By CELA on 24 May, 2024

In its early colonial years, Sydney was an unforgiving place, particularly for unmarried and deserted mothers. With limited support, these women often faced desperate choices, including abandoning their babies, infanticide, or even suicide. 

In response to this crisis, a group of courageous women united to establish a home for abandoned infants and unmarried mothers with children.  

On 15 May 1874, the Sydney Foundling Institute was founded in Victoria Street, Darlinghurst. It was the first and only institution in Australia at that time dedicated to caring for abandoned children and providing accommodation for unmarried mothers and their babies.  

After two challenging years in the inner city, the Sydney Foundling Institute needed to relocate to larger premises. Philanthropist Thomas Walker purchased ‘Gorton’, a house and land in what was then rural Ashfield, for £3,000 and donated it to the charity, which then renamed itself The Infants’ Home. 

How the Infant's Home has evolved

The Infants Home is a great example of a community managed service that has sustained the test of time and evolved in line with the needs of children," said CELA CEO Michele Carnegie. "They have always maintained a deep and genuine commitment to their community and the vital role they play in creating better outcomes for children and families.

Since 1876, The Infants’ Home has continuously evolved and innovated to meet the ever-changing needs of children and families, with a focus on supporting those facing complex and challenging life circumstances.

Recognising the need for early childhood education, the first kindergarten was opened in 1897. Mothers residing at The Infants’ Home received training in essential childcare skills, supporting their future independence. 

In 1972 The Infants’ Home was the first organisation in NSW to move from being a residential facility to a Commonwealth-funded long daycare centre. In 1974 they were among a handful of organisations piloting family day care, with their Family Day Care Sydney Wide service celebrating 50 years in 2024.   

In the mid-2000s, The Infants’ Home expanded its services to include speech pathology and occupational therapy for children with additional needs. A new early education and care centre was established to meet increasing demand, and the Family Day Care service was rebranded as Family Day Care Sydney Wide.

Commitment to inclusion through the Response to Intervention model 

All children, regardless of their needs or circumstances are included in The Infants’ Home mainstream onsite services. The organisation has adopted a ‘Response to Intervention’ (RTI) model in which their educators and allied health staff work as an interdisciplinary team to support all children.  

There are three tiers within the model, each detailing a level of service intensity for the delivery of integrated early intervention and early childhood education programs in The Infants’ Home mainstream services. 

The Integrated Group Program

One of The Infants’ Home’s most innovative programs for inclusion and the delivery of non-stigmatising early intervention is their Integrated Group Program. The team creates specialised, targeted integrated group programs, which are designed and delivered by a therapist and educator, to groups of eight to ten children within their mainstream early childhood education and care programs.  

The groups are inclusive and use children’s interests as a basis for the development of play-based learning experiences.  

Children are supported to interact positively with their peers and the adults facilitating the groups, and relationships are fostered to enhance children’s learning and sense of belonging. The integrated team works collaboratively with children and their families to address their current and emerging needs, and the level of intervention or additional support required.   

The Infants’ Home is always focused on ways to help children and families access what they need as easily as possible, as quickly as possible and without feeling that they are being judged or are being ‘worked on’ rather than being ‘worked with’," says Mariam Christodoulos, The Infants’ Home’s Children’s Services Manager. 
"Every child and family have a voice that is respected, and the integrated team works with them to find out what matters most to them so that they can set about providing the tailored support and resources needed by them to make their goals attainable. 

They also deliver a targeted transition to school program where a small cohort of children are supported by their integrated team into the first two terms of school. The organisation recognises that this transition can be significant and difficult for children and their families and bespoke wrap around support is provided to meet each family’s needs. 

Celebrating 150 years of early education and care 

On Wednesday, 8 May, The Infants' Home launched its 150th-anniversary celebrations with an event attended by distinguished guests and supporters. This event not only commemorated the organisation's rich history but also highlighted its ongoing contributions and future plans. 

The event also marked the launch of the "Each Family, Every Future" fundraising campaign, aimed at supporting future generations of children and families. Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, Governor of New South Wales, along with her partner and The Infants' Home Patron, Mr Dennis Wilson, Sally Sitou MP, Member for Reid, and CELA CEO Michele Carnegie were among the notable attendees. 

Her Excellency spoke about the significant role The Infants' Home has played since its founding, emphasising its crucial support for women and children. Mr Wilson praised the organisation's exceptional ability to provide expert support and care for children in need. 

CEO Elizabeth Robinson presented highlights from the 150-year history, followed by Children's Services Manager, Mariam Christodoulos, who discussed the innovative work the organisation currently does. This includes providing early intervention and holistic support for children and families facing disability, vulnerability, and complex challenges. 

President Mary Verschuer concluded the formal proceedings with an overview of the organisation's future plans, including developing an outdoor classroom to foster nature pedagogy and launching the 150th-anniversary fundraising campaign. 

The "Each Family, Every Future" campaign 

The "Each Family, Every Future" fundraising campaign aims to raise one million dollars over the next 12 months to support three key initiatives: 

  • Off-Site Expansion: Expanding services beyond the Inner West to reach more children and families in need. 
  • Outdoor Classroom: Creating a natural learning environment accessible to all children, particularly benefiting those with complex needs. 
  • Sustainable Future Fifty: Preserving the heritage buildings and grounds in Ashfield to ensure continued service provision for future generations. 

The campaign seeks to raise $150,000 in May to kickstart the year-long initiative. 

In celebrating its 150th anniversary, The Infants' Home continues to inspire and lead in the early childhood education and care sector, staying true to its mission of supporting children and families most in need. 

Find out more about The Infant's Home:

Find out about the Each Family, Every Future campaign:

How The Infant's Home values their CELA membership

 As a proud member of CELA, The Infants' Home benefits from invaluable support in navigating the compliance and policy landscape. The resources and professional development opportunities provided by CELA are essential in maintaining the organisation's high standards of governance and quality service delivery.

Mariam Christodoulos, The Infants’ Home’s Children’s Services Manager




About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.



Jennifer Byfield
Posted on 4 Jun, 2024
The Infants Home Ashfield was my first teaching position when I finished training at the Nursery School Teachers College. I worked at the Infants Home from November 1977 - March 1981 when I left to travel overseas. It was the most amazing place to commence my Career and I have not found another service that meets its high commitment to families children and indeed staff. I started work in the Toddler section, 2yr olds. We had 5 staff for 20 children. Myself the teacher, a mothercraft nurse, two assistants and a full time cleaner. All children came 5 days a week. That was the policy at the time, only children of full time working parents (and children from the refuge). I still reminisce about the good old days at the Infants Home.
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