SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S FIRST COMMISSIONER FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE was appointed in 2017 by the state government. Having a commissioner was one of 260 recommendations by Justice Margaret Nyland after a Child Protection Systems Royal Commission in 2015-16.
The two-year commission was prompted by the abuse of vulnerable children in state care by former Families SA (the government agency) carer and paedophile Shannon McCoole. The Nyland Royal Commission revealed a deep challenge where one in four children was the subject of a notification to authorities.
Protecting children has been a constant theme of South Australian history from the start of the colony.
Caroline Emily Clark in 1866 had led South Australia into being the first Australian colony to take children out of government institutions to break their poverty cycle. 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.
But vulnerability of children stemmed from problems such as poverty, prostitution and the abuse of domestic staff. In 1883, the rate of infant mortality among Adelaide’s illegitimate children was 40%. Domestic servants made up 88% of single pregnant women admitted to the lying-in home.
Laura Corbin, who set up the South Adelaide Day Nursery in 1887, to look after the children of poor working mothers, joined with other concerned women, such as Mary Colton, to promote the start of the Adelaide children’s hospital.
The concerns for children fed into the wider women’s movement that resulted in them gaining the vote in 1895.
Lucy Morice, niece of one of the suffrage movement’s key figures, Catherine Helen Spence, in 1905 helped to found the Kindergarten Union of South Australia in Palmer Place. But children’s welfare had remained a problem behind these progressive efforts.
Adelaide’s Patch Theatre, founded in 1972 by Morna Jones, a pioneer in Australian children’s television and theatre, is aimed at children aged four to eight. After Jones’ death in 1982, the-then Little Patch Theatre found its feet again under Des James, founder member of Troupe and actor with Magpie Theatre in Education for four years; and administrator Margaret Bennett. Later artistic director Christine Anketell developed a relationship with the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust for adaptions of children’s literature. Under artistic director Dave Brown, the company evolved into a highly regarded national and international touring company with a world-class repertoire. Brown adapted eight stories by children's author Paela Allan, producing Who sank the boat? Naomi Edwards, who took over in 2015, has strengthened the company’s links to the classroom and home by collaborating with scientists and educators in creating new works. Patch has performed 105 new works to more than 1.8 million children since 1972. touring across Australia and presenting more than 30 international seasons. Patch Theatre has accumulated accolades including two Helpmann awards and a Ruby. In 1994, Patch moved from Somerton Park to be part of the Pasadena Hgh School campus.
Helen Mayo pioneered maternal and infant health and welfare in South Australia and Australia. After matriculating at the Advanced School for Girls (later Adelaide High School) on Grote Street in 1895, she became the University of Adelaide’s second graduate in medicine in 1902. She topped her class and won the Davis Thomas scholarship and Everard scholarships. Mayo spent two years working in infant health in England, Ireland and India. Returning to Adelaide in 1906, she starting a private practice and worked in honorary roles at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital and Adelaide Hospital. In 1909, Mayo addressed an interstate conference on South Australia’s high infant mortality rate and argued the need to educate women for motherhood. Later that year, she and Harriet Stirling (the daughter of professor Edward Stirling) founded the School for Mothers in a small clinic in Franklin Street, Adelaide. Despite criticism that spinsters couldn’t teach mothers, the organisation flourished from a cottage in Wright Street, Adelaide. The school became the Mothers' and Babies' Health Association (MBHA). By 1927, it had branches throughout South Australia and a training school for maternal nurses. The MBHA eventually became part of the state health system. Because Adelaide Children’s Hospital wouldn't admit infants aged under two, Mayo and her group in 1914 rented a two-storey St Peters house as a hospital for infants. Mayo set up strict anti-infection protocols for what later became the 70-bed Mareeba Hospital, run by the state government at Woodville.