Orphanages and other forms of out-of-home care were not just for children whose parents had died. They also took in children who could not be properly cared for by their parents, were neglected or abused, had behavioural problems or had committed crimes.
Church and benevolent orphanages
Some of New Zealand’s earliest welfare organisations were orphanages run by churches and benevolent groups. The Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic order, ran an orphanage in Auckland from the early 1850s. The Canterbury Orphan Asylum, an Anglican children’s home, was opened in 1862; the Parnell Orphan Home (Anglican) opened in Auckland in 1866. The Otago Benevolent Institution (which also housed elderly poor) opened in Dunedin in 1866.
Fatherless and motherless
Children living in orphanages and other institutions were often not ‘full orphans’ – without both parents. Of the 55 children supported by the Canterbury Provincial Council in orphanages and foster homes in 1871, 10 were full orphans, 11 were motherless, 23 were fatherless (through death or desertion) and 10 had living parents who could not support them (mainly because they were sick); one child had two living parents who were both missing.
The number of church-run orphanages (or children’s homes as they were later called) increased significantly in the early 20th century. By the mid-1920s there were 85 private – mainly church-run – institutions housing over 4,000 children. Churches were the main providers of institutional childcare at a time when government policy favoured foster care. Churches wanted to shore up membership at a time of declining attendance. They believed institutions were the easiest and best way of instilling moral and spiritual values in children. They were also often left money through bequests which had to be spent on institutions.
Churches continued to run children’s homes until the late 20th century, though many homes closed in the decades before this as more emphasis was placed by churches on foster care and family-based support.
Charitable aid was an early form of government support for orphaned, destitute or neglected children, and families who were struggling to provide for their children. It took the form of money and payments in kind made on a discretionary basis to individuals, families and orphanages.
In 1885 a national system of charitable aid was instituted. Aid was distributed by district boards mainly funded by local rates and central government subsidies. Boards paid for destitute children in government- and church-run institutional and foster care, and provided aid for children living with their own families. They generally did not run institutions, though there were some exceptions. The Lyttelton Orphanage was run by the North Canterbury board, and the Southland board housed children with elderly men in a benevolent asylum until 1926.
Charitable aid boards became less involved in the care of children from the 1920s. Children were directly supported by the state through the Education Department, or lived in church homes. They continued to give aid for children who were living with their families.