In 1944, the first Australian girl was admitted to Barnardos care. In 1955, Dr Barnardos Homes (Australian Branch) began work with local children by introducing foster care and a Holiday Home Scheme, allowing children in homes to board with families during holidays. In 1964, Barnardos House opened in Canberra, the first residential children’s home for permanent care to be opened in the Australian Capital Territory, and the Boarding Out Family Grant Scheme to help mothers widowed or deserted was introduced.

In 1966 the name changed to Dr Barnardo's in Australia. A Family Care Service was established in 1967, and the head office moved from Jamison Street, Sydney to Wilmot Street, Sydney – the latter building being purchased with financial assistance from Barnardo’s UK.

The period 1968–1978 saw a number of homes opened and some later closed, including Canberra, Ryde and Keiraville. These closures financed the establishment of the Barnardos Centre at Auburn (1974) which aimed to support families to keep their children. 1978 saw the Homemaker Service, now called Special Neighbours, started at Auburn and Kids Friends started in Canberra. These programs were the beginnings of Children’s Family Centres.

There are now no Barnardos Australia residential children’s homes for children under twelve and the period since the 1970's has seen greater emphasis on family-based placements. There has been an increased effort to find permanent solutions for children within their own families.

In order to best help families in crisis, Barnardos developed the Temporary Family Care program in each of its Children’s Family Centres. This is a crisis and respite foster care program which aims to stop removal of children from their families wherever the child’s safety can be assured. This program commenced in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney and subsequent programs were begun in Children’s Family Centres at Auburn, Penrith, Canberra and South Coast.

The Lindfield residential unit for younger children was closed in 1984 and a permanent foster care program called Find a Family was established. Find-a-Family was established in Sydney (1985) and in Canberra (1993). More recently, the Find-a-Family program de-centralised its services in NSW and opened offices in Illawarra, Central Coast and Western Sydney. The emphasis on permanency planning has led to an emphasis on adoption and more than one-third of the children in these programs have been adopted. In line with research findings on the welfare of very young children, this program has focused on the earliest possible identification of the possibility for adoption.

From the 1980's there has been increasingly the emphasis on preventing entry to care. Building on our experience in Auburn and Canberra, two new Children’s Family Centres, were established at Penrith and on the South Coast. Each of the four Centres has a range of support services, including crisis and respite foster care, semi-supported accommodation, child care, visiting services, groups and youth support.

During the late 1980's and 90s changes in social conditions affecting adolescents meant that increased emphasis was placed on work with adolescents. Kingston House (catering initially for Indo-Chinese refugees) opened in 1985, a Streetwork program commenced in 1986, Hohnen House [for Kings Cross runaways] was opened in 1988, a Juvenile Detention Post Release program began in 1996 and Reconnect was established [to provide crisis intervention and family mediation] in 2000. In Canberra a range of programs has aimed to support vulnerable adolescents in their communities. As with the younger age group, emphasis has been placed on preventing young people from becoming homeless and at risk on the streets. In Sydney the Barnardos Sydney Metro Centre was established to initially cover Redfern and Waterloo. It has since expanded to cover more of the Inner City.

In 2000 Barnardos began to work to address the problems experienced by families in rural communities. In New South Wales, Barnardos opened centres in Mudgee, Wellington (2001), Gilgandra and Narromine (2002) with programs that include Reconnect, Family Support, Community Net-workers and Brighter Futures. The centre, now known as Barnardos Western, has grown to cover Mid Western, Coonabarabran, Cobar, Nyngan, Warren and Orange. In 2003 work began on a new Children’s Family Centre in Queanbeyan in order to help children in the south west of New South Wales. Development of Family Support has been the focus in that area.

Barnardos also established two partnerships with family support agencies in Victoria and Queensland to further develop the Kids’ Friends program and to ensure that donations from these States contributed to local children’s welfare.

Barnardos Australia has carefully considered its role with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children following the ‘Bringing them Home’ Report (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1997). Barnardos was not involved in the removal of Aboriginal children “the Stolen Generation” and has maintained a policy of not taking children into care when there are Aboriginal agencies able to assist.

Many Children’s Family Centres provide family support to Indigenous families particularly the Penrith, South Coast and Sydney Metro Centres. Furthermore all of the rural centres have high levels of Aboriginal clients and significant levels of Aboriginal staffing.

To better assist these families, the Corporate Plan 2005–2008 set a goal for 10 percent of Barnardos staff to be Aboriginal. In 2007 Aboriginal workers formed “BIG” (Barnardos Indigenous Group) to assist the agency in policy formulation, practice review, and the development of a Reconciliation Statement. It reports back directly to the CEO and to the Senior Managers of Barnardos. The group has developed its own unique identity, including its own logo reproduced on its own T-shirts and baseball caps.

The 2008–2011 Corporate Plan aimed for 20 percent Indigenous staff and an increase in representation in management. Several Aboriginal managers have since been appointed and in 2011, the first Aboriginal Senior Manager was appointed. Barnardos became a signatory to the national Memorandum of Understanding (SNAICC 2008) and has begun to operate in partnerships with local Aboriginal communities and services to strengthen services to Aboriginal communities and promote self determination.

In 2011 Barnardos temporarily took on the auspice of a Western Sydney Aboriginal Family Support program that was threatened with closure, and in 2012 Barnardos signed a co-operative agreement with a Cowra based Aboriginal group [Miyan Munga] to develop joint Out of Home Care in the Cowra/Orange area. [This was the first agreement signed under the new AbSec initiatives to match accredited agencies with local Aboriginal community groups as an interim arrangement – with the aim of moving towards accredited Aboriginal Out of Home Care.]

Barnardos has been instrumental in developing case management systems in Australia. In 1997 Barnardos began “The LAC Project”, which modified the “Looking After Children” case management system from the UK (for children in care) and adapted it to Australian conditions. “LAC” has grown and has since been made available to welfare agencies in most States. In 1999 Barnardos joined with researchers to adapt the UK “Assessment Framework for Children in Need” to Australia and developed “SCARF”. “Supporting Children and Responding to Families” is a case management system for children who are at risk within their families. Both LAC and SCARF were initially developed as paper-based systems.
Barnardos was increasingly interested in incorporating information and communication technology to improve its work with families. In 1997 Barnardos developed its first electronic database—DOFS (Database of Family Services). In 2000 an electronic version of LAC (LAC Electronic System or “LACES”) was developed and this was followed in 2007 by E-SCARF.

A Practice Development Centre (PDC) was set up in 2007 to promote and manage the LAC and SCARF systems and in 2011 the PDC began work on an integrated system “MyStory” with a view to combining LAC and SCARF into one system.

Barnardos continues to contribute widely to Federal and State debate on the welfare of Australia’s disadvantaged children and young people. Increasingly the agency has focused on contributing Barnardos’ practice experience, and the development of specialist expertise has been used to lobby for the improvement of children’s welfare services across Australia.. Barnardos is an active member of the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies of Australia (ACWA) and is a founding member of Families Australia. 

Anticipating a shortage of well qualified and experienced social welfare workers in Australia, Barnardos opened Australian Barnardos Recruitment Services (abrs Socialworks) as a recruitment agency in 2003.

Barnardos’ growth was limited during 2008/9 because of the Global Financial Crisis. However, by the time of the development of the 2011-14 Corporate Plan Barnardos was able to provide increased family support services in rural NSW. In 2011 new services were begun covering Orange, Palerang, Cooma, Monaro and Jindabyne and a Family Referral Service was established to cover an expanded area on the South Coast. Existing Centres expanded their activities in the areas of substance abuse, education in homework and learning centres, and increased the number of adoptions of babies and toddlers.