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The Child and Family Health Service acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Peoples and Traditional Custodians of Country throughout South Australia. We acknowledge and respect their ongoing and deep spiritual connection and relationship to land, air, sea, waters, community and country. We pay our respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of people who have passed away.


A brief history of the Child and Family Health Service (CaFHS).

The Beginnings of Infant Welfare

At about the middle of the 19th century, research in England revealed that of every 100 babies born, 15 died in the first year of life. The main contributing factors were malnutrition, poor hygiene and lack of knowledge about infant care.

It was not until 1880 that the first organised Infant Welfare work began in Paris. Through the work of Dr Baudin, some important facts began to emerge which were to have a major impact on the health of young babies.

Dr Baudin found that infant mortality was highest in industrial towns where working mothers were unable to breastfeed their infants; that recently available glass bottles and rubber teats could and should be adequately sterilised for safe use; and that poor hygiene and the seasons of the year contributed to diseases like summer diarrhoea.

As a result of this work and a growing awareness of preventable child health problems, the first international Child Health Conference was held in Paris in 1905. In the same year Dr Sykes, who coined the word Mothercraft, founded the St Pancras' School for Mothers in London.

History of Child and Family Health in South Australia

In 1909 Dr Helen Mayo, Miss Harriet Stirling and Mrs P Morice, women who shared a common concern for social problems, established the School for Mothers in Adelaide, from which the Child and Family Health Service has grown. The School was modelled on the Welfare Centre of St Pancras, London.

Our School for Mothers was instrumental in improving infant nutrition and hygiene. The School promoted breastfeeding and instructed mothers who were unable to breastfeed, in safe artificial feeding. Mothers also received support and advice in the treatment of minor problems and illnesses.

Initiatives to improve the health of school children began at about the same time when a survey in England just after the Boer War revealed that 70% of young men were "unfit for war". The first School Medical Examiner (Dr Gertrude Halley) was appointed to the Education Department in South Australia in 1913.

By 1926 the School for Mothers changed its name to become Mothers and Babies Health Association (MBHA), and services were being delivered through 39 clinics.

The introduction of our first baby health train servicing country areas (1931), the introduction of a correspondence section to assist isolated mothers (1935), and an ever expanding preventive health service in the city and country areas combined to give South Australia the honour of having the lowest infant mortality rate in the world in 1937.

Torrens House was opened on August 24th, 1938, by Lady Dugan, wife of the then Governor of South Australia.

Declining birth and infant mortality rates, and a reduction in the incidence of serious childhood infectious disease, have been matched by a change in emphasis away from survival in childhood, to quality of life, parenting issues, prevention of illness and health promotion. These issues form the basic concepts of child and family health services and resulted in the development of the range of child health and parenting programs that Child and Family Health Service offers today.

A review of child health services in South Australia in 1978 saw the amalgamation of MBHA, School Health Services and the Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatric Services to form the Child, Adolescent Family Health Services (CAFHS). This new organisation provided a community based child health service to the families of South Australia with children aged 0-18 years. In 1983, the psychiatric branch of CAFHS left the organisation and became known as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Another name change as Child and Youth Health occurred in July 1995 with the amalgamation of the Child, Adolescent and Family Health Service and The Second Story youth services. This service for children and young people existed for many years before returning its focus to infancy and the early years in 2004 as the Child and Family Health Service (CaFHS).