Friday, 4 August 2017

Looking after the child ........ part one taking sides ....... the Manchester & Salford Children’s charity

Now there remains a big debate within BHC studies as to how far the intervention of the children’s charities engaged in migration was benign and to the good or flawed and smacked of a degree of arrogant interference in the rights of parents.

And it is in many ways a continuing debate as the recent court case involving the dispute between a hospital and the wishes of a mother and father to pursue alternative treatment for their very ill child demonstrates.

I guess the devil is in the detail and for many it will be a very personal choice of which side the BHC debate falls.

And as someone with experience of the work of social workers I know it really pretty much comes down to “dammed if you do and damned if you don’t.”

The decision to take a child into care may be criticised as heavy handed, but woe betide the local agency who doesn’t act and faces cries of dereliction of duty when something horrible happens.

All of which is very much to the fore as I continue with the book on the Together Trust and in particular begin looking at its role in intervening on behalf of young people during the late 19th century.*

The activities of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges was all embracing and almost from the beginning it campaigned on behalf of those young children making a living from selling on the streets and by intervening in the courts to prosecute neglectful and abusive parents.

The slow progress to the legal protection of children in the work place dated back to the 1830s but almost four decades on those who worked the streets selling newspapers, matches and fuses were left unprotected.

Evidence presented to the Home Secretary by a deputation from Manchester and Salford in 1878 highlighted a situation where “children from four to seven years of age were sent into the streets to sell newspapers, matches, and various other articles at all hours, winter and summer without regard to the inclemency of the weather, and the practice was rapidly increasing.” **

Mr Shaw added that “in one evening’s work ten members went through the streets and laboured till twelve o’clock, each member taking a street in Manchester.  

In that time they took to their homes some fifty varying in age from five to twelve years” and estimated that over Manchester in the three hours up to midnight “there must be somewhere near 1,000 of these children.

Apart from the sheer scandal of the level of exploitation and the degree of suffering there was that ever present concern that these young people were in great risk.

Mr Shaw continued that “they had watched little girls of six and ten years of age in the streets growing into women, singing and speaking to men, and learning all sorts of evil; and they could point to some who adopted the streets for their living.

But the lack of resources at a local level made it difficult to enforce existing legislation.
In 1880 Mr Shaw published Street Arabism Its Cause and Its Cure which set out a clear programme to eradicate the scandal.

This included the employment of more staff to enforce existing regulations along with the establishment of regulated brigades of street sellers who were furnished with a uniform and badge which would operate in conjunction with a register of those engaged in the brigades.

There would be a prohibition on children under ten years of age hawking any article on the streets, with a restriction on the hours worked by children under fourteen and the provision that parents would be responsible for each breach of the regulations.

And it was this last suggestion which weighed heavily with the Refuge who had concluded that many of the children selling on the streets were not orphans, nor destitute but had parents, returned home at the end of the night and fitted in their street work after school.

Leaving aside the moralistic tone of much of the commentaries which referred to lazy and drunken parents the Refuge argued that in their experience the children were there on the streets to supplement or provide an income for their mothers and fathers.

It followed then that the charity should be become directly involved in the protection of young people.

To that end in 1884 the Refuge set up a Child’s Protection Department in which “26 cases of child cruelty and neglect had been investigated”  The following year the Manchester and Salford Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed as a branch of the Refuge operating from the Children’s Shelter originally located on Major Street.

In its first full year 522 cases of cruelly-treated children were dealt with. Of this number around 80 were admitted into the Refuge’s various homes. Some cases were taken to court and the parents prosecuted.

In 1889 an Act for the Better Prevention of Cruelty to Children was passed giving the Refuge greater power to deal with cases of neglect and over the next ten years 9922 cases were dealt with by the charity.
Cases like that of the death of William Brown aged ten of Salford in  1893.

The court heard that he had died after “unnecessary suffering and injury to his health by his mother beating and striking him” and keeping him in a scullery in the family home on Pearson Street in Broughton."***

The Refuge took up the case and obtained a successful conviction for “unnecessary suffering and cruel neglect on the part of the mother” who was sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment with hard labour. ****

Commenting on this successful prosecution Mr Shaw in a letter to the Manchester Guardian made the promise that “those who cruelly and brutally torture helpless children will receive no mercy at our hands.” ******
He added that during the January of that year the Refuge investigated 37 cases involving the welfare of 137 young people and of the 37, “six were taken to court with more still pending while in the majority a sharp warning and a watchful eye will accomplish that prevention which is the chief object of our society.”

And that resolute and remorseless task was continued until 1895 when after the establishment of a local branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children the previous year the Refuge handed over “this painful but necessary duty.”

Location; Manchester

Pictures;s from the Worker 1880

*A new book on the Together Trust,

**Young Children and Late Hours Deputation to Mr Cross, Manchester Guardian, May 11 1878

**Street Arabism Its Cause and Cure, L.K. Shaw, 1880, Manchester, page 11

 *** Police Intelligence, Manchester Guardian February 25, 1893

**** The Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Leonrad K. Shaw, Correspondence, Manchester Guardian, February 28, 1893

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