Barnardo’s charity digs into its past to launch new fostering appeal

Thomas Barnardo set up his charity in 1866 to take children off streets of Whitechapel [photo: Mart

Thomas Barnardo set up his charity in 1866 to take children off streets of Whitechapel [photo: Martin Levy's Dr Barnardo Champion of Victoirian Children] - Credit: Amberley Books

Previously unseen Victorian archive records of once-destitute children pulled off the streets are being dug up in a new campaign for foster parents by Barnardo’s children’s charity.

Thomas Barnardo set up his charity in 1866 to take children off streets of Whitechapel [photo: Mart

Thomas Barnardo set up his charity in 1866 to take children off streets of Whitechapel [photo: Martin Levy's Dr Barnardo Champion of Victoirian Children] - Credit: Amberley Books

The archives uncovered in the vaults of the organisation show what life was like for the first-ever fostered children 125 years ago.

The original scheme was pioneered in London’s East End in 1887, two decades after Thomas Barnardo set up his charity to rescue urchins from the streets of Whitechapel.

His organisation, now in its 150th year, is appealing today for foster parents to look after the 52,000 children in care in the UK today.

The first batch of 320 “waifs and strays” were sent to live with rural villagers for the fresh air and countryside.

Thomas Barnardo set up his charity in 1866 to take children off streets of Whitechapel [photo: Mart

Thomas Barnardo set up his charity in 1866 to take children off streets of Whitechapel [photo: Martin Levy's Dr Barnardo Champion of Victoirian Children] - Credit: Amberley Books


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Kindly village folk were sought who didn’t live close to factories and had space so that the youngsters being put in their care never slept more than two to a bed to help them escape from polluted, overcrowded urban slums.

Barnardo, who was studying medicine at the London Hospital when he came across the street children in Whitechapel, wrote: “We are more and more disposed to believe that no system is better for the rearing of a certain class of our children than boarding them out with respectable foster parents.”

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Children in Barnardo’s care in the Victorian era had often previously experienced abuse or neglect.

Archive medical records show a third of the first 457 boys who entered Barnardo’s had rickets, 21 had ringworm and most had rotten teeth.

But they showed marked health improvement and development at school once they moved into foster care.

“Much has changed over the past 125 years,” Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said.

“But there are still nearly 7,500 vulnerable children in foster care today in London alone, who simply need someone who can always be there for them.

“We’re looking for people—just as we did in 1887—with a genuine desire to make life better for vulnerable children, to become foster carers.”

By 1889, a quarter of all fostered children were girls, many having been at risk of sexual exploitation—or as it was then known “moral danger”.

One of them was Elizabeth Mouncey, born in Spitalfields 1885, who was growing up in a slum in Commercial Street when she was found by a neighbour in squalor at the age of six, next to her dying mother.

The father, a drunken docker, died soon after—leaving little Lizzie alone in the world.

Church missionaries contacted Barnardo’s which took her in. She was the first black child in Britain to be fostered.

Thomas Barnardo had put 4,000 children in foster care by the time he died in 1905.

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More about fostering is just a free phone-call to 0800-0277 280 or tap into Barnardo’s Online.

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