Repackaging children’s case files

A few weeks ago, I talked about our plans to catalogue the case files of disabled children. Today, I’d like to explain what we’re doing to physically preserve these case files and keep them readable and accessible for the future.

Above are some photos to show what our early case files look like now. They’re stored in archival-quality boxes, which help to give them some basic protection, but as you can see, inside the boxes the files are in a bit of a sorry state.

The blue covers are the original covers that the case files were stored in when they were created at the end of the 19th century. They’re quite small, which means that the case papers have been folded a number of times to fit inside them. For smaller case files, this doesn’t create too much of a problem, but for larger case files, the papers can be wedged in so tightly that it’s quite hard to get them out. In the photo above, you can see that the case file was so large that the cover has split and someone has tied it back on with red legal tape. Problems like this leave the documents unprotected and vulnerable, which has led to a number of the case files becoming battered and fragile over the years.

Left as they are, these case files aren’t very easy to use and are likely to only get more damaged over time.

As part of the Including the Excluded project, we’re rectifying this by repackaging the case files into new, archival-quality folders with the help of a team of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.

Above are photos of some case files that have been repackaged. To get to this stage, the case papers are taken out of their original covers and individually cleaned to remove the dust and soot that has built up on them over the years. They are then numbered and placed under weights for a time to help them unfold from their tight bundles. Finally, they’re put into new folders to better protect them.

I can say from experience that the case files that have been flattened and repackaged are far easier to use, so many thanks to our volunteers for their help!

The Children’s Union

The final collection of records that I’m cataloguing as part of the Including the Excluded project are the records of The Children’s Union.

The Children’s Union was a fundraising body for The Children’s Society that ran from 1888 to 1979. However, unlike most fundraising bodies, the subscriptions and donations collected by the Children’s Union were not given by adults, but by children and young people themselves.

When it was founded, the initial aim of the Children’s Union was for children to raise enough money to sponsor one bed at the home for disabled children, St Nicholas’ in Upper Tooting. This didn’t last long though; by 1901, the Children’s Union had become so successful that the money it raised was funding two disabled children’s homes in their entirety, St Nicholas’ in West Byfleet and St Martin’s in Surbiton, while also giving donations to The Society’s other homes for disabled children.

The link between the Children’s Union and the disabled children’s homes carried on right through until the 1940s when the Children’s Union began to focus on supporting The Children’s Society’s large number of homes for babies and toddlers instead.

The above image shows the cover of a promotional leaflet that was created to celebrate 50 years’ work of the Children’s Union.

This leaflet lists some of the ways that children could raise money for the Children’s Union, which included keeping a collecting box at home; doing needlework, knitting or making toys that could be sold to make money; and taking up a subscription of ‘Brothers and Sisters’, which was a magazine written specifically Children’s Union members.

We hold a full set of ‘Brothers and Sisters’ magazine from 1890 to 1970 here in the archive, along with other publicity material for the Children’s Union, annual reports, and more. In addition to records, we also have artefacts, including examples of some of the Children’s Union’s collecting boxes.

It’s fascinating to see a fundraising body like this that encouraged children to raise money to help other children. The magazines and some of the promotional material in this collection can be particularly fun as they include fictional stories and other articles written to entertain their young readers.

Children’s homes

Another part of the Including the Excluded project is to catalogue the records of The Children’s Society’s homes that looked after disabled children.

The first of these homes was St Nicholas’ Home in Tooting, Surrey, which opened in 1887 specifically to care for disabled children. Shortly afterwards, other homes specialising in the care of disabled children were opened, including St Agnes’ in Croydon (opened in 1897), St Martin’s in Surbiton (opened in 1898), Bradstock Lockett in Southport (opened in 1901), and others.

When these homes first opened, they specialised in teaching the children trades that would help them to earn their own living once they were old enough. Many of the children living in these homes had mobility difficulties and so they were taught trades that could be done while sitting down, such as tailoring, basket weaving and machine knitting.

As time went on, homes such as St Nicholas’ and St Martin’s in Pyrford and Halliwick School in Winchmore Hill began to focus on developing and providing medical treatments for the children in their care – particularly for orthopaedic conditions and Tuberculosis – through open air treatment, artificial light therapy and physiotherapy, including swimming therapy.

The above photograph shows the open-air ward in St Martin’s, Pyrford.

Another set of homes, including St Monica’s in Kingsdown and Corfield House in Rustington, were set up to look after children with diabetes. They were set up in the late 1940s in an innovative partnership with the Ministry of Health. These homes would teach the children how to administer their own insulin and regulate their diet.

The records that survive from the disabled children’s homes vary greatly from home to home, but they can include minutes, annual reports, plans of the home, registers of children admitted, publicity material, and more. These records provide an insight into the ways the homes were run and what it would have been like to live or work there.

By the 1970s, most of the children’s homes had closed down as part of The Children’s Society’s move away from residential care to other, more innovative ways of helping children and young people.