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What do I need to know?
Are you looking for Victorian records that are less than 99 years old, about yourself or a family member? Read our Guide to accessing Victorian Child Welfare and Adoption Records.
Are you looking for Victorian historic records that are more than 99 years old? Public Record Office Victoria could help you. Please see next steps below.
The term ward has been used to describe individuals who experienced institutional or out-of-home ‘care’ as children whilst under the guardianship of a State child welfare authority. Ward of the state records are closed to public access for a period of 99 years from their creation to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned. If you are seeking access to your own ward of the state records, or someone else’s when the records would be less than 99 years old, visit the Guide to accessing Victorian Child Welfare and Adoption Records.
This page is about records called the “Children’s Registers” or “Ward Registers” – over 100 large volumes, containing one page (or sometimes a half page) about each ward of the state. The green box on the right hand side of this page describes what you can find in these registers.
For the period where the records are open to the public (ie, for wards of the state registered more than 99 years ago), the registers the only substantial record which still exists about each child (it is believed that in addition to the Children's / Wards Registers, files were also created in this period, but the files were destroyed by the relevant department in the decades prior to the creation of PROV in 1973).
The registers contain the names of some institutions still in operation, which might have preserved historic records about individuals. Go to our services page to seek further assistance.
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 part of 1918 and all of 1919), can be ordered via the link at the bottom of this page about newly available records.
About these records
These registers list children (aged up to 15 between 1864-1887 and up to 17 from 1887) committed to the care of the State. Although this function of government commenced in 1864, the term ward to collectively describe these children dates only from 1887.
Orders to commit children to State care were made by a court, for one of two general reasons:
- The court believed action was required to care and protect the well-being of the child. Until 1 September 1955 the majority of such children were deemed under the legislation of the era to be “neglected”. (Note that recent changes to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) now ensure that historical care and protection orders are not treated as criminal convictions or findings of guilt in any circumstances.)
- The court found the child guilty of an offence punishable with a form of incarceration (see link above).
The registers are a central departmental record detailing each child committed to State ‘care’, why and for how long a child was made a ward of the state and where they were placed during that term.
Who created these records?
Children's Welfare Department 1924-1961 (previously known as Department for Neglected Children 1887-1924), Chief Secretary's Department
1887 - 1961
What are in these records?
The language used in this records can be distressing or offensive. It reflect the attitudes of the time and PROV does not endorse these attitudes.
The ward registers might record:
- date of birth
- birth place
- ability to read or write
- cause of admission to State care
- dates of admission to State care
- the court which ordered the child to State care
- term (length of time to be in State care)
- details of parents and other family members (if known)
- vaccination details (if known)
- where stationed (location and date of placements in government or government approved private institutions)
- if ‘licensed’ or ‘boarded out’ (dates and location of placements of children made with named, approved individuals within the community)
From late 1880 children in State care for their protection were mostly placed with approved private individuals within the community through ‘licensing’ / apprenticeship or ‘boarding out’ arrangements. Formal State organised adoptions of wards of the state commenced when the Adoption of Children Act 1928 became law in July 1929.
Support for your search
If you are a care leaver or the descendant of a care leaver there are some organisations you can contact for advice and help in your research different services cater for different circumstances. Visit the Guide to accessing Victorian Care Leaver and Adoption records for more details.