Caroline Emily Clark proposes family foster care for children to end institutional poverty

Caroline Emily Clark set off the move towards family foster care and a State Children’s Council.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

Caroline Emily Clark led South Australia into being the first Australian colony to take children out of government institutions to break their poverty cycle.
In 1866, Clark suggested that neglected children should be placed in “respectable poor families, under proper inspection”.  Fostering families would be paid a government subsidy for the child’s support.

After initial government reluctance, Clark’s boarding-out system was enshrined in South Australian law in the Destitute Person’s Relief Act 1866–67, which also set up industrial and reformatory schools. The increasing children needing care led to boarding-out laws being adjusted in 1872.

Members of the Boarding Out Society offered to support and monitor the system by visiting and reporting on children in foster homes. Between 1872 and 1886, the society visited 4147 children (1130 of them boarded out), 1731 adopted children (generally under 12) and 1286 children (usually between 12 and 16) who were licensed to work as domestic servants.

The Boarding Out Society, a concept followed by other Australian colonies, was absorbed by the State Children’s Council in 1886 with Clark as a member.

Clark, who had come from England to join her brother John Howard Clark (owner of the Register newspaper) in 1863, floated the boarding-out idea, firstly, from what she had seen in Scotland. She was also spurred on by her friendship with fellow Unitarian Annie Montgomerie Martin, who had visited Adelaide’s state-run destitute asylum for children abandoned by poor parents.

Clark’s ideas gained influential support from her brother John, Catherine Helen Spence, Margaret Davenport and Mary Colton.

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