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For some time Australia has been developing a keener consciousness of the need for increasing her population, and to-day stress is being laid on the stimu
lation of both the national birth-rate and the flow of immigrants. Yet there has been in this State a curiously illogi- cal neglect of those children who, if given the right opportunities and care, may become valuable citizens in the future. Human sympathy and national interest alike call for the proper treat- ment of unfortunate boys and girls who, from one cause or another, re- quire a helping hand from the State. How important is the problem may be seen in the simple fact that no fewer than some 4,000 children are now under the charge, whether in institutions or private homes, of the Child Welfare Department. Many of them have needed assistance because they were orphans, strays, or members of desti- tute families; some are mentally defec- tive; and others have become juvenile delinquents, usually as a result of a bad environment. A significant token of past political indifference to the welfare of these unfortunate young- sters, however, is found in the belated introduction of the Child Welfare Bill last week, for already legislation to the same purpose has been brought before Parliament, only to be dropped by the wayside. It is to be hoped that on this occasion the measure will find its way to the Statute Book.
There is no doubt of the need for the Bill. Both the Department con- cerned and social workers have done extremely good work in looking after uncared for and truant children, but they would themselves be the first to recognise the difficult conditions under which they have laboured. It has been officially recognised, too, that the Child Welfare Branch of the Education De- partment has suffered because it was "financially famished." The shelter attached to the Children's Court has inadequate accommodation, there Is sore need of recreation space, and the atmosphere is not conducive to clinical work. Indeed, the diagnosis and treatment of child delinquency, despite the valiant efforts now being put forth in the face of severe handicaps, lap far behind the modern scientific pro- vision In other countries lor psycholo
gists, psychiatrists, and welfare workers. It is gratifying, therefore, that the local Bill, while legally validating work now undertaken, goes further to provide for the establishment of depots, homes, and hostels, and to create machinery for the more efficient protection o.f chil- dren. The work of assistance, to those who are wards of the State will be ex- panded. Last year 1,200 children found homes with parents by adoption, and people are already waiting to take ad- vantage of the wider provisions to be made for adopting older children.
Special care of a more advanced type will be provided, it is hoped, for the child who is below the mental average, and the removing of such children to a residential institution, by separating them from their normal companions, may go far to remove the sense of inferiority often engendered, together with its anti-social tendencies. Anti- social habits of juvenile delinquents can be changed and bettered, not so much by punishment as by intelligent preventive measures. It is the idle hand which turns to mischief. At present in the congested areas of Sydney only 2,000 of some 50,000 chil- dren of pre-school age can enjoy the suitable healthy recreation provided by the day nurseries, kindergartens, and similar forms of social welfare. The Boys' Brigades and church and police clubs have also rendered most valuable service in looking after youth in the less privileged sections of the community. Indeed, the work performed by such agencies and the Child Welfare Bra nch over the last decade has been so effec- tive that the number of juvenile delin- quents has decreased from about 3,500 to only 1,900 last year. Extended faci- lities should go far to reduce this num- ber to still more satisfactory propor- tions. The abandonment, of such
terms as "conviction" and "imprison-1 ment" for young people, as provided In
the Bill, is a sensible step. Remedial)
treatment at an early stage should prove particularly valuable in prevent- ing crime and turning the youthful delinquent into a happy and responsible