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World's Earliest Social Work

From assisting discharged prisoners at the prison gates back in 1883 through to the network of life-changing social services we run today – our Australian story is one of empowering individuals and strengthening communities.

The humblest of beginnings

In 1883, when Salvation Army Officers James and Alice Barker leased a small house in Melbourne’s North to provide accommodation and support for men discharged from Melbourne’s gaols, they could not have conceived what our social services network would become. The formation of this Prison-Gate Brigade was the first permanent social service of its kind anywhere in the world, and the beginning of incredible things.

Fallen Sisters Homes soon followed, catering for discharged female prisoners, prostitutes and opium addicts. In its first 12 months the refuge received 300 women in desperate need of assistance. From these early successes grew a groundswell of interest and support that has driven us to empower millions of Australians to this day – positively impacting individuals and communities for more than 135 years.

A continued vision

The first official recognition of the incredible work we were doing came in 1886 when the Victorian Government donated £500 towards our social services. From there we expanded the Prison-Gate Brigade and Fallen Sisters Homes throughout the Australian Colonies, opened a hospital in Fitzroy, and in 1889 we opened Melbourne’s Labour Bureau – Australia’s first free employment service.

As momentum grew through the 1880s and 1890s, we were able to address other areas of deprivation, developing programs to help people experiencing unemployment, homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, child abuse and family violence, as well as programs for the elderly – all of which continue in various forms today.