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The work of the societies for the prevention of cruelty to children in Australia, 1888 - 1930: Fighting cruelty, neglect and inexpert care

Rowe, Leanne (2000) The work of the societies for the prevention of cruelty to children in Australia, 1888 - 1930: Fighting cruelty, neglect and inexpert care. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The subject of this thesis is the child protection work of the Australian Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCCs). Drawing mainly on the case histories and records of these child protection agencies in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, my aim has been to write a history of their early years — why they were formed, what they were about, and how they operated. However, the thesis is not so much a study of the changing response to cruelly-treated and neglected children as it is a study of the changing definitions of the problem they were perceived to be. In the late nineteenth century, the emerging visibility of cruelly-treated children saw the perception of them change from delinquents and vagrants in need of control, to victims in need of assistance. Then, as child cruelty was submerged into the wider category of child neglect, the family and the environment were identified as causal. In particular, the mother and her inexpert care of the nation’s children, became the problem. Therefore, this thesis argues that changes to the definition of the problem of neglected and cruellytreated children affected their visibility and so the political and social response to their needs.

No single historical method has been used in this thesis. Rather, I have attempted to achieve a balance between a traditional analytical narrative and a case-study approach, believing that the case-studies would reveal more significant details about the children, their families, and the officers of the Societies, than would be obvious in the quantitative evidence alone. In particular, these case-studies illustrate a major component of my argument that the SPCCs were just as involved in constructing their subjects (neglected and cruelly-treated children) as they were in attempting to solve the problem they became.

This thesis, then, is relevant to contemporary studies of the family because it demonstrates that child abuse is nothing new, nor is it simply an on-going problem for which there has never been a suitable answer. Rather child abuse has been, and still is, an issue of changing visibility, definition and response.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Layman, Lenore
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