Function VF 249
Intellectual disability services
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  • Use this Function for
    The detention, care, control, treatment, rehabilitation, and training of "idiots", "imbeciles", "mental defectives", the "mentally retarded", the intellectually disabled

  • Do not use this Function for
    Health, mental

Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function

Society's attitudes to and understanding of intellectual disability have changed significantly since the 1840's. In the 1840s people with intellectual disability were controlled and treated in the same way as people with psychiatric illness or physical disability. The modern distinctions we are familiar with were not made. The development of services specifically aimed at the intellectually disabled emerged only as society began to classify people as intellectually disabled. Throughout the past century and a half there have been a number of classifications which are significant to the history of the function. What follows is a far from comprehensive account of some of the important developments. It is an outline only and further research is required. To assist researchers to locate the records they require it is necessary that the historical terms for intellectual disability be used in this account. It is acknowledged that this decision has resulted in the inclusion of terms which today are considered most offensive.

Institutionalisation of Idiots and Imbeciles

Institutionalisation was the primary approach to managing societys problem persons in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. A variety of Lunacy Acts from 1843 to 1903 provided for the control of persons of unsound mind in Government run institutions or in homes and institutions regulated by the Government.

In 1877 the Ballarat Asylum had been established for use as an "asylum for idiot children and harmless adult idiots" but it was closed after two years due to lack of funds and the patients were transferred to the Sunbury Asylum where they were admitted under the provisions of the Lunacy Statute.

A Royal Commission on Asylums for the Insane and Inebriate was commissioned on 17 May 1884 and presented its report on 29 April 1886 (see Papers Presented to Parliament 1886, Vol.2 p.271). The Royal Commission, known as the Zox Commission after its Chairman, was required to inquire into and report on the state and condition of both public and institutions and to make recommendations as to the management and inspection of institutions, the classification and treatment of patients and the training and qualifications of medical personnel. The Commission recommended the establishment of a separate institution for the treatment of "idiots".

In 1887 the Children's Cottages at Kew (VA 2852) were opened as the Idiot Ward of the Kew Asylum. The institution was established to provide separate accommodation in the form of detached cottages for "idiot" and "imbecile" children who had previously been accommodated with adult patients.

In 1932 a special school staffed by teachers seconded from the Education Department (VA 0714) was opened at the Children's Cottages Kew (VA 2852).
2861) was established for the, shelter, care and education of less severely retarded children from 5 years up to 16.

Pleasant Creek special school at Stawell commenced admissions in February 1937.
In November 1937 Janefield (VA 2847) was opened as a mental defectives colony for the accommodation and training (intellectually and occupationally) of idiot babies and young, low grade imbecile children offering relief to the Childrens Cottages at Kew.

During 1937 the differing requirements of mental defectives were recognised in the administration of the Mental Hygiene Department by the establishment of a Mental Defectives Branch.

During the 1950s day centres became popular. The day centre movement received support from the Government in the purchase and erection of premises and the training of supervisors. The senior psychologist in the Mental Hygiene Department was appointed as an inspector and advisor to the day centres.

In 1956 the State run institutions for intellectually defectives included the four hospitals at Travancore, Stawell, Kew Cottages and Janefield, a training centre for boys at Bendigo and a hostel for girls at Moorakyne. It was noted in the Annual Report of the Mental Hygiene Authority for 1956 that there was still no separate accomodation for intellectually defective adults nor was there appropriate legislation to clearly distinguish between the mentally ill and the intellectually defective.

Gradually the focus became on the development of services and support systems to enable the intellectually disabled to remain as independent as possible within the community. This strategy was accompanied by a corresponding program of deinstitutionalisation. In 1981 the Commission was operating thirteen residential training centres and sixty day training centres as well as subsidising four training centres. Support services were also provided to persons attending Education Department special schools and special development schools. The separation of a Mental Retardation Division from the Mental Health Division in 1981 was viewed as a major step towards recognising the different needs of mentally retarded persons (Annual Report of the Health Commission of Victoria 1980/81).

Establishment of the Community Services Portfolio

In March 1985 a Minister for Community Services was appointed and assumed responsibility for all community welfare programmes administered by the Minister for Community Welfare (VRG 60).

Following a review of the provision of health services many services which had been traditionally regarded as health services were redefined as community services and responsibility for these functions was transferred to the Minister for Community Services.

On 1 October 1985, the Minister for Community Services became responsible for the administration of the Office of Intellectual Disability Services and thus for the administration of programmes and institutions providing services to intellectually disabled adults and children. These services had previously been provided by the Mental Retardation Division of the Health Commission (VA 2577) and very briefly by the Department of Health II (VA 2695).

Many of these services were provided on a regional basis and there was a Regional Services Division within the Department of Community Services (VA 2633) which was responsible for the delivery of services through Community Services Victoria regional offices and facilities, local government, non-government agencies and the community sector.

Intellectual Disability Services included:

early childhood and early intervention services
vocational services
residential care in centres known variously as training centres, hostels and community centres
community support services

Intellectually Disabled Persons Services Act 1986

Principles stated in this Act expressed the overall view that intellectually disabled persons have the same rights as other members of the community, that their needs best met by maximum integration in the community, that they were entitled to exercise maximum control over every aspect of their life, that services should be provided within local communities and that these should be funded by the State, that the State had a duty to ensure that organisations providing services were able to be held accountable for their nature and provision and that non-government organisations should be able to continue to play a significant role in the provision of services. The intellectually disabled were seen as having a legitimate and major role to play in planning and evaluating services.

Criteria for eligibility were stated by the Act with these being later amended by the Intellectually Disabled persons Services (Amendment) Act 1994. For each person, there is an obligation to prepare a general service plan in consultation with the person, the primary carer and other persons considered suitable. This plan is subject to regular review.

Intellectual Disability Planning Committees might be appointed for each region to be responsible for preparing 3-year plans for the provision of intellectual disability services in the region. These plans are required to identify the needs of eligible residents, state how the needs were currently being met and identify improvements to be made in the facilities available.

Residential institutions, properly proclaimed under the Act were able to remain. Services provided by non-Government providers were able to be funded by the State providing those services met the criteria laid down in the Act. Residential institutions and programs were able to be inquired into and inspected by community visitors to report upon the appropriateness and standard of facilities, the adequacy of opportunities and programs, whether services were being provided in accordance with the principles laid down in the Act and to investigate any resident complaints.
All persons involved in residential facilities was to be provided with a printed copy of their rights with explanations to be made to those unable to read or comprehend the printed material.

The Intellectual Disability Review Panel was established with the primary role of receiving and hearing complaints about reviewable decisions made by the Department, its registered agencies, centres and residential institutions. The panel also has a responsibility in monitoring the use of restraint, seclusion and aversive therapy.


Since c1991, all Disability Services including those for the intellectually disabled have been administered by the Disability Services Division of the Department of Community Services and later the Department of Health and Community Services and the Department of Human Services. As of may 2001 the Division consists of the:

Performance, Planning and Research section concerned with intergovernmental relations, performance analysis and reporting; information and data strategies and disability research projects;

Service and Quality development providing integrated service development including new service models, contestable purchasing and purchasing frameworks and

Budget and program Support including the Disability Services Training Unit responsible for delivering training to staff employed in Government managed disability services.
Related FunctionsRelated Functions
  • Related Functions
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    Function Title Function Number
    Education VF 19
  • Broader Functions
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    Function Title Function Number
    Health, mental VF 128
    Welfare services VF 252
  • Narrower Functions
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Other InformationOther Information
Agencies with prime responsibility for this FunctionAgencies with prime responsibility for this Function
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Date of Responsibility Agency Title Agency Number
1887 - cont Kew Cottages (Kew Idiot Ward/Asylum 1887-1929; Cottages 1929-1962; Training Centre 1962-c1997; Kew Residential Services c1997-2008. VA 2852
1905 - 1934 Lunacy Department (located in Chief Secretary's Department) VA 2864
1934 - 1944 Department of Mental Hygiene (located in Chief Secretary's Department VA 475) VA 2865
1937 - 1996 Janefield (Colony 1937-1962; Training Centre 1962-1996) VA 2847
1937 - 1999 Pleasant Creek (Pleasant Creek Colony 1937-1969; Pleasant Creek Training Centre 1969-1999) VA 5118
1944 - 1978 Mental Hygiene Branch, Department of Health I VA 2866
1973 - 1995 Kingsbury Training Centre VA 5135
1978 - 1985 Department of Health II (commonly known as the Health Department Victoria) VA 2695
1985 - 1985 Health Commission of Victoria VA 652
1991 - 1992 Department of Health II (commonly known as the Health Department Victoria) VA 2695
1992 - 1992 Department of Community Services (also known as Community Services Victoria) VA 2633
1992 - 1996 Department of Health and Community Services VA 3092
1996 - 2014 Department of Human Services VA 3970
2015 - cont Department of Health and Human Services VA 5037
Circa 1886 - 1905 Hospitals for the Insane Branch VA 2863
Other Agencies responsible for this FunctionOther Agencies responsible for this Function
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Date of Responsibility Agency Title Agency Number
1962 - 1986 The Gables VA 5099
Groups related to this FunctionGroups related to this Function
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Date of Responsibility Group Title Group Number
- 1985 Health VRG 39
1985 - 1996 Community Services VRG 80
1996 - 1999 Youth and Community Services VRG 127