First established in 1931, The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) Social Work Department, has a long and proud history. Following the polio epidemic of 1930/31, The Children’s Hospital in Carlton was the second hospital in Australia to appoint an almoner (social worker). Miss Isabel Hodge, who was one of the first of three almoners to be trained in Australia, commenced duty in 1931 and founded the hospital’s original Almoner Department.

Miss Hodge would visit children in the community who were affected by polio, 4pm to 9pm each evening in the hope she would catch both parents at home. She would explain objectives of treatment, ensure exercise regimes were followed, help organise home schooling and would communicate with the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Fairfield on behalf of the patient and their family.

This work in the community vastly reduced the number of patient visits to the Physiotherapy Clinic. Due to such positive results for patients, families, and the hospital, a second almoner, Miss Fancourt, was hired in 1935 to attend more general cases. Together Miss Hodge and Miss Fancourt began professional social work at the hospital, with Miss Hodge continuing to serve at the RCH until her retirement in 1962.

Annual reports covering the early years of the Social Work Department, describe the role of the almoner in assessing the home situation of each child, collaborating with medical staff and “ensuring that these children should derive the fullest possible benefit from the available treatment.” By 1962, the Almoner’s Department was renamed the Social Work Department.

The late Miss Kath Dawe was Head of this newly established RCH Social Work Dept from 1962-1976. She has been described as a pioneer who made an enormous contribution to paediatric Social Work in Australia and the RCH in particular. Miss Dawe was known for her inspirational leadership, a legacy of innovation in many areas of hospital social work and particularly her outstanding contribution to the conceptualisation of the issues of child abuse.


Social Work at the RCH operates from 8am to midnight, seven days per week. The department receives an average of 6,000 referrals per year and provides some 36,000 patient encounters. Social Work has evolved from the provision of food and material aid, to the sophisticated and complex psychosocial intervention provided today. Currently, Social Work employs approximately 45 staff across all areas of the hospital, from the Emergency Department and Inpatient Services, to the Complex Care Hub and Wallaby Ward, as well as Specialist Clinics.

Social workers provide a comprehensive psychosocial response to a broad range of issues including family violence, vulnerable children, trauma, grief and loss, end of life care and bereavement. Social workers assist families with a range of psychosocial issues related to their child’s health and treatment journey.

With thanks to Sarah Connolly, Manager Social Work and Pastoral Care. Contemporary images courtesy of Alvin Aquino.