Case files

One of the aims of the Including the Excluded project is to catalogue the case files of disabled children who were in The Society’s care during the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

A case file was created for each and every child who came into The Society’s care and was used to file documents created in the course of The Society’s work with that child. These documents often included correspondence detailing the children’s homes and foster homes that the child stayed in, and correspondence relating to the child leaving The Society’s care, either to go to work when old enough, or to be adopted or reunited with family members. There may also be other snippets of information in the case files, including medical certificates, birth certificates, and correspondence with the child as an adult. Rare case files even contain photographs.

In my opinion though, the star item in each case file is the application form. These forms were filled in and kept for almost every child in The Society’s care. They describe, in detail, the child’s family circumstances, and include information about the child’s birth, home, parents, siblings, relations and schooling. Each form also contains a statement from someone who knew the child, describing why they think the child would benefit from being taken into The Society’s care.

The above image shows a statement, dated 1890, in the application form for a girl from Tunbridge Wells. In the statement, we’re told that the girl lost an arm when her father threw both himself and her in front of a moving train. Luckily, both survived, but the father was sent to an asylum, which left the mother struggling to bring up their children by herself. The girl was placed in a home in Brighton, and the application was made for her to be taken in by The Society.

A transcript of the above image can be found here, and the rest of the application form and the other documents in this case file can be found here.

Each application form also contains a summary of the homes that the child stayed in while in The Society’s care. Using the above example, we can see that the girl was accepted into The Society’s home for disabled children (this was St Nicholas’ Home in Tooting), and after five years was returned to her mother, where she was then placed in a training home to learn to be a servant.

As the above example shows, the case files can contain some astounding stories. They allow us to get a rare glimpse into the lives of individual children, and so form a valuable resource to help us understand how disabled children were treated and cared for at the turn of the last century.

I will be cataloguing the case files in detail as part of this project, capturing information about where each child came from and went to. The aim is to make the case files searchable so it will be possible to locate specific files, making it easier to examine and compare the experiences of different children.

Including the Excluded

Hello and welcome to the Including the Excluded blog. My name is Janine and I’m the archivist working on this project for The Children’s Society’s Records and Archives Centre.

The aim of Including the Excluded is to catalogue records that relate to The Children’s Society’s work with disabled children. This project has been funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives and started when I was recruited in June 2011. It is set to run for twelve months and so will be completed in June of this year.

Including the Excluded is a wonderful opportunity to make the records of disabled children more accessible. Cataloguing and repackaging these records will help us to discover and document the information we hold, and so promote research into the care of disabled children over the past 130 years. Our aim is to make this important history more widely available, not just to academic researchers, but to everyone, including disabled children and young people themselves.

The Children’s Society was founded in 1881 by Edward Rudolf, who wanted to help the vulnerable children he saw around him in Victorian Britain. In its early history, The Children’s Society (then known as The Waifs and Strays Society) did this by running a network of children’s homes for poor and disadvantaged children. By the mid-1970s, the work of The Children’s Society had evolved away from children’s homes to focus on more innovative types of social work and child care. Throughout all this, from 1881 to the present day, The Children’s Society has helped disabled children, often pioneering in this field.

It is The Children’s Society’s influential work with disabled children that is the focus of the Including the Excluded project. Over the course of the next few months, I will be using this blog to document my progress and share some of the fascinating insights and stories that I come across while working on this project.

If you would like more information about Including the Excluded, please take a look at the project web pages.