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1866 to 1983: institutional models of support for children
Cafs was established in 1866 as the Ballarat District Orphan Asylum, on Victoria St, Ballarat East. 


Nine children entered the institution in that year – Robert and Henry Phillips; Mary Ann Watson; Catherine, Sophia and John King; James Challen; and Josiah and Frances Bisgrove. They are recognised as the founders of this organisation, and were the first of more than 4,500 children between 1866 and 1983 who would go on to become part of this place.

The Ballarat District Orphan Asylum (1866-1909), the Ballarat Orphanage (1909-1968), and the Ballarat Children’s Home (1968-1983) have formed the backdrop for countless stories of children and families.

Up to 250 children at a time would live at these institutions, eating, sleeping, working, learning, playing, fighting, escaping, moving on and remembering.

Originally there was a large building where all the children lived together. Many of the children found this to be an intimidating and scary building, and while it was a significant part of Ballarat’s urban landscape for over 100 years, in the 1960s it was decided that it was not a good building for children to grow up in.

So in 1965 this large building was replaced by a number of ‘cottages’, and the institution was renamed as the Ballarat Children’s Home. At any one time there were around fifty children who lived in each of these smaller buildings.


Through the 1970s and 1980s there were major changes to the ways in which social services for children were delivered in Victoria. Ballarat Children’s Home started purchasing residential properties around Ballarat and the region, where children could live together in smaller groups, as part of their communities. This was known as the ‘Family Group Home’ system. Also, a greater emphasis was placed on helping families to support their children and preventing children and young people from needing to be placed in large institutions.

The number of children placed at the Ballarat Children’s Home rapidly decreased in the early 1980s, so that by 1983 – after 117 years – there were no more children at the Victoria St site.




In 2022, after years of negotiation the site is being re-developed. There will be residential properties, a childcare centre and a supermarket. The City of Ballarat is leading this process, and has been working with a number of former residents to design appropriate ways of recognising the histories of this place now and into the future. Read more about this here

1983 onwards – a modern community organisation

In 1983 when the last children left the Ballarat Children’s Home, the modern version of what we now know as Cafs was born.

New thoughts, ideas and ways of working with children and families were emerging, with a greater emphasis on supporting families to provide homes for their children, and reuniting families who had been separated. This led to the rapid growth in the number of families that could be supported, and a way of working that is very different from previous generations. Our name has changed many times, and our ways of working have changed. Even though our histories can be difficult to face, we are committed to helping anyone who has been part of this place to discover more about their own stories. Cafs has an ongoing responsibility to make sure that its historical materials are in the hands of the people that they belong to – the children, young people and families it has worked with over generations, and the adults they have become.

The conditions and experiences of children in institutions like these around Australia were documented and reported on in the ‘Forgotten Australians’ Report by the Australian Senate in 2004. Many Aboriginal children were part of this place as part of the Stolen Generations. As the successor organisation to the Ballarat District Orphan Asylum, the Ballarat Orphanage and the Ballarat Children’s Home, Cafs acknowledges the harm done and apologises to those children. Read our Apology here. 

Some former residents have developed a website to help make sure that their perspectives on the institution are heard.

Federation University recently wrote a history of Ballarat District Orphan Asylum, Ballarat Orphanage and Ballarat Children’s Home, 1866-1983. It is available here

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