Posted: 25 September 2017

Children’s well-being through history

Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten is Reader (Associate Professor) in Childhood Studies in the School of Education and Childhood Studies at the University of Portsmouth. Here she looks back at children’s well-being through history.

The latest Good Childhood Report flagged a significant connection between problems left mounting up in children’s lives and reduced well-being. However, the Government is sharply cutting funding for the local services needed to help children deal with these problems. This leaves them unable to give these young people help early, before problems get worse.

Looking back

Interestingly, efforts to protect well-being in childhood today are not all that different from those in the Victorian and Edwardian times.

Historic case files from our archives reveal a number of similarities in the situation faced by children in Britain in 1880-1920.

Many problems to deal with

There were many difficult issues at play in children’s lives. Reasons for being in care, for example, were very much the same as they are still - including the relationship between the child and family, mental health of the parents and alcohol problems.

Different agencies working together is now, as it was then, problematic. Local agencies - like schools, police forces and others - must work together, with understanding and addressing children’s many needs at the heart of what they do.

Old photo of a group of carers and children

Knebworth Home for Boys was opened in 1888 and housed six orphaned and destitue boys from London.

Failing to listen to children

The child’s ‘voice’ seems to be only sporadically acknowledged - then and now. One case file from 1920 refers to a 16 year old girl asking to ‘come out of the asylum’ and ‘start afresh’ - this never happened.

Similar things are still happening now. For example children in care often don’t have choice about what happens to them.

But the Good Childhood Report is a good starting point, asking thousands of young people how they think their lives are going. It’s vital that local councils involve young people in defining local problems and having a say in what needs to change.

Lampson home for girls

Our first home started out as the Dulwich Home for Girls in 1881. It relocated twice in its early years and changed its name to the Lampson Home for Girls. Homes like this were vital for young people desperately in need of support.

Devastating cuts to services that help children

The casefiles from 1880-1920 revealed yet another interesting similarity. Almost 150 years ago, while charitable organisations warned more investment was needed, from the second half of the 19th century there was a purge on public spending for services that support families.

With less resources to go round, some families and children were unjustly deemed more worthy of support than others. For example, a widow was deemed more ‘deserving’ of support than a single woman expecting a child.

Mother and son by a bird cage

An unsupported mother and young son, are helped to stay together by a small weekly grant. Funding like this was, and still is, vital in supporting families.


Join the campaign

Cuts to funding. High caseloads. Poor integration of welfare, mental health and social care services. All factors that put services that help children under immense pressure, forcing them to turn young people away. And children get harmed in the process.

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