EDUCATION, SPECIAL ASPECTS — CHILD WELFARE
The Child Welfare Division of the Department of Education is the main service for social work in the field of child care. The Division, first known as the Branch, was established by the Child Welfare Act of 1925. This Act, in the words of its preamble, was designed
During the years that have followed, many amendments have extended the authority of the principal Act and have brought it more closely into touch with present requirements. Other important obligations on the Division are imposed by Part V of the Infants Act of 1908, the Adoption Act of 1955, and the Child Care Centre Regulations of 1960.
The Division's field officers, known as Child Welfare Officers, investigate and report on all cases involving children under 17 (or under 18 in some cases) who come before the Children's Court either as a result of an offence (except murder or manslaughter) or following a complaint under the Child Welfare Act that they are neglected, indigent, not under proper control, delinquent, or living in an environment detrimental to their physical or moral well-being. With children committed by the Court to the care of the Superintendent of Child Welfare, Child Welfare Officers are responsible for their subsequent care in foster homes or in institutions. If children are placed under supervision by order of the Court, child welfare officers, through home visits and office interviews, keep in close contact with the parents and child. An attempt is made, through advice and practical help, to alleviate problems which have led to a child's misconduct or to parental neglect or mismanagement.
A most important aspect of the Division's work is that of prevention. There are many children in the community who, because of illegitimacy, orphanhood, immigration, physical or mental defect, harsh, unwise, or indulgent parental control, truancy, immoral example, neglect or ill treatment, or some other cause, are likely to be prone to delinquency or, more frequently even, to grow up to become immature and socially inadequate adults even if they do manage to keep within the law. It is the Division's task, in conjunction with other agencies and services in the community, to see that children who need care and protection or treatment that their parents cannot or will not provide, do in fact receive it. Help is provided at the earliest possible stage, preferably before the more obvious signs of misconduct, maladjustment, or deterioration of family relationships or standard of care, have become apparent. This work is often precipitated by complaints or appeals for help from parents, neighbours, teachers, police, public health nurses, and other sources. Short-term work only may be involved, or the situation may require longterm preventive supervision. Funds are available to provide financial assistance in special cases.
An important extension of preventive work was brought about by the establishment of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Section of the Police Department. Specialist police officers and child welfare officers cooperate in considering effective preventive measures for those less serious cases where it appears reasonable to avoid prosecution and, consequently, a court appearance for the child or young person concerned. Officers carry out a wide range of duties connected with the welfare of children. For example, advice is frequently given to parents on problems of child care and behaviour, or on educational, medical, specialist, or institutional facilities for handicapped children. Counselling help may be offered in cases where parents and children are in conflict with each other or where marital discord threatens the stability of a family. Assistance is given to deserted wives who seek help in securing maintenance payments for their children. Holidays may be arranged for mothers or children where necessary.
Child Welfare Officers are required by statute to investigate illegitimate births to ensure that adequate provision is made for the child and for the mother where necessary, to report on applications for the adoption of children, and to license and supervise foster homes where children under six years of age are maintained away from their parents for more than seven consecutive days.
In order to ensure that adequate standards are maintained, the Division inspects privately conducted children's homes and licences and inspects child care centres (more generally referred to as “day nurseries”) operated by private organisations. Such homes and centres are registered under the Child Welfare Act and visits to staff and premises are carried out at regular intervals.
The public have access to the services of the Division through district offices situated in cities and larger centres throughout the country. These offices are staffed by men and women field officers (Child Welfare Officers) and by clerical officers. Quite a wide range of institutional facilities is available to the Division. There are 12 “short stay” institutions which provide for children who, for example, are on remand from the Courts, are newly committed to care and awaiting more permanent placement, or are requiring accommodation to meet some temporary family crisis. Three training centres provide long-term social training for more difficult or delinquent children. In addition, there are five residential special schools, two catering for deaf children, two for mentally backward children, and one for children who are emotionally disturbed. There are also 28 “Family Homes” established throughout the country. These are large specially designed houses built by the Division and let to foster parents who receive board payments for the group of five or six children in their care. The majority of wards receive their training and care in private foster homes in the community.
In the discharge of their duties, the Division's officers work in close cooperation with other social work agencies in the community, both Government and private or voluntary. Close liaison is maintained with schools, visiting teachers, police, public health nurses, vocational guidance officers, and many other services working in the field of child care. Full use is also made of medical, psychological, psychiatric, and other specialist services.