Child Welfare Services
From the early days of the colony, neglected and delinquent children have constituted a problem for the authorities, though over the years, with increasing standards of living and health, the proportion of children whose difficulties arise chiefly from economic circumstances or the death of parents has become very small. Major legislation in this field dates from the Neglected and Criminal Children Act 1867. This Act established the system of industrial schools which dominated the scene until the end of the century. These schools were residential institutions intended for the care and education of neglected children but to some degree were used also, and unsuitably, as orphanages and reformatories. They were established chiefly by the various provincial governments, but also in a few cases by voluntary organisations. The Central Government's administrative responsibilities were handled at first by the Department of Justice, but in 1880 these responsibilities were taken over by the Department of Education which initiated a more active and enlightened policy. The Industrial Schools Act 1882 permitted the boarding out of children who were in the care of such schools, and by 1895, 81 per cent of children from the schools directly controlled by the Department were in foster homes.
This emphasis on foster homes rather than institutions has remained a feature of the child welfare services to the present day and associated with it has been an encouragement of adoption, New Zealand being the first British country to make statutory provision for the adoption of children (Adoption of Children Act 1881). Steady developments in the field of child welfare found expression in the Child Welfare Act 1925, under which a special branch of the Department of Education, now known as the Child Welfare Division was established. Children's Courts were established under the same Act.
As at present constituted, the Child Welfare Division controls 29 district offices with a staff of 259 field officers, and 46 institutions providing long-and short-term care for various types of handicapped, deprived, and delinquent children. The Division's responsibilities include the guardianship of children committed by the Courts to the care of the State, the supervision of delinquent children where this is ordered by the Courts, the investigation of all complaints laid with respect to the treatment of children, reporting on all applications for adoption, the provision of casework services for parents requesting such assistance, reporting on all cases of illegitimate births, and the inspection and licensing of all institutions, foster homes, and nurseries used for the care of young children. The Division is also able to supply financial assistance to needy families with young children who do not qualify for social security benefits.