Records from private adoption agencies

About the Adoption Information Service

In the late 1990s, the department’s Adoption Information Service was incorporated into DHHS FIND (Family Information Networks Discovery).

In 2012–16, the Ward Records Plan resulted in 1.33 million archival records related to former care leavers and departmental clients being appraised, indexed and cross referenced. The original records have now been re-boxed, appropriately labelled and stored in accredited facilities. 

The information below was compiled in 1996 and has been updated wherever possible. While still potentially outdated, the information may still offer some context to the records the department received, and may help you refine your individual search.


Adoption agency records (“other records”, “A files”, “ward files”, “non-ward files”) are the records that the agency or responsible individuals created in the process of arranging legal adoptions. They are distinctly different from court records.

Since Victoria’s first Adoption Act 1928, as many as 30 different adoption agencies have been in operation at different times. Some of these agencies were very large and, between them, they were responsible for the majority of adoptions in Victoria. Other agencies were smaller but still created records that must be retrieved for providing application information.

In 1966–67, there were 22 agencies approved as private Adoption Agencies:

Aborigines Welfare Board
Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society
Berry Street Babies Home and Hospital
Bethany Babies Home
Box Hill and District Hospital
Catholic Family Welfare Bureau
Church of England Diocesan of Gippsland (St Mary's)
Church of Christ, Department of Social Services
Echuca District Hospital
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (Victorian District)
Hartnett House
Melbourne Stake Relief Committee of the Church of Latter-Day Saints
Melbourne Family Care Organisation
Methodist Department of Child Care
Mission of St James and St John
Mission to the Streets and Lanes
Presbyterian Social Services Department
Queen Victoria Hospital
Royal Women's Hospital
Salvation Army
Seventh Day Adventist Welfare Organisation
Wangaratta District Base Hospital 

By 1980, the number of adoption agencies had reduced to the following nine:

Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society
Catholic Family Welfare Bureau
Child Care Service of the Uniting Church
Lutheran Adoption Agency
Latter Day Saints Social Service Adoption Agency
Mercy Maternity Hospital
Mission of St James and St John
Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital
Royal Women's Hospital

Adoption Information Service (AIS)

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 records created by the Department and the records of the former approved agencies. The adoption records the department now holds were created by as many as 30 different adoption agencies 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 transferred at a later date. The records management unit allocated these records different numbering systems to distinguish the card indexes from the files. The categories of files were grouped by the relevant adoption agency and the function of the file. Some of the file sequences also hold an "A" prefix as adoption files.

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

No Birth Date Available

When the historical records were compiled, a file register was compiled to document all of the files for adoption cases which had been administered by the now historical adoption agencies. Some of these records did not show the adoptees' date of birth. A separate index was compiled for these files, and this is located immediately after the last page in the file register.

The records are listed under two different headings: Adoptee's Name (natural/birth name) and Adopter (either of the adoptive parents).

Most of the records contained in the “No birth date available” index are from either the Queen Victoria Hospital or the Melbourne City Mission/Hartnett House.

Historical File Register

The historical file register comprises four volumes, each contained sequentially on one microfilm cartridge. The four separate volumes cover the following years:

Vol I  1920–1954
Vol 2 1955–1967
Vol 3 1968–1982
Vol 4 No date of birth available

To locate an individual file, first obtain the adoptee’s date of birth. If the adoption was arranged by one of the agencies listed, then the agency’s records should be indexed within the register.

The register has separate pages for males and females in every month of the year, in sequential order. For example, if you are looking for a male adoptee born in March 1964, the indexed entry shows a file number that looks like, A1094. That is the vital number for obtaining the file.

Historical agency records not in the historical register

The predecessor to the current Department of Health and Human Services received adoption records from a number of defunct adoption agencies. Until now, many of these agencies’ records were not indexed. Following the 2012–16 DHHS Ward Records Plan, these archival adoption records have been fully indexed and cross-referenced.

For access to adoption/birth records from the following defunct adoption agencies: Royal Women’s Hospital; Mercy Maternity Hospital; Mission to the Streets and Lanes; Footscray/Western Hospital; Bethany Babies Home, contact the DHHS Freedom of Information(FOI) unit, 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001 Telephone: 9096 8449 or 1300 650 172.

Historical agency records

PLEASE NOTE: Some of the following information dates back more than 20 years. While some information has been updated (2016), such as contact details, the list does not include all the adoption agencies.

Melbourne City Mission/Hartnett House records

Some records obtained from the Melbourne City Mission adoption agency were just one page: either adoption consents or admission forms, and were placed into a few files: A 463, A987, and A 997. Between them, they contain records from about 70 or 80 adoptions. These “A files” can be quickly and easily referred to. The records are generally in alphabetical order.

The Melbourne City Mission/Hartnett House only started creating files after 1960. Before 1960, a large register was kept which has since been microfilmed. These register entries are small but often provide vital information, such as the name of the birth father.

Unfortunately, there is an inexplicable gap between the year the register stopped being used, and the year that the agency started creating individual files. Hence, if an adoptee was born in circa 1959 and adopted through the Melbourne City Mission, agency records are unlikely to be available.

Nearly all of the birth mothers whose children were adopted through the Melbourne City Mission gave birth at the Royal Women’s Hospital. There was a box of records from the Royal Women’s Hospital known as “Miscellaneous RWH: relinquishing mothers’ records”, and some relate to adoptions arranged through the Melbourne City Mission.

Queen Victoria Hospital records

Some Queen Victoria Hospital records never found their way into the historical register. Occasionally, therefore, an adoption arranged by QVH will have no file reference in the historical register. The “Queen Vic Miscellaneous Files” are in alphabetical order, for checking when no file is found in the historical register. As well as adoption records, the Queen Vic Adoption Agency provided a number of volumes of birth registers. They rarely contain any extra information to that on the birth certificate, but they can be helpful in cases where there are few records available.  

Salvation Army / The Haven records

The Salvation Army adoption agency arranged many adoptions from their home for unmarried mothers, “The Haven” in Alfred Crescent, North Fitzroy. Most of The Haven’s adoptions with records listed in the historical register date from approximately 1965 until the agency closed in 1988.

There are only 69 Salvation Army/Haven records within the historical register – far fewer than the total number of adoptions The Haven arranged. If the historical register contains no reference for a Haven adoption, staff should search entries from the two microfilmed Haven registers: The Haven’s “Labour Ward Case Book” and the “Admission and Discharge Day Books”.

The “Labour Ward Case Book” arrived in about six volumes, but we received no volume for May 1922 to June 1928. Children were not born at The Haven after 1967. Children adopted through the Salvation Army after 1967 were nearly always born at the Royal Women's Hospital. In the case of Haven adoptions, a historical register search should always be undertaken as some of the records do pertain to the Haven’s earlier adoptions.

Church of Christ records

According to the index to historical files, more than 600 separate adoption records were received from the Church of Christ Adoption Agency. This is something of a mystery – while the agency appears to have been quite busy, very few enquiries are received about Church of Christ adoptions. In about 1992, an old adoption register and 11 individual adoption files arrived in the mail from the Church of Christ. These records are not listed in the historical register. For any enquiry concerning a Church of Christ adoption, these records should also be searched.

Lutheran Social Services

These records are unique within the historical register – they are the only records where two files were created for each individual adoption, i.e. for each Lutheran adoption an “A File” exists containing the birth mother’s records and another file exists pertaining to the adoptive parents’ application. The files do not, however, run sequentially. There is usually a space of about 10 files between the related files. Both file references are clearly marked in the historical register.  

Children’s Protection Society

The Children’s Protection Society (known previously as The Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) still provides welfare services though it has not arranged adoptions since the 1950's. The historical files A2614 – A2647 are from the Children’s Protection Society. Not all their adoption records are held by the department as some had earlier been transferred to the La Trobe Library. Contact the society at: 70 Altona Street, Heidelberg West VIC 3081 Telephone: 9458 3566

Berry Street

Under the A Files section, the list shows records files A2100 – A2613 being from the Berry Street Adoption Agency. After Berry Street decided to provide its own adoption information service, the agency’s earlier files were returned to them. Should any of Berry Street’s records be required, (including for Sutherland Homes and Lisa Lodge) please contact Berry Street’s Heritage Service: 1 Salisbury Street, Richmond VIC 3121 Telephone: 9429 9266 Email:

Melbourne Stake Relief Society

The Melbourne Stake Relief Society is another name for the Latter Day Saints Adoption Agency (or the Mormons). The agency runs its own adoption information service and requests should be directed to LDS Family Services, Armadale VIC 3133 Telephone: 9822 3766

The Royal Women’s Hospital (RWH)

The Royal Women’s Hospital (also known as The Women’s) records are the most numerous by far. Previously, the RWH had its own information service for people whose adoptions were arranged through the RWH agency. However, all the RWH records haven been sent to the department. The RWH is no longer able to respond to requests for adoption information.

RWH records are indexed in alphabetical order according to the adoptive mother’s surname. Two registers also record the names of adoptive parents from the RWH agency. A card index system records the birth mothers from the RWH. The RWH records regarding adoptive and birth parents have been amalgamated and applicants need only obtain one file to receive all the relevant information.

Along with the RWH files and corresponding index cards and registers, there is a box of records known as the “Royal Women’s Miscellaneous Relinquishing Mothers Records”. These records, sorted alphabetically, consist of about 50 records on individual Royal Women’s Hospital birth mothers – women who either had their babies at the RWH or brought them to the RWH to arrange their babies’ adoptions, but whose babies were NOT adopted through the hospital’s own agency. These babies were adopted either privately through a solicitor, or through another agency, usually the Melbourne City Mission. A list of these records has been placed within the box.

Occasionally, the RWH birth mother records show the mother’s residential address as 101 Grattan Street, Carlton. Birth mothers whose children were adopted through the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau (now Catholic Care) usually stayed at this address. In such cases, contact CatholicCare: 3 Wingfield Street, Footscray VIC 3011 Telephone: 9689 3888 Email:

Mercy Maternity Hospital

The records from the Mercy Maternity Hospital Agency are under two categories: Adoptive Parents and Birth Mothers. If requesting Mercy records, both record types must be obtained as the records have not been amalgamated.

The records for adoptive parents are all in files stored in alphabetical order. However, not all of the birth mother records are stored in files. If no file is initially found on a Mercy birth mother, consult the binder containing information sheets on about 50 birth mothers from the Mercy, also kept in alphabetical order. Failing that, there is a box of green index cards with typed information about some birth mothers from the Mercy Hospital.

The Mercy Agency also provided indexes to the records the department acquired. Should it be hard to find a particular record, consult the relevant index to confirm that the record was actually received.

Mission to the Streets and Lanes

The earliest adoption files received from the Mission to Streets and Lanes are from circa 1960.

Each adoption does not have its own individual file – only bound documents with the adoptive parents’ surnames written (usually) on the front document. A file for each letter in the alphabet contains the bound documents. These records are almost exclusively about the adoptive parents and their application to adopt.

Nearly all the children adopted through the Mission to Streets and Lanes were born at the Queen Victoria Hospital. Should records be difficult to locate, you could copy the entry from the QVH birth register. In Mission cases before 1960, the QVH register entry may be the only other record available.

Anglicare Victoria has now catalogued 22,000 client records held in safe storage. To request access, contact the Heritage Client Liaison Officer, Anglicare Victoria: 103 Hoddle Street, Collingwood VIC 3066 Telephone: 9412 6133 Email:

Along with adoption files, the Mission gave the department eight volumes of children’s registers from the Brighton Children’s Home in Wilson Street Brighton, and the Darling Children’s Home. (See the relevant Collection Guides)

The children’s registers cover the period c.1890 to c.1960, and entries relate to children of all ages from babies to teenagers. Some were placed temporarily; some with a view to adoption; and some were state wards.

The earlier volumes are the most interesting and probably the most useful. The first entries are from the early 1890's and some of them clearly speak of adoption.

Few of these early adoptions were later legalised through the courts. It is not certain that they appear in the de facto adoption register. Unfortunately, these children’s registers are poorly indexed with some, but not all, having rough name lists in the back of the register. A separate index can be viewed by accessing the file in REFLEX named “Brighton Babies Home”.

Footscray / Western Hospital

Adoptions arranged through the Footscray Hospital (later known as the Western General Hospital) usually took place circa 1955–70. One drawer full of files relates to birth mothers whose children were born at Footscray. The files are kept in alphabetical order. These records should still be checked in cases where the infant was born at Footscray but adopted through another agency.

Bethany Babies Home

Bethany was unique in that, for many years it was the only regional (non-hospital) adoption agency in Victoria. It served Geelong and the western districts. Despite Bethany’s size as an agency, minimal adoption records were provided – only the “Infant or Babies Health Cards” exist relating to infants’ health and progress during their stay at Bethany. These cards are in alphabetical order and not all cards relate to babies placed for adoption. Some of the children were state wards and others were in Bethany on a temporary basis. Bethany provided no information about adoptive parents and their applications, nor about birth mothers and the relinquishment of children.

Private Adoptions and agencies that did not provide records

Prior to 1964, adoptions could be arranged privately by solicitors, medical doctors or ministers of religion. Adoptions such as these rarely generated any records, other than the court records. These adoptions were, however, sometimes listed in the “de facto adoptions register”. In such cases, check the de facto register as the birth father is sometimes named within the entry. If a child adopted privately was born at either the Royal Women’s or Queen Victoria Hospitals a check should be made of those agencies’ miscellaneous records.

Some hospitals were actively arranging adoptions up until, and sometimes beyond, 1964 but did not provide any records upon the advent of the adoption information legislation. This includes: St Vincent’s Airlie (Ivanhoe); Winston Private (East Malvern); Vaucluse (Brunswick) and PANCH (Preston). Birth mothers who went through St Vincent’s sometimes stayed at the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and in such cases Catholic Care can provide some information. The adoptee’s original birth certificate will usually indicate if the mother was staying at a home run by one of the church agencies.

In different periods, some county hospitals were also responsible for arranging adoptions. There are a handful of files within the defunct register from both the Wangaratta and Echuca Hospitals. Other country hospitals, such as Warrnambool, Ballarat Base, Baxter House, and St John of God also arranged adoptions but no records were ever provided.

A group known as the Melbourne Family Care Organisation arranged a few adoptions in the 1960s. The organisation has had several name changes since, and has now become well-known as Oz Child. For access to Melbourne Family Care Organisation adoption records, contact: Director People Culture Risk, Oz Child, PO Box 1312, South Melbourne VIC 3205 Telephone: 9695 2200

Departmental Adoption Records

Over the years the department (and its predecessors) created different kinds of adoption records. The information below was compiled in 1996. Since then, the 2012–16 Ward Records Plan has indexed and cross referenced an additional 1.33 million archival records related to former care leavers and departmental clients, including adoption records.

Defunct Agency Records not in the Defunct Register

The predecessor to the current Department of Health and Human Services received adoption records from a number of defunct adoption agencies.
For access to adoption/birth records from the following defunct adoption agencies: Royal Women’s Hospital; Mercy Maternity Hospital; Mission to the Streets and Lanes; Footscray/ Western Hospital; Bethany Babies Home, contact DHHS Freedom of Information(FOI) unit, 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001 Telephone: 9096 8449 or 1300 650 172

De facto adoptions register

A de facto adoption was a term used to refer to adoptions before the first Adoption Act 1928 that required adoptions to be sanctioned by a judge at a court. Prior to 1928, the original birth entry for the child is not stamped ‘Adopted’ and a new birth/adoption certificate was not created. After 1928, a judge legalised some pre-1928 de facto adoptions, thus creating court records.

In 1908, the department first started the register for de facto adoptions, and it was kept until 1976. Private adoption agencies and individuals arranging adoptions were required to inform the department of the adoptions they had arranged. Hence, details were entered in the de facto adoptions register. The information provided is indexed under both birth and adoptive names. However, not all agencies complied.

The de facto register was maintained after 1928 despite the fact that adoptions were now undergoing a new legal process and being recorded by the Government statist in the Adopted Children’s Register. The on-going de facto register is useful as it can quickly reveal the responsible adoption agency. Over the years, however, the register becomes less reliable as agencies gradually stopped informing the department of the adoptions they had arranged.

Ward Adoptions

From early times, responsibility for placing children with adoptive parents was taken by the department as well as private agencies and solicitors. Many pre-1928 departmental placements were not legally adopted, though the children assumed their adoptive/foster parents surnames. Departmental placements were not, as a rule, recorded in the de facto register. Children placed by the department were nearly always wards of the state and can be traced using the index to state wards, and checking the person’s given date of birth against the birthday book. The ward registers will indicate if a ward was placed with a family in long-term foster care or with a view to adoption.

After 1928, adoptions arranged through the department had to also be legalised by a court. Children placed in the department’s care with a view to adoption were still made wards of the state and their ward file number was still recorded in the wardship indexes. A new register, known as the Ward/Adoption register, was created and it still offers a useful quick reference for verifying departmental adoptions and locating ward numbers. The register is ordered by adoption date.

In some departmental adoption cases, a ward file is not available despite clear evidence that the adoptee was a state ward. State wardships begin in the 1800s at number 1 and it was not until much later that the numbering system altered when the number was in the mid 90000s. There are no ward files available before 50000, relevant because some departmental adoptions involve state wards with a number lower than 50000. In these cases, the only departmental record obtainable is the individual entry from the ward register, which often contains vital information, such as the birth father’s name. Many ward files within the number range 50000 – circa 62000 are also unavailable.

Less frequently, a ward file may have no box reference because the ward went into the youth welfare administration stream and received a youth welfare number, which look like: A67 132. A ward could not enter the youth welfare stream until around 13 years of age. Hence, few youth welfare files relate to adoption placements. If an adoption broke down, and the adoptee became a state ward, it may be necessary to request a youth welfare file – consult the original index card (on microfilm). If a ward was placed under youth welfare, the older number should have been replaced by a youth welfare number. With the youth welfare number, the file can be requested. 

Non Ward Adoptions

NOTE: Following the Children and Young Person's Act 1989, the term ‘ward of the state’ was discontinued and replaced by ‘child in need of protection’.

After the Adoption Act 1964, the department embarked on a new administrative system with regard to adoption. Healthy infants placed in departmental care with a view to adoption were no longer automatically made wards of state. The department placed them as soon as possible under the “non-ward adoption” system. The non-ward system officially began in 1966 and most adoptions arranged through the department afterwards were non-ward adoptions.

Non-ward file numbers can be obtained two ways. A register known as the “Non-Ward Adoptions Register”: one register covers the period 1966–75 and records non-ward adoptions by the date they were legalised; the second register covers the period 1975–89 and is indexed by both natural and adoptive name. Both registers show the file number for a non-ward adoption.

A card index system for non-wards was also kept up until 1974–75. Separate cards were made under the natural and adoptive names and both cards list the file number.

Non-ward file numbers look like the following: 68/ 237. The first two digits before the slash refer to the year of the adoption, in this case 1968. The digits after the slash refer to number of the adoption, i.e. adoption number 237. In peak years, circa 1968–72, the department arranged more than 300 non-ward adoptions annually. Later, numbers dropped to below 50. At the start of each new year, the adoption number starts again at 1.

Finding non-ward adoption files from 1982 onwards, in particular those after 1989, will start from name and date of birth/adoption to locate the file number. All of the non-ward files created between 1966–82 were stored at the Public Records Office, Laverton. Since some wards of the state were also adopted after 1966, departmental adoptions from that time onwards can relate to either a ward or non-ward adoption. The adoption date will determine which it is: if the adoption was legalised 3–15 years after the birth, the adoptee was likely a ward. Practically all non-ward adoptions were legalised within 18 months of birth.

Departmental Legalisations and Solicitor’s Adoptions

As well as managing ward and non-ward adoptions, departmental officers were also frequently called in to provide advice on legal requirements before an adoption could be granted, especially after the Adoption Act 1964. In cases of spouse or relative adoptions where the adopter may have been the birth mother’s new husband or a birth parent’s relative, a departmental officer was called in to provide a report to the court on the adopting parents. In cases were a child was privately placed with a family, the court often appointed a departmental officer guardian ad litem of the child, responsible for providing the court with the necessary reports.

In such cases the child, or in some cases teenager, to whom the adoption relates is not under the legal care and guardianship of the department, as is the case with ward and non-ward adoptions.

The records from these types of adoptions may be kept in one of two filing streams:

  • The Solicitor’s Adoptions – those where a court appointed a departmental officer guardian ad litem.
  • The Applicants Files – the file number given to couples who apply to adopt.

Cards for both filing system types are kept, indexed in alphabetical order under the surname of the adoptive parents. The file numbers for applicants’ files are sequential, starting from 1, although most files seem to have either four or five digits. Once a file number is obtained the file can be requested.

An index card with a file number does not ensure that a file will be located. It is not uncommon for a file request to provide a ‘no record’ result. These files generally only duplicate what is in the court records, i.e. affidavit of department worker and applicants. Successful adoption applicants’ files were amalgamated with non-ward files, helping to explain some missing files. Also, some applicants made multiple applications to adopt.  

Summary of file types and how to source them  

Type of file 


Retrieved by

Ward file (4 & 5 digit numbers) Ward no. Located in birthday book, ward/adoptions register, and card index. Retrieved either directly through PROV or by DHHS Archives.

Ward file on system

( 100 1 324)

Ward no. Located through client registry. File retrieved through DHHS Archives.
Youth Welfare file File no. Noted on ward index card. File retrieved through DHHS Archives.
Non-ward file File no. In non-ward register and index cards. For adoptions after 1989 contact DHHS Archives to get the file no. Files retrieved through DHHS Archives. Adoptions after 1983 specifically through designated worker.
Defunct Agency file File no. in defunct registers on micro film. Files retrieved through DHHS Archives.
Spouse, relative, solicitors and applicants' files. File no. on index card filed under adoptive parents name among old adoptions index card system. Adoption applicants file no after 1989 through designated worker.

File retrieved through designated worker.

Reviewed 24 April 2019

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