Memorandum by the Department of HealthCHILD
MIGRANTS (CM 129)
This memorandum sets out :
- the Government's position on the former policy
of child migration
- the historical aspects of child migration policy
- former child migrants and UK social security
- rights of former child migrants to UK citizenship
- legislative history and British nationality lawAnnex
- statisticsAnnex B
- Government filesAnnex C
- extracts: Moss Report 1953Annex D (Not
- extracts: Ross Report 1956Annex E (Not
- support for the Child Migrants Trust UKAnnex
- access to birth recordsAnnex G (Not Printed)
Government's present position is:
- Child migration as a policy was, in a social
climate very different from that of today, a well-intended response
to the needs of deprived children. At the time this was seen to
be in the best interests of the children concerned, providing
them with a fresh start in countries which potentially
offered them greater opportunities. There were many success stories.
- The migration schemes were run by respected national
voluntary bodies. The schemes were sanctioned by laws passed in
both the UK Parliament, and in the colonies, Dominions and countries
receiving children. There was much public debate, including discussion
between the governments concerned, official reports and visits.
- All historical UK Government files are in the
public domain and may be accessed through the Public Records Office
at Kew. Even files subject to restricted access have been made
available by way of privileged access to the Child Migrants Trust
(UK), and are similarly available to other bona fide researchers.
- The Government welcomes the fact that a number
of voluntary and religious organisations are helping former child
- The Department of Health is providing financial
assistance to the Child Migrants Trust UK, to assist them in their
record tracing, advisory and counselling service. To date the
British Government has provided grants totalling £146,000
to the Trust, and further funding amounting to £45,000 has
been agreed for the next two financial years 1997-98 and 1998-99.
- Social security benefits are not widely available
to persons from abroad. People coming from outside Europe are
subject to immigration controls and enter this country on the
strict understanding that they do not become a charge upon public
It is impossible in a few pages to give a representative account
of the views of various governments over a considerable period
of time. What follows is a very selective set of quotes from those
who have studied the history in much more detail.
2. Child migration has been an important part of
our history for nearly four hundred years. It is an even more
important part of the history of certain countries both inside
and outside the current Commonwealth.
3. Gillian Wagner
notes that as early as 1618, only eleven years after founding
colonists sailed from Falmouth to Maine, the City of London agreed
to send 100 children (without their parents) to Virginia.
4. The next year King James I was also troubled by
idle young people. He wrote to Sir Thomas Smyth, the Treasurer
of the Virginia Company:
"Whereas our Court hath of late been troubled
by divers idle young people, who though they have been twise punished
still continue to followe the same havuing noe employment; we
have noe other course to cleer our Court from them have thought
fitt to send them unto you desiring you att the next opportunitie
to send them away to Virginia and to take sure order that they
may be sett to worke there, [otherwise] they will never be reclaimed
from the idle life of vagabonds."
5. The peak of child migration appears to occur about
the turn of the twentieth century. Joy Parr
"Between 1868 and 1925 eighty thousand
British boys and girls were sent to Canada to work under indentures
as agricultural labourers and domestic servants. All were unaccompanied
by parents, although only one third of them were orphans."
6. The statistical annex (Annex B) gives the most
precise estimates that we are aware of. There seems to be a consensus
that about 150,000 children emigrated under various schemes and
that most of these children (more than 100,000) went to Canada.
Well under 10,000 children went to Australia in the final period
of migration from 1947 to 1967. All these numbers are relatively
small in comparison with the total number of families that emigrated
or with the total number of children in public or private care
through voluntary organisations within Britain at the time.
7. A strong driving factor in child migration was
the British philanthropic, religious and benevolent organisations,
who were rescuing children from poverty, destitution, vagrancy,
criminality or neglect and saw better opportunities for such children
in the expanding colonies and Empire. At the time the choice was
seen to be between begging, thieving, disease, prostitution and
early death in the British Isles; or learning farming or domestic
skills with good prospects for decent family living in North America.
8. There was also seen to be a mutual economic advantage
to Britain and the colonies. However, most of the early initiatives
were led from the voluntary sector by people such as Maria Rye
and Annie Macpherson.
9. Patricia Rooke and R Schnell
"The children were drawn from three major
orphan and Poor Law children with parental
consent (sometimes overlooked);
children placed in industrial schools under
the various child protection acts;
and abandoned, destitute and orphaned children
in private orphan asylums.Probably only 10 per cent came under
the Poor Law Unions."
10. A brief history of the relevant British legislation
is attached (Annex A). This legislation initially affected children
in public care (that is under the Poor Law or child protection
legislation and only later under local authority care). The legislation
reflects British Government views of the time.
11. However, it should be noted that there was also
legislation in the receiving countries and dominions, and there
were official and unofficial reports in the various countries
that would have reflected the views of the authors rather than
those of the governments involved.
12. There appeared to be much public discussion about
the merits or disadvantages of child migration and boarding-out
endangered children, but official concern at the time was mainly
directed to the outcomes for Poor Law children. A report by Andrew
Doyle, Her Majesty's Poor Law Inspector for the Local Government
Board in 1874 drew attention to strenuous living conditions and
isolation in Canada.
In response the philanthropic organisations re-emphasised the
advantages for these children of migration in contrast to the
social conditions they would otherwise have to face in Britain.
13. Roy Parker,
in a report to the Economic and Social Research Council, initially
considered for his research the question as to why so many British
children were sent to Canada, but on reflection decided that the
key question was why did so few go.
"It is plain that the Canadian demand for
child labour was never able to be satisfied. The call was either
for children (mainly boys) to work on family farms in the well-settled
areas or for girls as domestic servants. Partly because of the
nature of the land grant system there was a premium on large family
units. Work was hard and children were vital. But families were
typically small and with the opening up of the west and
with the development of industrialisation and urbanisation Canadian
youngsters were increasingly drawn away from the parental farms.
Replacement labour was needed."
"The most significant resistance to child
emigration, however, was located in central government, especially
amongst the ranks of the inspectorate and the senior civil servants.
They disliked the cavalier manner in which many of the philanthropic
agencies operated. They suspected their motives and their charismatic
styles of leadership and, in particular, were conscious of the
likelihood of public scandals. Although they had little control
over what the children's organisations did with their "own"
children they could and did oppose the recruitment of children
from workhouses, poor law schools and industrial schools."
Most Active Period for Child Migration
14. Thomas Barnardo led the rescue movement in the
latter part of the nineteenth century. Barnardo's alone sent some
30,000 to Canada and much later a further 3,350 to Australia.
Joy Parr notes that :
"Among the Barnardo emigrants between 1882
and 1908, 6 per cent of boys and more than 8 per cent of girls
were shipped to Canada illegally, without their parents' consent.
A further 3 per cent of boys and 6 per cent of girls were sent
under court order with the permission of the Home Secretary rather
than that of their parents."
15. Amongst the former group of children there was
a strong concern that the child would be in jeopardy if he remained
with the family. In 1870 Thomas Barnardo
"To behold young men and women crowded
together in pestilential rookeries without the least provision
for decency and in such conditions of abominable filth, atmospheric
impurity and immoral associationship as to make the maintenance
of virtue impossible, is almost enough to fill the bravest reformer
with despair . . . but to know that thousands of unfortunate boys
and girls commence life thus and grow up to a degraded manhood
and a dishonoured womanhood . . . to know this and to witness
the process being repeated from day to dayto be quite certain
as what it must all grow to and yet to be quite helpless to deal
thoroughly with the evil, is absolutely maddening".This led
to philanthropic removal (where the perceived interest of the
child was paramount over the stated interests of the parents).
In some cases custody was contested in court. The 1891 Custody
of Children Act limited the previously incontestable right to
guardianship of negligent parents.
Empire Settlement Act
16. Following the first world war the British government
developed an interest in land settlement schemes, especially for
ex-servicemen, and this led to state-supported migration. The
Oversea Settlement Committee was established in 1919. In their
"Juvenile migration from this country is
at present carried on through Dr. Barnardo's Homes and similar
voluntary organisations. These organisations, beside sending out
the children in their charge, make the necessary arrangements
for children sent overseas by Board of Guardians, etc. But up
to the present the only part of the Empire which has a system
of regulated and supervised juvenile immigration is Canada. Dealing
with that Dominion, the Dominions Royal Commission, in their fifth
interim report, said :
"There is no doubt that child migration
under proper conditions is of immense advantage both to the children
themselves and to the Dominion . . ."
17. In 1922 the Empire Settlement Act provided authority
(for 15 years and renewable thereafter) for the British government
to act in association with dominion governments and with approved
private organisations in migration schemes through assisted passages,
initial allowances, and special training.
18. These schemes went much wider than child migration,
but for logistical reasons used the (private) voluntary societies,
so that even much later in the twentieth century almost all child
migrants were sent under the care or control of these organisations.
19. R Schnell
estimates that during the period 1922 to 1931, approximately 885,000
Britons (adults and children) migrated to other parts of the British
Empire. Some 345,000 were assisted by the Empire Settlement Act.
20. The schemes supported through the Empire Settlement
and Commonwealth Acts supported children migrating to Canada,
Australia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, the Caribbean
and later New Zealand.
21. As in the nineteenth century most children came
from those supported directly by voluntary and religious organisations,
although a small percentage of children were previously in public
care and required approval by the Secretary of State
before they could be sent. In general the voluntary organisations
sought and gained consent of the child's parents or guardians
both on admission to their own care and more specifically for
approval for any subsequent emigration.
22. At various times demand for more children first
from Canada and then later from Australia grossly exceeded the
actual supply. There was a strong pull factor but this was balanced
by concern both for the welfare of the children, so far from home,
and a concern in the receiving countries that such children could
be disruptive, or antisocial.
23. Official support for the Empire Settlement Schemes
is highlighted by the text of a speech by the Prince of Wales
in support of the Fairbridge Farm School in Western Australia.
". . . by sending out these carefully selected
children and training them for useful careers in the land which
is to be their home, the system should be capable of providing
a steady flow of good citizens to the Dominions and the
Colonies. The days when we could have been accused of regarding
these new countries as a useful dumping ground for the inefficient
or for the black sheep of the family are, fortunately, long past.
On the other hand I think one can say with some truth that both
in Canada and in Australia there is a growing conviction that,
in self-defence against their special dangers, it is good from
time to time to recruit stock from the home of the pioneers, and
settlers such as the Fairbridge system produces cannot be other
than valuable assets to any country."
"This venture is backed by His Majesty's
Government, represented here by Mr. Baldwin. His Majesty's Government
is anxious to see an extension of the scheme and is actually giving
it some financial support. The Governments of Australia and Western
Australia have helped the existing Farm School in many ways, and
the Society hopes that a proposal for the establishment of other
farm schools would be likely to meet with sympathetic consideration.
Then the consent of the Canadian Government and of the Provincial
Government in British Columbia has already been secured for the
starting of a school in that great province in the Great West."
24. Western Australia was also the focus of work
by the Christian Brothers, documented by Barry Coldrey.
"Some 10 per cent of the youngsters emigrated
passed through Catholic Agencies. It was to be an irony that the
Catholic Church was a major player in sponsoring child migration
only in its last phaseafter the second World War. Then
Australia was the venue, not Canada, and church agencies were
sending about half the children migrated."
25. Their work was modelled on the Fairbridge Farm
School. Kingsley Fairbridge's vision was that:
"Little children would shed the bondage
of bitter circumstances and stretch their legs and minds amid
the thousands of interests of the farm."
26. Before the second World War the Canadians became
more selective and critical of the type of child migrant they
were willing to accept. This seemed to coincide with less enthusiasm
from British parents to allow their children to be sent to Canada
and so such migration gradually stopped.
After the Second World War
27. However, the second World War led to an increased
demand in Australia for some 50,000 war "orphans". This
was never realised partly because there were few orphans, who
were not adopted, and because British social security legislation
made life more tolerable for lone parents and their children.
28. In the course of a private visit to Australia
in 1951-52, John Moss made enquiries at the request of the Home
Office into the conditions in Homes where children emigrating
from Great Britain were received. His report was published in
His views are his own, and not Government policy, but they do
reflect public knowledge at that time. The list of contents of
his report indicate the topics where there was public concern.
His main conclusion was:
"I hope this report will give an impetus
to the emigration of children from the United Kingdom to Australia
as I have no doubt that many children who are in children's homes
here would have much better prospects in Australia if they are
carefully selected and are of suitable ages."Extracts of
his report and the full conclusions are attached at Annex D Statistics
from the report are at Annex C.
29. A more formal report, referred to as the Ross
was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.
Extracts, which summarise aspects of the history of child migration
to Australia and statistics in the period immediately following
the second World War, are attached at Annex E. The report was
more critical, and child focused, than earlier reports, but nevertheless
assumed that child migration would continue through better arrangements
for the children.
30. Although the report concluded that the child
migration societies should be required to obtain the consent of
the Secretary of State for the migration of any child, it did
not spell out how such regulations would improve the practice
of the voluntary organisations at that time. The Children Act
1948 had provided powers to make regulations concerning child
migration through voluntary organisations. In 1982, following
the 1980 Childcare Act, such regulations were made.
31. Phillip Bean and Joy Melville
noted that child migration finally ended in 1967 when ninety children
left Southampton for Australia. Their book presented detailed
descriptions from the children themselves including allegations
of serious abuse overseas, that had not been documented in the
The abuses that occurred are, of course, a matter for the authorities
of the country concerned to investigate and take appropriate action.
32. The 1996 report of the Western Australian Select
considered the issues from the point of view of the host country.
In its overview it notes;
"Throughout the centuries, the empire settlement
schemes took many different forms and involved a host of individuals
and organisations including philanthropists, church bodies, charitable
institutions and governments. It was not one single continuous
policy; rather it was a complex tangle of personalities, competing
ideas, priorities and agendas. Thus, it would be more appropriate
to say it consisted of a multitude of Schemes, operating at a
governmental and individual agency level, and even in some cases
at a personal level."
33. Policy concerns now are focused on the welfare
of former child migrants, as highlighted in Margaret Humphreys
and on what is best for today's children who need to be supported
through public or private care outside their families. The Government
supports the work of the Child Migrants Trust (see Annex F) in
helping former child migrants to come to terms with their childhood
and family history. The Government also welcomes the parallel
work of the voluntary and religious organisations who were previously
involved with child migration, and the similar work of the governments
of the host countries.
Children Act 1989
34. The Children Act 1989 brought together legislation
affecting children in public care with that affecting children
in the care of voluntary organisations. It emphasises that parents
are usually the best people to bring up their children, and requires
local authorities to help parents bring up their children at home
wherever possible. The child's voice must be heard when decisions
about his of her future are being taken. The courts now have responsibility
for approving the emigration of children in care.
35. Unfortunately, no law can eradicate all forms
of abuse, as we know only too well from recent incidents in children's
homes in this country, where children are supposedly in the care
of local authorities. It is salutary to be reminded of what can
happen today and what happened, on occasions in those distant
countries to which the children were sent. Sir William Utting's
makes recommendations to further safeguard children living away
36. In the Adjournment Debate in 1993
the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health stressed
that "at the time the schemes were seen as opportunities
and not as dumping grounds for unwanted children". The Minister
also announced that all the files, previously the responsibility
of the Home Office, would be made available for scrutiny, some
through privileged access. Details are given in Annex C.
37. A recent letter from Home Children Canada to
the Prime Minister
in response to the current work of the Select Committee notes
the importance of child migration to the history of Canada. It
notes the trauma due to isolation, separation and abuse. But public
meetings have tried to erase the stigma and replace it with pride.
The letter ends with a footnote:
"P.S. Unlike their counterparts sent to
other countries, Home Children sent to Canada and their descendants,
at our second Annual Reunion in Renfrew, Ontario, moved that they
would never ask for restitution, retributionnot even
an apologybecause they are proud Canadians and glad
to be in this country."
38. On 22 November 1993, an Adjournment Debate was
held in the House of Commons to discuss various issues arising
from the child migration schemes. John Bowis MP, the Parliamentary
Under Secretary of State for the Department of Health, at that
time, agreed to make public all the previous Home Office historical
files that were known to exist on the child migration schemes.
Some of these have been opened up on an "accelerated opening"
basis and others, because they contain details of named individuals
are subject to extended closure, but are available on a "privileged
access" basis. The Child Migrants Trust has access to all
these files, and they are similarly available to other bona
39. All these Government files are in the public
domain and may be accessed through the Public Records Office.
Named employees of the Child Migrants Trust and some Catholic
organisations that were involved in the schemes were allowed access
to all files to facilitate tracing histories when requested by
former child migrants.
40. If the Committee wish to examine any or all of
the files, the Department will make appropriate arrangements.
The list of files is attached as Annex C.
Confidentiality of Government Files
41. Details of 30 year/extended closure rulesThe
Public Records Act 1967 reduced the period after which records
must be made available to the public from 50 years to 30 years.
The 1993 Open Government White Paper (Cm 2290) reconfirmed "the
30 year rule" and the proposed Freedom of Information Act
will do the same as detailed in the White Paper Your Right to
Know (Cm 3818) presented to parliament in December 1997.
42. The Public Records Act also allows for earlier
or later opening under certain conditions and with the approval
of the Lord Chancellor. Prior to 1993, there were three established
criteria for extended closure with the normal closure period being
50 years, but closure of 75 or even 100 years if the circumstances
of the case justified it.
43. The Open Government White Paper of 1993 introduced
the application of a guiding principle that:
"All records not retained in departments
should be released after 30 years unless (a) it is possible to
establish the actual damage that would be caused by release, and
(b) that the damage falls within the set criteria"
44. The three criteria remained virtually unchanged
apart from some additional clarification and in particular the
introduction of the word "substantial" in relation to
the level of distress which would be caused by disclosure of information
about the persons affected, or their descendants. The minimum
extended closure period was reduced to 40 years but still with
the option up to 100 years if justified.
45. In the case of files containing medical and/or
social history of named individuals, extended closure has always
been applied to protect that individual during their lifetime,
hence a 75 year closure where children are involved, or exceptionally
in the case of very young children, 100 years.
46. The Government welcomes the fact that a number
of voluntary organisations are helping former child migrants.
To assist former child migrants who want to make contact with
their families are enabled to do so, the Government encourages
constructive contacts between the Child Migrants Trust (UK), whose
activities we help fund, and the voluntary bodies which ran the
schemes. The Department appreciates that, for many, the chances
of being reunited with their lost families reduces with each passing
47. The Government supports the Child Migrants Trust
(UK) which is a voluntary organisation that provides a record
tracing, counselling, and advisory service to the former child
migrants. Annex F provides details.
48. In addition, where children sent abroad and were
subsequently adopted, they can apply to be entered on the Adoption
Contact Register (managed by the Office of National Statistics),
as an adopted person and await any response from relatives wishing
to be put in touch with him or herinformation leaflet attached
49. Access to UK income-related benefitsSocial
security benefits are not widely available to persons from abroad.
People coming from outside Europe are subject to immigration controls
and enter this country on the strict understanding that they do
not become a charge upon public funds.
50. Former child migrants coming to the United Kingdom,
who have retained British citizenship, will have the right to
enter and live in the United Kingdom without restriction. Income-related
benefits such as Income Support and Income Based Jobseekers Allowance
are therefore available on the same basis as to any other British
citizen, although this does include satisfying a test of habitual
residence. Whether a person is habitually resident depends on
their circumstances. The independent adjudication authorities
who decide benefit entitlement will consider a wide variety of
factors including the claimant's reasons for coming to the United
Kingdom and their future intentions when they are here, the claimant's
employment record both in the United Kingdom and abroad, the length
and continuity of residence in another country and the claimant's
centre of interest.
51. It is unlikely that a person who has been absent
from the United Kingdom for most or all of his life will satisfy
the test immediately on arrival in the United Kingdom. There is
no set period of time after which the test will automatically
be satisfied, but time spent in the United Kingdom is a positive
factor towards establishing habitual residence here. However,
if a person's stay is of temporary nature, it is unlikely that
he will satisfy the test at all.
52. The adjudication authorities will make findings
of fact on whether a claimant is habitually resident in the United
Kingdom after taking into account the full circumstances of each
53. There is a reciprocal social security agreement
between the United Kingdom and Australia which can help people
who come to live permanently in the UK to qualify for certain
UK benefits. The agreement would not, therefore, assist former
child migrants if they were only visiting the UK.
54. The agreement does not cover income-related benefits.
Retirement Pension is the main benefit covered. The agreement
allows periods of residence in Australia to be treated as periods
for which UK National Insurance contributions were paid. This
means that a person coming to live in the UK from Australia may
qualify for state retirement pension based on residence in Australia,
if any Australian pension they are receiving is less than the
UK pension for which they can qualify. The Australian pension
is then topped up by the UK pension.
55. There is a very limited social security agreement
with Canada which can help people who have lived in Canada to
qualify for a UK retirement pension. However, it applies only
where a person is now resident in the UK and has also lived in
the UK for at least 10 years after the age of 18, so is unlikely
to assist former child migrants.
56. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is
aware that a number of former child migrants who wish to claim
British citizenship have no identity records and therefore no
proof that they were born in the United Kingdom. The FCO would
look at such cases individually, and sympathetically, in conjunction
with any other documentary evidence or information that the applicants
57. It may well be that these individuals now have
an entitlement, through residence, to another nationality, e.g.
Canadian, Australian etc, but this would be a matter for governments
of Canada and Australia to decide. Acquisition of another country's
citizenship would not affect their eligibility for British citizenship.
58. The Government is now concerned to ensure
that former child migrants who want to make contact with their
families are able to do so. The British Government has been, and
will continue to be, active in addressing this important issue.
1 Gillian Wagner Children of the Empire Weidenfield
and Nicolson, 1982. Back
Gillian Wagner op cit page 4. Back
Joy Parr Labouring Children Croom Helm 1980. Back
Patricia Rourke and R Schnell Imperial Philanthropy and Colonial
Response: British Juvenile Emigration to Canada, 1896-1930.
The Historian, Volume November 1983. Back
Select Committee on Immigration and Colonisation First Report
Journal of the House of Commons 1875. Back
Roy Parker, unpublished summary of a report to the Economic and
Social Research Council, June 1983. Back
Gillian Wagner op cit page 102. Back
Joy Parr op cit page 68. Back
Report of the Oversea Settlement Committee for the year ended
1921, February 1922.
R Schnell The right class of boy : youth training schemes and
assisted emigration to Canada under the Empire Settlement Act,
1922-39 History of Education 1995 Vol. 24 No. 1 pages 73-90. Back
The approval of the Home Secretary would be given on his behalf
by civil servants who had examined the case papers and were satisfied
that the relevant legal requirements had been met. Back
The Times June 21 1934. Back
Barry Coldrey The Scheme : The Christian Brothers in Western
Australia 1993. Back
John Moss CBE Child Migration to Australia 1953. Back
Child Migration to Australia : Report of a Fact-Finding Mission
Cmd. 9832 August 1956. Back
Phillip Bean and Joy Melville Lost Children of the Empire
A scholarly analysis of some abuse is included in The Scheme
op cit. Back
Select Committee into Child Migration Western Australia
Legislative Assembly, presented by the Hon Mike Barnett JP, MLA,
November 1996. Back
Margaret Humphreys Empty Cradles Doubleday 1994. Back
Schedule 2, paragraph 19 of the Children Act 1989, Chapter 41.
Sir William Utting People Like Us: The Review of Safeguards
for Children Living Away from Home 1997. Back
David Hinchliffe MP, 22 November 1993, Official Report, volume
233, column 301 replied to by John Bowis MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for Health. Back
Letter from David Lorente, Home Children Canada, to the Right
Honourable Tony Blair MP.