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“Help for wayward children”: child guidance in 1930s Australia

Katie Wright (Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 22 June 2012




Historical studies of the expert management of childhood in Australia often make passing reference to the establishment of child guidance clinics. Yet beyond acknowledgement of their founding during the interwar years, there has been little explication of the dynamics of their institutional development. The purpose of this article is to examine the introduction of child guidance in Australia against the backdrop of the international influences that shaped local developments.


The article investigates the establishment of child guidance clinics in Melbourne and Sydney in the 1930s. In doing so, it explores the influence of American philanthropy, the promise of prevention that inspired the mental hygiene movement, and some of the difficulties faced in putting its child guidance ideals into practice in Australia.


American philanthropy played an important role in the transnational carriage of ideas about mental hygiene and child guidance into Australia. However, it was state support of child guidance activities that proved critical to its establishment. In addition to institutional developments, what also emerges as important in the 1930s is the traction gained in the broader realm of ideas about “adjustment” and mental health, particularly in relation to the efficacy of early intervention and multidisciplinary approaches to treating problems of childhood.


In tracing its early development, the article argues for the importance of understanding child guidance not only in terms of its administrative successes and failures, but also more broadly in terms of how early intervention as an influential mode of thought and practice took root internationally.



Wright, K. (2012), "“Help for wayward children”: child guidance in 1930s Australia", History of Education Review, Vol. 41 No. 1, pp. 4-19.



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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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