Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by NCH Action For Children


DETAILS OF THE CHILD MIGRANT SCHEMES ONCE OPERATED1. The charity known today as NCH Action For Children was established as National Children's Homes and Orphanages, and was founded by a Methodist Minister, the Reverend Thomas Bowman Stephenson and two friends, in 1869. They established the charity in response to the needs of homeless and destitute children in London, with the aim of providing them with accommodation, care and support. The charity was then, and remains today, constitutionally part of the Methodist Church. It is now one of Britain's largest child care charities, operating 270 community based projects for vulnerable children and their families, across Great Britain.2. Under the name of National Children's Homes and Orphanages, the charity developed a child migration scheme of significant scale to Canada in the years 1873 to 1931. Under the name of the National Children's Home, the charity was involved in a much smaller child migration scheme to Australia, in the years 1950 to 1954. It also sent a small number of children to Australia under the auspices of the Fairbridge Farm Schools in the years 1937-39. These schemes are best dealt with separately.

CANADA3. The Reverend Stephenson visited Canada in 1872, shortly after the foundation of National Children's Homes and Orphanages. As a result of his visit, the people of Hamilton, Ontario, decided to raise £1,000 to buy a house and land for a Canadian branch of the charity. In 1873, one of the three original founders of the charity, Frances Homer, left England for Canada, with the first group of 34 boys and 15 girls.
4. The archives of NCH Action For Children contain a series of registers and case files documenting sailings and details of individual children who emigrated to Canada. These include copies of certificates signed by the parents or guardians of the children concerned, agreeing to their emigration.5. In 1989, an employee of the National Archives of Canada undertook a study of the files of children sent to Canada by National Children's Homes and Orphanages. He found that the children went initially to the Home in Hamilton, before being moved to placements within Canada. In the years after 1873, the Home in Hamilton was expanded and developed into a training and reception centre. The report from the National Archives of Canada also shows that a member of staff was employed in Hamilton, specifically to visit the children in their placements and to oversee their employment and living arrangements. It is understood that a new Home was opened in Montreal some time after 1873, in addition to the one in Hamilton, Ontario.6. In terms of the numbers of children sent, the charity's involvement in child migration to Canada reached its peak in the years before the First World War. The practice ceased during the period 1914-18, and never recovered to pre-War levels thereafter. In 1924, the emigration of children below working age was made illegal and no new child migrants were therefore sent.

AUSTRALIA7. The charity was far less involved in child migration to Australia than to Canada. The first children from the charity went to Australia in the period 1937-39, under the auspices of the Fairbridge Farm Schools. A total of 37 children emigrated and were sent to the Lady Northcote Farm in the State of Victoria. The Farm had been set up in memory of Lord Northcote, Governor General of Australia from 1903 to 1908.8. Child migration to Australia ceased during the Second World War. In 1949, the then Principal of National Children's Home (as it was by then called), the Reverend John Litton, travelled to Australia through his contacts with the Fairbridge Farm Schools, to examine their child care and training facilities. He appears to have been impressed by what he saw, and what he perceived to be the improved life chances of children living apart from their parents in Australia, compared to Britain. For these reasons, Reverend Litton decided to develop the charity's involvement in child migration to Australia.9. During his trip to Australia, the Reverend Litton visited several Methodist societies in different States which were providing residential care for children. They agreed to co-operate with the National Children's Home in developing a child migration scheme. In the event, fewer children were sent to Australia than the Reverend Litton hoped.10. Records suggest that an explanatory letter was sent to parents and guardians of children resident in some National Children's Home establishments in Britain, informing them of the prospects of migration and ascertaining their willingness for their children to be considered. However, there is no record of the response from parents nor of the means by which children were selected for migration. The charity's archives do however, contain records of the formal consents given for children to emigrate. These suggest that for about two thirds of the children, parents and guardians provided consents; for most of the others, if proved impossible to locate any parents or guardians, so the Principal of the charity gave his consent on their behalf.11. National Children's Home staff accompanied the groups of children which travelled to Australia, and appear to have stayed with them for several years. Prior to their emigration, the children spent a month at a children's home in Britain. During this period, efforts were apparently made to prepare them for their new lives, and all were medically examined to ensure they were fit to travel.

NUMBERS OF CHILDREN SENT AND THEIR DESTINATIONS12. Records show that a total of 3,600 children emigrated to Canada from Britain, through the National Children's Homes and Orphanages child migration scheme, between the years 1873 and 1931.  Among these children were 384 who had not been in the care of the charity in Britain. As has been explained, the children went first to a reception centre in Hamilton, Ontario, before moving on to permanent placements.13. Between 1937-39, 37 children from the National Children's Home emigrated from Britain to Australia through a scheme operated by Fairbridge Farm Schools. They all went to the Lady Northcote Farm in Victoria.14. During the period 1949-54, 91 children in the care of the National Children's Home in Britain, emigrated to Australia under the charity's child migration scheme. Their initial placements in Australia were as follows:
  Dalmar Children's Home, Carlingford, Sydney: 15 children  McGill Children's Home, Adelaide, South Australia: 16 children  Methodist Home for Girls, Victoria Park, Perth: eight children  Methodist Peace Memorial Home, Burwood, Melbourne: 37 children  Dr Barnardos Farm Training School, Picton, Sydney: 15 children.15. With the exception of the Dr Barnardo's Home, all the other establishments were part of the Methodist Church in Australia.

CONTACTS WITH THE VARIOUS GOVERNMENTS OVER THE YEARS16. The charity's archives for the years 1873 to 1931 are incomplete, and do not hold any Committee minutes or other records which shed light on contact between the National Children's Homes and Orphanages, and the Government of Canada.17. There is much more documentation about the organisation of the charity's child migrant scheme to Australia, especially in the years after the Second World War. There are few references to contacts between the charity and the Australian Government, except so far as grants are concerned. The records show that the charity received grants from both State and National Governments in Australia, and from the British Government, in support of different aspects of child migration.18. In recent years, NCH Action For Children has responded readily and in full to requests for information from the Western Australia Select Committee Inquiry into Child Migration, and the initiative of the National Archives of Canada, already referred to, among others. Today, the charity regularly makes representations and provides expert information to the British Government on child care matters and other issues related to our operation work.

THE REASONING BEHIND THE CREATION OF THE SCHEMES19. Today, it is not especially easy to ascertain the reasoning behind the development of the charity's child migration schemes; from the records now available. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that current professional and public attitudes to child care are very different from those of fifty or more years ago.20. The Canadian scheme was developed shortly after the establishment of the charity in Britain, suggesting that at the time, it was almost taken for granted that it was in the best interests of many disadvantaged children in Britain not living with their parents, to emigrate to "newer" countries, where their prospects of making a success of their lives would be much better.21. This attitude has to be viewed in the context of the acute social and economic disadvantage experienced by the children whom charities such as the National Children's Homes and Orphanages sought to help. Although the late Victorian and Edwardian eras were years of great social reform, the life chances of disadvantaged children in Britain remained extremely poor. In most cases, the children living in establishments run by charities in Britain, had already become detached from their families and local communities. Encouraging their removal to a country far away may therefore not have seemed so drastic a move then as it appears to us, today.22. The Australian child migration scheme which was developed after the Second World War, appears to have been very much the brain child of the then Principal of the charity, the Reverend John Litton was a highly respected child care expert and was awarded the CBE in 1949, in recognition of his contribution to the Curtis Committee, which laid the foundations of the 1948 Children Act. It appears that he genuinely believed that some children's interests would be best served by sending them to Australia, a view he developed after visiting child care facilities there.23. There is some suggestion from the records that the charity's trustees were less enthusiastic about child migration than the Reverend Litton, and this helps to explain why the charity's post war scheme began in a limited way. Records suggest that it was abandoned relatively quickly because staff who had travelled with the children reported back that their quality of life in Australia was disappointing, and fell below the standards then considered acceptable in Britain. The child care was said to be generally poor, both physically and emotionally, and children's activities outside establishments were severely restricted. Reverend Litton went back to Australia when he retired and tried to improve the child care facilities there.24. It seems likely that the charity's decision to begin a child migration scheme after the Second World War was encouraged by the knowledge that grants of various kinds were available to help from the National and State Governments of Australia, and the Government of Britain.

25. This perception is strengthened by the fact that although the Reverend Litton had been especially committed to the idea of sending young people to Australia, in practice, it was predominantly younger children who emigrated. Children's homes in Australia with which the Reverend Litton was in contact, were keen to expand by taking unaccompanied children, and were eligible for Government grants to help them to do so. These grants were forthcoming because at the time, the National Government of Australia was pursuing a policy of encouraging immigration from Britain and to a lesser extent, from other European countries.26. A final factor which probably contributed to the development of these child migration schemes was the fact that the charity is and was a Methodist based organisation. This meant that there was a network of Methodist churches and welfare institutions in Canada and Australia with which the charity could easily link.

THE IMPACT ON CHILDREN WHO EMIGRATED27. There is little information in the charity's records about the Canadian child migration scheme, and the passage of time means that few former migrants to Canada are still alive to describe what happened to them. Much more information is available about the post-war Australian scheme and its impact on the children concerned.28. Today, it is clear from both academic research and from media investigations, that the experience of migration was profoundly damaging to significant numbers of the children concerned. In particular, the damage derived from the sense of separation and loss from friends, family and communities in Britain, and sometimes from the children's unhappy experiences in their adopted countries.29. Examination of the records within the charity's archives tend to show that children, parents and guardians were fully consulted, wherever possible, and that informed consent was given for emigration. However, anecdotal reports suggest this was not always the case, and that neither children nor parents always understood the enormity of the decisions they were being asked to make. It is also clear from the records that the charity effectively reneged on an undertaking it gave to parents who had agreed to their children's emigration, that they would pay for the repatriation of any child who was unhappy in Australia, and who wished to return. Today, NCH Action For Children believes this was very wrong and deeply regrets that it should have happened.30. The records also show that 17 of the 91 children who emigrated to Australia under charity's scheme, were separated from their brothers and sisters in the process. This is perhaps an example of what appears to have been in many respects, and essentially unimaginative and bureaucratic approach to dealing with the lives of very vulnerable children. Forms were duly completed and children were medically examined, but it is a moot point whether "the system" really focused on the best interests of the children concerned, as individuals, with the same need for love and care as other children. Many of today's commentators would suggest that this is a problem which continues to afflict the care system, today.31. Having said this, it is important to acknowledge that not all the children who emigrated under such schemes were damaged by their experiences. Some settled well, lead happy and fulfilled lives and have helped to make Canada and Australia the economically successful nations they are today. For these people, migration almost certainly offered them opportunities unavailable to them in Britain, at the time.32. Similarly, within a "process" of child migration which appears to have been largely unthinking and bureaucratic, there were undoubtedly many acts of individual kindness. It would appear that the charity and its staff made genuine efforts, in their own terms, to equip these children for their new lives, and to provide them with continued support in their adopted countries. Follow up visits were made to children in placements in both Canada and Australia, and once it became clear that children were not generally faring well in Australia, the charity's child migrant scheme there was rapidly abandoned. The Reverend John Litton who had championed the scheme, sought to make amends by travelling to Australia to try to improve the quality of child care.

NCH ACTION FOR CHILDREN'S CONTINUING RESPONSIBILITY TO FORMER CHILD MIGRANTS33. NCH Action For Children is absolutely clear that it has a continuing responsibility towards people who emigrated through the child migrant schemes the charity once ran. It also accepts that it owes a similar duty to members of their families, who may now wish to find our more about the lives of relatives who were former child migrants.34. In discharging these responsibilities, NCH Action For Children accepts that it is particularly important that the charity provides any former child migrant who approaches it for information, with a courteous, efficient and sensitive response to their enquiries. NCH Action For Children sent far fewer children abroad under child migrant schemes than some other charities, so it does not maintain a special unit to provide this kind of service. However, as a charity which provided a great deal of residential care in the past, it is regularly approached by former residents of its children's homes in Britain, and it has policies and procedures for responding to their requests for information which are broadly applicable to former child migrants.35. A constraint on NCH Action For Children's ability to respond appropriately to these requests for help, is the fact that child care record-keeping in the 1950s and before, was not as efficient or full as is the case today. It is therefore not always possible to provide former child migrants and their families, with the information they are seeking. However, in all cases NCH Action For Children is committed to providing as much information as it possibly can.36. Recently, a situation occurred in which a former child migrant's family sought help from the charity and received a response which fell below the standards they could reasonably have expected, and below the standards the charity sets for itself. One of the problems was that unfortunately, the member of staff who first dealt with their request died while in service, and the handover of work to colleagues was protracted and incomplete. NCH Action For Children has apologised unreservedly to the family concerned for the distress inadvertently caused to them by the way it responded to their request for help, and has reviewed its procedures to ensure that this situation cannot happen again.

Letter from the Director, Social Services Department, The Salvation Army, to the Clerk of the Committee

With reference to your letter of 5 December 1997 I here attached information I have gathered regarding the involvement of The Salvation Army in such schemes. One of the major difficulties which has hindered the investigation is that The Salvation Army International Headquarters was bombed during the Second World War so that the vast majority of our records were destroyed then. I have sought to gather information from the various Salvation Army Oversees Territories possibly involved, but most of them are still researching the matter and I expect to receive more information later, particularly from Canada and Australia. I will forward any further information received as soon as possible. You will observe from the brief summary at the front of the attached documents that The Salvation Army was mainly involved in migrant schemes for families and boys of 14 years and upwards, after they left school. There are some instances of migration arrangements for younger children but these seem to be relatively few. We are willing to answer any questions or give any further information that you require. The bulk of the information is contained in the documents attached as Appendices but a brief summary of this is given initially as requested.

Summary of information on the Salvation Army's investigation into its own involvement in Child Migrant Schemes and their subsequent response regarding the Welfare of Former Child Migrants
In 1890 William Booth, the co-founder of The Salvation Army with Catherine his wife, published a social treatise entitled, In Darkest England and the Way Out. This book described the plight of the poorest people living in inner cities of England, whom he described as the submerged tenth. The basis of all The Salvation Army Social Work now spread around the world in over 100 countries is based on the principles he set out. Papers given at the first Salvation Army International Social Councils (or Conference) in 1911 with extracts in Appendix A provide background on the implementation of Booth's concepts.A substantial part of Booth's plan to rescue the destitute was in three stages, providing accommodation and employment at each stage. This consisted of a City Colony, a Farm Colony and an Overseas Colony. Emigration from England to developing countries in the Commonwealth was an important part of these plans. The vast majority of those involved however were families. Some boys of 14 years of age, when they left school, were included in the schemes and a small number of individual children, whose guardianship was signed over to The Salvation Army. An overview of the schemes was prepared in September 1996 at the request of a Select Committee into Child Migration of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia. A copy of this document is attached as Appendix B.Information regarding information still available in the various overseas territories is given in a page of notes from the Salvation Army Heritage Centre together with references to various relevant publications. The basis for the selection of boys of 14 years of age and upwards is given as requests from parents together with other circumstances such as "blind alley" jobs or being unemployed. The process of training, equipping and guardianship is confirmed in these notes.Information received from The Salvation Army Headquarters in Wellington, New Zealand describes The Salvation Army activity in Migrant Schemes to New Zealand. This information is attached as Appendix D together with reports from The Salvation Army publications between 1922-30, when these schemes were at their peak. You will see that in addition to the families and boys of 14 years and over, just 29 individual children were received in New Zealand under Salvation Army Schemes.A letter from The Salvation Army Territorial Commander in Southern Africa confirms that no Salvation Army schemes were operated to South Africa (Appendix E). The Salvation Army did operate migration schemes to Canada but again mainly families and boys of 14 years of age and above. Information is still being prepared and will be sent as soon as possible (see attached Letter Appendix F). Similarly information is still being researched in The Salvation Army Territory of Australia East (see fax letter of 4 February 1998—Appendix G)
The Salvation Army Family Tracing Service has since its formation in 1885 sought to locate missing relatives of families where contact has been lost for whatever reason. They have been instrumental in tracing the families of many child migrants over the years. Enquiries have come mainly from those who emigrated with Barnardos but also enquires from Fairbridge and Big Brother schemes. As far as we know no particular requests have come from children who emigrated on Salvation Army sponsored child migrant schemes (see Appendix H).An overall resume of The Salvation Army's migrant schemes is given in an extract from the book: Bread for my Neighbour by General Frederick Coutts (see Appendix J).

18 February 1998

SOURCE OF SALVATION ARMY INFORMATIONMost of The Salvation Army Sources of information contained in this paper are listed in this extracts from documents given in the Appendices and these sources include:

  • International Heritage Centre
  • Family Tracing Service
  • Reliance Travel (formerly Salvation Army Migration Department)
  • Territorial Headquarters in Canada, New Zealand Army, South Africa and Australia South and East.
  • Book: Aspects of Social Work in the Salvation Army (Papers from International SA Conference in 1911)
  • Book: Bread for my neighbour by General Frederick Coutts.
  • Book: Boys in Britain in 1920s?
  • Book: Organised Empire Migration and Settlement 1930
  • Book: History of The Salvation Army Volume 3

LIST OF INFORMATION ATTACHED—APPENDICES[2]  A.  Extracts from Aspects of Social Work in The Salvation Army. Papers presented at an International Social Conference in London in 1911.  B.  Paper on Historical Background, etc, prepared in September 1996 following an enquiry from the Select Committee of Legislative Assembly of the Parliament of Western Australia.  C.  Notes from The Salvation Army Heritage Centre.  D.  Letter dated 28 January 1998 from the Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army in New Zealand with list of extracts from the New Zealand War Cry papers 1924-30 with complete list of 28 child migrants with four sample copies of War Cry Reports.  E.  Letter dated January 1998 from Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army in South Africa confirming that no child migrants were sent there by The Salvation Army.  F.  Letter dated January 1998 from The Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters in Canada.  G.  An initial fax message dated 4 February 1998 from The Salvation Army Australia South Territory on information available.  H.  Report from Director of Salvation Army Family Tracing Service on the assistance provided by The Salvation Army to individuals and families seeking to trace missing relatives including child migrants, who went abroad via many different agencies.  J.  Extract (chapter 13) of book Bread for my neighbour by General Frederick Coutts.

2   Appendices not printed.


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