Caring for and protecting children’s rights since 1851, OzChild is the longest continuous service to children, young people and families in Victoria. OzChild grew from three agencies and gold rush beginnings.
Gold Rush Beginnings
OzChild was born when Melbourne was just a dusty tent town populated by would-be squatters, speculators and voracious fortune seekers drawn by the 1851 Victorian Gold Rush. Just a couple of years later, Melbourne’s population had tripled to 76,000, but lacked the facilities to cope with this growth. While some became rich and prospered, many more fell victims to disease, dissolution, lawlessness and destitution. As always, the most vulnerable victims were the children. Urgent help was needed and one of the three children’s agencies that would one day unite as OzChild responded, beginning their work in protecting children’s rights.
Two churches into one orphanage
The first of our antecedents began with the parishioners of Melbourne’s first Protestant Church, St James Old Cathedral, which still stands in King Street today. They established the St James Orphan Asylum and Visiting Society in 1851 and an orphanage at South Melbourne in 1854 that later moved to Brighton and, as the Melbourne Orphanage, remained a landmark until its demolition in 1963.
While some during the Gold rush prospered, many more fell victim to destitution. As always, the most vulnerable were the children. Urgent help was needed and one of the three children’s agencies that would one day unite as OzChild responded.
Family Action, Family Focus and the National Bureau of Australia
Eventually, large scale congregate care evolved into care through family group homes and family support so the name was changed to Melbourne Family Care Organisation and then in 1987, to Family Action. In these latter years, other agencies – Mallee Family Care, Upper Murray Family Care, and Windermere Child and Family Services, were developed by Family Action, supported and ultimately made independent.
The second amalgamating agency, Family Focus, parallels the beginnings of Family Action. It began in 1893 as the Victorian Neglected Children’s Aid Society during the crippling post gold rush depression. The Victorian Children’s Aid Society, as it became known, provided residential care, foster care, boarding out and family support. By 1991 it had greater involvement in family support and disability services alongside its foster care program, and the name changed to Family Focus.
The third amalgamating agency, The National Children’s Bureau of Australia, began in 1971 as the Child and Family Welfare Council of Australia, a national peak body with a mandate to lobby government, share information and develop training programs. In 1986 it was incorporated as the Children’s Bureau of Australia. Family Action provided some financial support and in 1990 substantially underwrote the then National Children’s Bureau of Australia to become a leading children’s advocacy and research body.
In 1993 these three agencies realised they shared a rich history of innovation and service to children and their families, and a vision to improve the quality of care and life chances of children. They came together as OzChild, to work towards better futures for Australia’s children.
Read the story of how OzChild transformed from orphanage to one of the largest and oldest foster care providers in Victoria. Foster Care Westernport: A Legacy of Generosity.