Last updated:

October 9, 2019

What do I need to know?

Please note that this page is currently being redeveloped.


You need to know the name of the child and the approximate date they were under care of the State. 

How do I search?

There are three search options, depending on the date a ward of the state was registered.

1) For all wards registered up until 1894, and some wards registered up until 1899 (roughly 20%), you can search by name - use the first option below. 

2) If the search above isn't successful, or if the ward was registered up until about 1910, you can use a hard-copy index for your search. This is a two-step process. Firstly, order this record for viewing in PROV's North Melbourne Reading Room - it is an alphabetical index containing ward names, and their registration numbers. Browse through the record until you find the name you're interested in, and note down the number of the ward. Secondly,  browse this list, and order the record which would contain the ward number you're interested in.

3) For 1910-1918 wards of state, or if you're unsuccessful using the options above, try to search with the date range you need and then order the register to view in the reading room - use the second option below. The registers which have been opened at the start of 2019 (covering 1919 and part of 1918), can be ordered via the link at the bottom of this page about newly available records.


About these records

These ward registers list children (aged up to 17) committed to the care of the State, either because they had been convicted of a crime or deemed ‘neglected’ by a court.  The registers are a central record detailing where each child was placed.

Records are closed after 1918 under Section 9 of the Public Records Act.

If these are your own records or immediate family, you can seek access under Freedom of Information.  Visit FIND at the Department of Health and Human Services website for help.

Who created these records?

These records were created by the Department for Neglected Children, which was set up as part of the Chief Secretary’s Department (VA 475) to support the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act 1864.  From 1924 to 1961 the agency was known as the Children’s Welfare Department (VA 1475).

Next Steps

Once you have found records of interest to you, order them online and then view them in our Reading Room.

What are in these records?

The ward registers might record:

  • name
  • sex
  • date of birth
  • birth place religion
  • ability to read or write
  • date of commitment (to State custody)
  • committing bench (which court ordered the custody)
  • date of admission (to the institution)
  • term (in the case of criminal convictions, children were ‘sentenced’ to live in reformatory schools)
  • cause of commitment (convicted or neglected)
  • whether parents are living
  • vaccination details
  • where stationed (‘neglected’ children were sent to children’s homes, placed with families or apprenticed to trades)
  • licensing out details (children were ‘licensed’ to work)
  • details of discharge


The Neglected and Criminal Children's Act 1864 resulted in the formation of several Industrial and Reformatory schools.  In the records, a Government school is marked with the letter ‘R’, while ‘C I S’ or ‘C R S’ means a privately-run Christian (or Catholic) Industrial (or Reformatory) School.  In the early twentieth century children were increasingly apprenticed out, and a formal adoption regime was put in place with the Adoption of Children Act 1928.

If you are a former state ward, care-leaver or under the care of the state, you can contact various organisations for advice and help in your research.