Our history

The Child Welfare Association (renamed the Child Health Association in the 1950s and Families Tasmania in 2021), was established in and is now operating into its second century. While the association has evolved its operations and services over the decades to respond to the needs of a changing society, its core objective of supporting Tasmanian families to build healthy lives has remained steadfast.

Young girl kneading dough.

The Beginning

Inaugural meeting of the clinic committee at the home of Mrs L Reeves in September 1939, to begin efforts to eventually open a child health clinic at Newstead, Tasmania.

The Child Welfare Association (CWA) was formed on the in Tasmania with the primary objective of reducing the high infant mortality rate with education and support for mothers. At the time 11.6% of babies died in their first year of life.

The CWA committee lobbied the Government to hire the very first Child Health Nurse to visit the homes of new mothers and offer parenting support. Through fundraising they also established the very first Child Health Clinics in Hobart and Launceston. Throughout the following decades, additional Child Health Clinics were established in areas of need with the CWA responsible for establishing, fitting out and maintaining the clinics.

In the CWA opened the Mothercraft Home in New Town; providing in-patient help for mothers whose babies had feeding or sleeping problems, accommodation and care for premature babies, babies whose mothers were in hospital and babies for adoption.

By the early 1920s the CWA had successfully established a pure milk supply for infants, in both Hobart and Launceston, milk from a local dairy was sterilised and mothers collected from the clinic, drastically reducing instances of gastroenteritis in children.

Lobbying and advocacy efforts were ongoing as more clinics were established in areas of need.

Sending a clear message—men should be involved too. Source: Tasmanian Public Health Department publication, ‘Happy Motherhood’, 1950.

The Development

By 1954 the association had established 92 clinics across the State and the Child Welfare Association (CWA) was a widely recognised and valued advocacy organisation that sought to improve child health through the promotion of contemporary scientific knowledge about child care and home hygiene. Every clinic had its own CWA committee, whose primary purpose was to raise funds for ongoing operational costs and maintenance. In the 20-year period attendances at clinics grew from 8,659 in to 23,078 in .

The Mothercraft Home (opened in ) was very busy by the 1940s. Sadly, the cost and administrative burden of the Home became too high and on the it was formally handed over to the State Government.

By the late 1950s the infant mortality rate had decreased dramatically. In the Child Welfare Association’s name was changed to the Child Health Association, to avoid confusion with the Child Welfare Department of Social Services.

Scottsdale Child Welfare Centre, built in 1940. Source: Christine Minchin.

The Evolution

Well Fed Tasmania truck and school group.

It was not until the early 1990s that the Child Health Association (CHA) was freed from covering all of the running costs of the Child Health Clinics, enabling the Association to spend more time on health promotion and advocacy, running several state-wide campaigns on health issues including the use of infant and child restraints in cars, immunisation and safety.

In there was a change of name to Child Health Association Tasmania with the acronym CHAT.

Programs such a playgroups, pram walking groups and new parents groups were introduced and facilitated by the Association.

In the Family Food Patch program was introduced and has continued to become the Associations most successful program in . The Hobart Haven began in as an initiative of the Hobart Mums Network and in CHAT opened the Haven on Paterson in Launceston.

Today, evidence-based parenting programs, community activation events, pram walking groups, parenting information sessions, online networking, family wellbeing programs and the Well Fed Tasmania food truck are some of the ways Families Tasmania supports Tasmanian families. These initiatives reveal one of the great strengths of Families Tasmania, its ability to move and adjust with the times. All through its 100-year history it has adapted to changing community needs.

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To Save the Babies

This is the remarkable story of Tasmanian women coming together in the early years of the 20th century determined to reduce the horrendous infant mortality rate of the time. Driven by a passionate desire to improve the lot of poor families, to propagate information about disease prevention across all levels of society and to raise the status of motherhood, they quickly became highly political, skilled and vocal activists for their cause. In the 100 years since the establishment of the Child Health Association Tasmania, the organisation has continued to support and advocate for families with young children. Over time methods and issues have changed but the primary focus on children and their families has remained.

Thousands of women, many now forgotten, have belonged to this organisation, giving significantly of their time and skills to promote the establishment and continuation of a child health and parenting nursing service in Tasmania. Over many decades they built and maintained child health centres across the state, endlessly fund raising to provide necessities for nurses and centres. In doing so they gifted to the state the fabric for a free nursing service for all parents.

This history is underpinned by the author’s many years of experience as a nurse and then lecturer in the area of children’s health. Mostly, however, it has stemmed from her interest in uncovering the, often unrecorded, achievements of ordinary people and the organisations to which they belong. The achievements of CHAT over 100 years demonstrate that when people care enough their potential can be extraordinary.

To Save the Babies—The Child Health Association Tasmania 1917–2017 By Sheryl Brennan. The title of the book, ‘To Save the Babies’, was part of the motto of the early Child Welfare Association.

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First Published in by the Child Health Association Tasmania (CHAT)