VSPCC executive committee (Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria, MS 10384)
Kids First was founded at a meeting at Government House on March 21st 1896 by then Governor of Victoria’s wife, Lady Sybil de Vere Brassy as the Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (VSPCC).
Its aims were to protect children from cruelty and neglect, to advance the claims of neglected, abandoned and orphaned children to the general public, to cooperate with existing societies for this purpose and to enforce the laws for the protection of neglected children and juvenile offenders. It was one of the few secular non-government agencies in the child welfare field.
From the 1920’s to 1980’s the Society provided services across metropolitan Melbourne and rural Victoria, governed by central and rural committees. The work of the society was to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect and also provide temporary emergency care for children in small residential units. These units were based in Fitzroy, Heidelberg, Sale and Hamilton.
In 1971 the Society changed its name to the Children’s Protection Society (CPS) and in 1979 the Victorian State Government authorised CPS as a child protection agency under the Social Welfare Act 1970. By 1982 CPS had ten child protection units; seven in the city and three in the country.
The State Government initiated a review of the Social Welfare Act and practice in 1983 and also a review of the Society’s operation. The Carney Report was released in 1984 and recommended that CPS not be re-authorised as a child protection agency and that this responsibility be provided by the State. Whilst CPS formally relinquished its role in 1985 to the Victorian Department of Community Services, today’s child protection system in Victoria owes much to the work of CPS. Reforms to welfare legislation and policy meant a change in CPS’ operations but not its mission to reduce child abuse and neglect.
In 2016 CPS celebrated 120 years with a function where it all began, at Government House. Staff and other guests were welcomed by Victoria’s first female Governor, the Hon. Linda Dessau AC. Whilst the Governor's wife has always acted as Chief Patron of the Society, fittingly Governor Dessau broke tradition to accept the role herself, with an extensive background in family law and understanding of the issues faced tackling family violence.
The year also marked the release of findings and 227 recommendations (all accepted) made by the Victorian Royal Commission into family violence, of which CPS made submissions. Said Kids First CEO Aileen Ashford at the time;
"If these recommendations are heeded, and significant investment in this space is made, this will make a difference to the capacity of organisations like CPS to support families and in turn, make all the difference to families and especially children who so desperately need that support."
As political, social and economic times change, so too does the needs of the community. Kids First has responded to those changes and provided innovative and targeted services including family support, sexual abuse counselling and treatment services, support services tailored for mothers, fathers and other carers such as grandparents, early education expertise, child and family centres, ChildFIRST and Services Connect referral services.
Today Kids First is a dynamic and diverse independent and voluntary child and family services organisation with no political or religious affiliations, governed by a Board of community members, servicing vulnerable children, young people and families.
1896 – 2016: Celebrating 120 Years
To mark CPS’s 120th anniversary a historical account of the agency was commissioned. The book – A Journey of Hope and Resilience: safeguarding children for 120 years – was written by Lucy Bracey and Fiona Poulton of Way Back When Historians. Divided into several eras, the publication marks the stories and continued evolution of this remarkable organisation;
120th Anniversary Video