recommendations for staffing positions for homes and hostels, correspondence between the Minister of Community Welfare Services and senior officers as well as funding information.

The Staffing Priorities Committee made recommendations to the minister regarding priority of staffing positions required. Individual homes and hostels are listed accompanied by comprehensive material concerning each home, family group home or hostel. There are also minutes from the approved children's homes and hostels meetings from 1978–80.

The specific file relating to Melbourne Family Care Organisation dates from 1978–79.

Staffing Priorities Committee, homes and hostels, correspondence, guidelines for operation and minutes of meetings (1976–80)

File; Unappraised

Content: This collection contains the permanent material removed from AS/1993/014. These records comprise ministerial correspondence, and Staffing Priority Committee minutes and list of members. The Staffing Priorities Committee made recommendations to the minister regarding priority of staffing positions required

Family Welfare Division funding and accounts files (1971–77)

File; Temporary

Content: These accounts and funding files are for individual children’s homes and are used to make allocations. They contain a monthly census giving names and dates of birth to calculate per capita expenses. There are annual reports of homes, income statements, reports on conditions of homes as assessed on visits. The records are arranged in a broad chronological order.
The specific files relating to the Melbourne Family Care Organisation are dated 1971–75.

Reviewed 10 August 2016