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PROVguide 60: Adoption, Wardship and Related Records

Education, Health and Welfare –
Adoption, Wardship and Related Records

This guide outlines records and services available to researchers looking for information about people who may have been in the custody of institutions for children and young people, or who may have been adopted. 

The Adoption of Children Act 1928 became law in July 1929 and the first legal adoption in Victoria was registered in October of that year. Before that time unofficial, de facto adoptions, which were not recognised in law, were sometimes arranged by both Government and non-government organisations, as well as by individuals. The 1928 Act for the first time provided for the transfer of parental rights, duties, obligations and liabilities to adoptive parents and offered secrecy, safety and stability to the child and the adoptive parents.

People seeking information about adoptions should therefore bear the year 1929 in mind. Because of the unofficial nature of adoption before that time, there are generally no records that can be called “adoption records”. Researchers may, however, locate information or clues in other records, such as records of state wardship, fostering, boarding-out, court records, and maintenance records and in printed material such as the Police Gazettes. Information may also be available from non-government organisations which are or have been involved in child welfare and adoption.

Privacy and Access to Records

Records in the custody of Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) that contain personal and private information relating to children are closed to public access under section 9 of the Public Records Act 1973 for a period of 99 years from their creation. If you believe that you would be entitled to access such records, then you may be able to make a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the government agency that is responsible for the records.

Accessing Records about Adoption

Public Record Office Victoria

Records relating to children that are in the custody of PROV and that are available for public inspection that is, generally, over 99 years old may be consulted in PROV Reading Rooms.

Family Information Networks and Discovery (FIND)

For information about adoptions, which have occurred in Victoria since 1929, researchers can contact the Family Information Networks and Discovery (FIND) provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS). Information may only be made available to eligible people. If you are an adopted person, a relative (either by birth or adoption) or child of an adopted person, then you may be eligible to obtain or give information relating to the adoption.

Adoption information is not guaranteed to be available, and depends on other eligible people being prepared to have information released.  Both DHS and a number of non-government organisations that are adoption agencies provide adoption information services. Some of these agencies are listed at the end of this PROVguide. FIND may also be able to help if you are looking for information on a person who may have been in the custody of a non-government child welfare organisation before 1929. In some instances records of such organisations are in the custody of DHS.

If the adoption you are interested in was arranged by a non-government organisation, or if the child was in the care of a non-government organisation, then the Adoption and Family Records Services may refer you to that organisation. If the child was in the care of a government agency prior to 1929, or after 1929 but was not adopted, then FIND may be able to assist.

If you know the name of the non-government organisation in whose custody a child was placed, or which arranged an adoption, then you may wish to contact that organisation. Non-government organisations operate under the same rules in providing adoption information as the DHS FIND unit. They will also apply privacy legislation to earlier records so that access to information about children who were in their care may be limited.

Freedom of Information

To seek access to records in the custody of PROV that are closed to public access, or to records still in the custody of DHS (other than adoption records), you will need to make a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Human Services.  (See contact details at the end of this PROVguide.)

Records within Public Record Office Victoria’s holdings

From at least 1851 “child welfare” services in Victoria have relied heavily on the participation of private and voluntary organisations. It was not until 1864 that legislation allowed the creation of government residential institutions within the following Victorian Agencies (VAs).

Consult PROV’s online catalogue for an inventory of records series held in PROV custody created by the following agencies.


Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools (VA 1466)


Department of Neglected Children (VA 1467)


Department of Reformatory Schools (VA 2963) Agency information not available online at time of publication.


Children’s Welfare Department (VA 1467)


Social Welfare Branch (VA 2784)


Social Welfare Department (VA 946)


Department of Community Welfare Services (VA 613)


Department of Community Services (VA 2633)


Department of Health and Community Services (VA 3092) Agency information not available online at time of publication.


Department of Human Services (VA 3970)

Most records of the predecessor agencies of the Department of Human Services remain in the custody of DHS.   Records at PROV that may be consulted are:

VPRS 4527 Ward Registers [1864 – c.1890] These records of children in State care have recently been digitised and can be downloaded via a name search through the catalogue.

VPRS 6757 Index to Ward Registers [1864 – 1868]

Until 1970, the predecessor agencies of DHS were administered through the Chief Secretary’s Department (VA 475). Due to the Chief Secretary’s administrative involvement, records of that agency could also be consulted. For example, unit 2 of VPRS 1676 Registers of Licences, includes a record of children licensed to the care of private persons for the period 1874 to 1878. Further references to children in both government and non-government institutions may be found in the Chief Secretary’s correspondence, registers and indexes.  See the entry for VA 475 on PROV’s online catalogue for details about Chief Secretary’s records held by PROV.

Court records, such as petty sessions cause list books and registers, may provide further information. For example, you may locate records of a case against a man charged with desertion of his wife and children. Notices of summonses issued against such individuals may be found in the Victorian Police Gazettes. You may also locate records relating to maintenance to be paid towards the support of children made wards of the state. To identify relevant court records you will need to know the area in which a family lived and when the event occurred.  See VRG Courts on PROV’s online catalogue for further information.

Resources and Contact Information

Family Information Networks and Discovery (FIND)

Department of Human Services

Level 20, 570 Bourke Street, Melbourne

PO Box 588 Collins Street West

Melbourne VIC 8007

Ph: 03 8608 5700, 1300 769 926 or 1800 130 225 (toll free in Australia)




Department of Human Services

For enquiries regarding access to records relating to people who were wards of the state from 1986 onwards.

Freedom of Information Unit

GPO Box 4057

Melbourne VIC 3000

Ph: 03 9096 8449

Fax: 03 9096 8848

Web: (Go to For Individuals then, Freedom of Information)

PROV Online Resources and Non-government Organisations

Koorie People and Places is a Research Pathway that contains a range of online resources that can assist indigenous people to locate records about themselves and family members.  Non indigenous people may also find this resource of use.  This research pathway is available from the Research Tools menu on PROV’s website:

The publication Finding Your Story has been produced by Public Record Office Victoria, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce as a reference tool for individual Indigenous Victorians seeking information on their separation from family and community.  Non-indigenous people may also find this resource helpful.  For information on how to obtain a copy visit Finding Your Story online at

Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN)

CLAN is a support and advocacy group for people brought up in care away from their family.  CLAN also provides support for anyone who has a close family member who was placed in care.

PO Box 164

Georges Hall NSW 2198

Tel: 02 9709 4520 or 1800 008 774 (tollfree in Australia)



VANISH is a self-help organisation for people separated by adoption or as Wards of the State.  VANISH provides search advice, assistance and general support to adoptees, birth families, adoptive families and adults affected by adoption and wardship.

Postal address:
PO Box 112
Carlton South
Victoria Australia 3053

Located at:
3rd Floor, 100 Franklin Street
Victoria 3000

Phone: (03) 9328 8611 or Toll Free: 1300 VANISH (1300 826 474)

Fax: (03) 9329 1752




Open Place

Support Service for Victoria’s Forgotten Australians, is part of the national network of Find & Connect Support Services delivering support to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants in Victoria.

Open Place is a support and advocacy service that co-ordinates and provides direct assistance to address the needs of people who grew up in Victorian orphanages and homes from the 1920’s to 1989.

Suite 1/ 8 Bromham Place
Richmond, VIC, 3121
Phone: (03) 6421 6162 / 1800 161 109

Find & Connect

A resource for Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and anyone interested in the history of child welfare in Australia.

Phone: 1800 16 11 09 (Freecall)

FACP – 2013-09-27 factsheet v2

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