‘The Second Curtis Report’ Chaired by Dame Myra Curtis

Care of Children Committee (1946) Report of the Care of Children Committee (Chairman: Myra Curtis) Cmd. 6922 London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office

The Care of Children Committee, under the chairmanship of Dame Myra Curtis, had been appointed following Sir William Monckton’s Report (Home Office, 1945) into the death of Dennis O’Neill in foster care in 1945 to report on the future of services for children in any form of out of home care. There had already been discussions about the future of child care provision (Parker, 1983) and the increases in juvenile delinquency (Brosse, 1950) and in the provision of approved schools (Committee of Enquiry, 1946) during the War along with the provision of hostels for troublesome evacuees (Winnicott and Britton, 1957) had all raised consciousness of the needs of children. The death of Dennis O’Neill may well have given the issues a much higher profile and meant that they would not be settled in the back corridors of Whitehall but in the full glare of public scrutiny, a challenge to which the Committee energetically rose, producing not one but two reports.

Key Points

  • This is the first ever inquiry into the state of the out of home care of children.
  • 124,900 were in out of home care under a plethora of legal frameworks and in a wide range of settings.
  • There was no uniformity in approaches to care and wide variations in standards of care.
  • Buildings were generally unsuitable and few attempts had been made to remedy their deficiencies.
  • There was generally insufficient numbers of staff and they were insufficiently trained.
  • There was little stimulation in many forms of institutional care, resulting in children being very attention-seeking when visitors arrived.
  • Voluntary homes tended to be less good overall than local authority homes.
  • Approved schools tended to provide better care overall, though some would have benefited from more feminine input, a better welcome for relatives, more individualisation and fewer absurd punishments.
  • Care in remand homes was generally adequate but affected by serious shortages of staff.
  • There were wide variations in standards of care in homes for children with learning disabilities, from mostly very good to a few poor homes, which were affected by even worse staffing shortages.
  • There were also extreme variations among the homes for children with physical handicaps, many of which were beset by unstimulating environments.
  • There were wide variations in fostering practice among local authorities, with elementary checks often being neglected, variations in the rates paid and visiting generally unsatisfactory, regardless of whether the visitor was paid or a volunteer.
  • Siblings were often split, schools were occasionally unhelpful and youth services rarely used, but overall the children in foster care were better off than those in residential care.
  • Standards of fostering in voluntary care were similar but the Committee deplored the practice of taking foster children back into residential care.
  • The Ministry of Pensions (responsible for war orphans) offered a better, though by no means perfect, service for boarded out children with individual birthday and Christmas presents being provided.
  • Inspections were not always made as they should have been and inspectors’ expectations were generally low, but inspectors’ recommendations were rarely implemented.
  • Overall, there needed to be significant, urgent improvements to residential care and those at local authority headquarters needed to take “a greater sense of personal interest and responsibility” (1946a, p. 135).
  • There should be a central department with overall responsibility, provision by local authorities and voluntary organisations, mechanisms to enforce inspectors’ recommendations and inspection of all provision.
  • The local authority should have a Children’s Committee, which could not refuse to accept the care of a child, and a Children’s Officer who would exercise the parental functions of the Committee.
  • The local authority should have access to a range of facilities from adoption and fostering through a range of residential and after-care facilities to emigration.


In the Introduction, the Committee record that they met for 64 days, heard 229 witnesses, read 114 memoranda and visited 451 institutions in 58 local authorities and 41 counties in England and Wales. It was the first inquiry into the “care of children deprived of a normal home life” and they had taken a broad view of the term ‘child,’ covering everything except treatment for physical illness and children at home who may not be having “a normal home life”. They had looked at:

  • children in poor law care
  • homeless evacuees
  • children brought before the courts
  • children in care under the Public Health Acts
  • children in the care of voluntary organisations
  • children in private fostering
  • children in long stay institutions for those with physical and mental handicaps
  • war orphans.

In Section I: Existing statutory provision and administrative arrangements, they review the various legal frameworks for caring for children. The Poor Law contained no general duties but authorised certain things such as the assumption of parental rights and the provision of places of safety. Section 27 of the 1930 Public Assistance Order prohibited the retention of a child aged 3-16 in a workhouse for more than six weeks but it was not enforced. Poor Law provision included nurseries, large homes, grouped homes, (that is, cottage homes), scattered homes, (that is, family group homes), and receiving homes.

Alongside this provision were the ‘certified schools,’ voluntary homes that might or might not provide education on the premises, the uncertified voluntary homes and special schools.

Under the Poor Law boarding out was technically restricted to orphans, deserted children and children where parental rights had been assumed but other placements were freely authorised by the Ministry of Health and the 1945 Public Assistance (Amendment) Order had revoked these restrictions, mainly to allow evacuated children to stay where they were. Most authorities had paid visitors, some had both paid and voluntary visitors and a few had only voluntary visitors checking up on around 5,000 children in foster care. The Poor Law authorities had assumed the parental rights of around 16% of these children.

Around 33,000 children were in local authority Poor Law care along with 15,000 under the care of the Ministry of Health and 5,000 who had not returned from evacuation.

Out of over 500 hostels set up during the war for evacuated children, 114 remained, accommodating 1,000 evacuees and 500 other children under various legal frameworks.

Where children were brought before the courts, they could be sent to one of 141 approved schools, mostly run by voluntary organisations and catering for 9,900 boys and 2,300 girls. They could also be made subjects of a Fit Person Order to a local authority or an individual; use of this provision had expanded from 354 in 1934 to 13,000 in 1945. Boarding out was obligatory under the Children and Young Persons (Boarding Out) Rules 1933 except with the consent of the Secretary of State.

Children were held in remand homes under Place of Safety Orders, while awaiting boarding out or an approved school, under the little used punitive detention clause or because they had absconded from approved school.

They could also be placed in a residential facility as a condition of residence of probation supervision.

Around 1,500 children were in remand homes, nearly all of them run by local authorities, around 10,000 were on Fit Person Orders to a local authority, of whom 6,000 were boarded out, and 3,000 to individuals or voluntary organisations and around 700 were on probation supervision, mostly in homes or hostels but about a fifth in lodgings.

Around 33,500 were in the care of voluntary homes, around half of them in specialised facilities. Just over 14,000 children were in private fostering, certain voluntary homes and private residential nurseries supervised under the 1936 Public Health Acts. About 2,500 of over 16,000 children undergoing adoption were under welfare supervision after being placed for adoption by third parties.

Around 14,500 children were in special schools under the 1944 Education Act, with around 60% in schools run by voluntary organisations. Around 400 children were in institutions for the mentally ill and around 7,500 mentally defective children were in a range of state, local authority and voluntary residential placements, though the Committee noted that not all mentally defective children were in approved establishments.

Over 4,000 war orphans were being supervised in the community of which 411 were in care, all but eleven of whom were boarded out.

Summarising, there were around 57,000 destitute children, 5,200 homeless evacuees, 10,700 in private fostering, 2,400 awaiting adoption, 23,000 on court orders, 7,500 in institutions for the mentally defective, 14,500 in homes for the physically or mentally handicapped and 3,600 war orphans in the community, making a grand total of 124,900 children in some form of out of home care.

In Section II: How children are cared for now, the Committee report how they visited a range of local authorities but found no uniformity and no increase in quality where children were in the care of the Education Committee. There were few written records and no demands for these from staff except where there had been clear problems in a child’s history.

They found wide variations in boarding out practice, that many children were in workhouses after the six week limit, that few attempts had been made to adapt buildings for children’s needs and that there were some very poor conditions and some very good, the latter mostly in the nurseries. They found that staff were unable to deal with children with learning disabilities mixed with other children.

However, they considered the unsuitability and inadequacy of staff more serious than building deficiencies. Physical care was often poor and, even where it was good, there was little homeliness or recreation and no individual care.

Turning first to the Poor Law homes, they had found few modern buildings; they had often been converted and were in a state of disrepair; they suffered from staffing problems and overcrowding, with children sleeping two in a bed. While the physical and medical care of children was generally good, it was rare to find a trained nurse. Admissions were often cold and hurried. The diet was usually adequate but they often had enamel crockery and, while the clothing was generally adequate, the work carried out by the children tended to domestic drudgery rather than anything interesting.

Education was provided but there was very little in the way of vocational training and few leisure facilities or opportunities for play; interestingly, those that provided the best recreational facilities also made greatest use of community facilities.

It was unusual for children to have contact with relatives and there were few organised holidays. Though all were given pocket money, they had little to spend it on and the children often had little idea of the cost of clothes. There was a dearth of pictures. Life was dreary and uninteresting. Though the nurseries, especially the training nurseries, were generally better than the ordinary homes, only one nursery, in a cottage home, stood out.

The most common punishments were to be sent to bed or lose pocket money, though there was little difficult behaviour except in homes for children with learning difficulties. Bedwetting was the most frequent problem and destructiveness was often mentioned but the Committee thought that was down to the lack of play materials. A few children pilfered and staff said that help from a psychiatrist or psychologist would be welcome.

There were wide variations in religious practice and in the involvement of clergy, though church attendance was accepted as normal. Little care was taken over careers advice or after-care support.

They found wide variations in the homes run by voluntary organisations and in particular by those run by small local organisations. None of them ran family group homes and the notice boards outside the homes, often large and unsuitable buildings, were frequently unfortunate.

About half the heads of homes were qualified and staffing ratios averaged 1:7 with the worst 1:17. While there were no signs of fear or dislike from the children, in some there were also no signs of confidence or affection. The physical care was generally good but the clothing was sometimes too regimented. The diet was generally good but in some homes staff ate apart. The medical care was as good as in local authority homes but there was too much use of the children in domestic tasks.

Education was mostly provided by local schools but there were some campus schools with high standards and one with very low standards. Some offered vocational training. There were wide variations in leisure facilities but the arrangements for hobbies, reading or games were generally poor.

Though children normally had individual lockers for personal possessions, there were very few personal pictures, ornaments etc. on view. The pocket money scales were low and it was not available in all homes.

There was little encouragement to outside contact and, while contact with relatives was encouraged, there was little planning for return home. Homes varied in whether they had a holiday away.

The children’s behaviour was generally good but there were too many homes where children were expected to eat in silence. Sanctions were mostly negative and there was little evidence of self-government, though it was seen in the best homes where responsibility was encouraged.

The children were frequently attention-seeking when visitors arrived except for one home where the girls took no notice because they had frequent outings with local families.

In only one home was there recognition of the need to respond appropriately to difficult behaviour; all the others treated it as naughtiness, though in practice there were relatively few behaviour problems.

They all had daily prayers and the Committee thought that the convents were poor for older children and better suited to children under seven.

There was little effort to use outside organisations for career guidance or employment and after-care was generally poor.

They visited a number of local authority and voluntary hostels for working young people. While the conditions seemed adequate, they were cramped for space, there was no quiet room, the chairs were hard and there was little provision for leisure.

Punishments tended to be fines or loss of privileges. The arrangements for employment and after-care were haphazard. The Committee wondered whether it would be better to integrate all hostels rather than have separate probation hostels.

The Committee visited fifty, mostly voluntary, approved schools and queried whether going to a classifying school was a waste of time because this appeared to have turned approved schools from being all-purpose into specialised schools.

Most schools had a house system with prefects appointed by the head. The buildings were mostly adapted and, even where it was a new school, unsuitable, often being cramped indoors with barrack like dormitories. Though the shortages of staff were less than in children’s homes there was a need for more women staff in some schools.

Physical care was generally good and medical care excellent. There was no enamel crockery and clothing was satisfactory if standard.

Both education and vocational training were generally good compared with outside school. The group activities were generally good but individual activities less so. There was little contact with families, possibly because classification was sending children further from home but also because of the attitudes of some staff. They comment:

if a special point was made of getting into touch with relatives and welcoming them . . . the difficulties of distance might be overcome . . . in one school in a rather remote country district visits from relatives seemed to be more frequent than in other more easily accessible schools (Care of Children Committee, 1946a, §299 p. 97).

They note the availability of weekend leave and that, in addition to receiving pocket money, there were some opportunities to earn extra money but there was no education in handling money. Children showed a good standard of personal appearance and they had individual lockers but there were few personal items on view.

Interestingly, discipline was no more severe than in children’s homes in spite of them accommodating delinquents but there were some absurdities and some excessive corporal punishment.

Most had morning prayers and their own chapel. Generally the approved schools were good but there were a few cases of concern.

There had been a plan for approved schools to have their own after-care officers but this had been shelved because of the War and currently after-care supervision was a responsibility of the local authority; it was often done by volunteers with no access to reports on the young person.

The Committee visited 55 remand homes; the voluntary ones were mostly for girls and most of the children were waiting for approved school, special school or boarding out. The physical care was adequate in most local authority homes, less so in voluntary homes where the medical care also tended to poor. The children often went to a local school for education but some had in-house education. Most had difficulties providing varied occupation for the children. Punishments tended to be going to bed, loss of pocket money or loss of privileges but the treatment of difficult children was generally sensible. However, most of them were understaffed, some seriously.

They visited 14 homes for mentally ill or defective children. There were variations in the standards of accommodation but acute shortages of staff with some homes having no qualified staff. The physical care was very good in most but poor in two. There were wide variations in the standards of occupation and training for the children but some good efforts to get them out or on holiday. A few young people had left to go into community care or to get work and this had generally worked well when it had happened.

They visited 15 homes and hospitals for children with physical handicaps; some were good with good staffing, others less so; they particularly noted the efforts by staff at two homes for deaf and dumb children but they were hampered by unstimulating environments. Two homes for physically handicapped children were very good; the three homes for blind babies were variable and, of the two sanatoria, one was good, the other shocking. However, they also visited a most delightful convalescent home.

They examined boarding out by local authorities by making their own selection to visit, focusing in particular on those in remote locations and where all those in one family were boarded out. They met local authority officials and read the children’s records; they had been received with warmth all round, the general assumption being that the Committee’s purpose was to prevent a repetition of the O’Neill case.

They found considerable variations; where all the visitors were volunteers, people’s views of them varied from stressing their local knowledge to commenting on their inexperience with problems; their reports were often poor and their visits infrequent and unreliable and they were slow to make emergency visits. Where all the visitors were paid, none had training and, though they were often familiar with the local area, they lacked imagination and resourcefulness.

Local authorities generally found advertising for foster parents unsatisfactory except for one authority which made no mention of payment and always got good replies.

All had a preliminary investigation but sometimes there was too much emphasis on the initial visit when other enquiries or references did not support first impressions. No enquiries were made about criminal records and sometimes the foster father was never seen; the undertaking was normally only signed by the foster mother and Public Health Departments were not always consulted.

Sometimes the foster child visited the foster home and sometimes the foster parents visited the children’s home. The most common motivations were for a companion for another child or because the foster parents were childless; the less good homes tended to be with elderly foster parents. The foster homes varied from the very large to the very small though very few children shared a bedroom with other children or with the foster parents. Most foster parents were spending more on the foster child than they were receiving which created problems for low income families.

There were variations in rates, even within local authorities, which could lead to uneven payments in the same area; some local authorities paid a quarterly clothing allowance. There were also variations in pocket money allowances.

Medical examinations were normally made before placement but left up to the foster mother thereafter. Care was mostly good and the Committee had no concerns about physical care but a few concerns about over-possessiveness and a few where they had doubts about the suitability of the placement.

They found that fostering was generally successful and there was a marked difference between the children in foster care and those in children’s homes. However, foster parents rarely discussed problems with visitors and so problems did not appear in the reports; also changes in the foster home situation were not recorded.

There tended to be long gaps between visits and many visitors did not know the regulations; so foster parents would ask questions which the visitor should have been able to answer but could not. They encountered examples of too many children in a foster home, of no visits from the Probation Officer when a child was on probation and of no note of a family member with learning difficulties in the home. There were some good paid visitors but most were not because they were untrained.

They met children who had been in the foster home for from four months to ten years; one child had been in five institutions and three foster homes by the age of eleven and another in four institutions and two foster homes by the age of eight. Of twenty-four children in one authority, eight had been in two foster homes and three in more than two but none had had more than two prior moves and most changes had been because of the War. Though people generally recognised the desirability of keeping siblings together, they were frequently broken up.

Relationships with schools were generally good but there were some exceptions with individual teachers stigmatising foster children; schools reports generally went to the Committee and were not seen by the visitors. They found no examples of the few working age children being helped by the Juvenile Employment Bureau; most had found jobs locally and informally.

They also found wide variations in private fostering often because mothers in a poor area primarily fostered with mothers in the same area.

They found no observable differences between boarding out by voluntary organisations and boarding out by local authorities except that clothing allowances tended to be lower in voluntary organisations. However, they recorded the comment by one foster parent that removing children and taking them back to the residential home was “just like Nazi methods” (1946a, p. 125) and the organisation concerned was now reconsidering this rule. The foster parents complained about lack of information but there were fewer problems over infrequent visiting, though there was some mistrust and therefore failure to share information.

Children boarded out by the Ministry of Pensions were visited by visitors who had an introductory training but high caseloads and no cars or car allowances which wasted a lot of time when visiting remote locations. The Ministry asked for three references and notified all placements to the Child Life Protection Department if the child was under nine and to the Education Department if the child was of school age. The children had a medical examination initially but the Ministry thereafter relied on the foster parent and the school.

The flat rates they paid were less than those paid by local authorities or voluntary organisations and there was nothing additional for pocket money; on the other hand the child arrived with three of everything and special payments were available for anything out of the ordinary. Also gifts were sent to the children at Christmas and on birthdays. Their foster homes were similar to those used by local authorities and voluntary organisations and had similar problems; the foster parents had good relationships with the visitors though they would have liked more visits. Records were kept but not well organised and they sometimes lacked background information; the visitors tended to tell foster parents as little as possible.

Turning to inspection, the Committee found that Ministry of Health inspections of workhouses often identified the same problems as they had but there had been long gaps between visits and little evidence of remediation; for example problems identified in one institution in 1931 had not been remedied. The inspections of children’s homes were more frequent but the reports showed little concern about physical conditions and little evidence of remediation. Voluntary homes were inspected by the Ministry of Health if a poor law child was present but by the Home Office otherwise, which was very confusing. Some homes should have been inspected by a variety of other inspectorates and had not been inspected when they should have been – the Factory Inspectorate was particularly poor in this respect. Staff were often vague about inspections and attached little significance to them.

Approved schools were normally inspected once a year but it could be less frequent; the reports were thorough and there was no resentment from staff. Visits from the Ministry of Education had been suspended during the War but Factory Inspectors’ visits were too infrequent.

Remand homes often received only annual visits even if they were in difficulties, though sometimes they had taken place more frequently; improvements tended to be made but slowly and the reports showed frequent concerns about the long stays of children awaiting boarding out.

There was little evidence of inspection of hostels except probation hostels. Homes for mentally ill or defective children had annual visits, sometimes more frequent.

Homes for children with physical handicaps were visited but no great interest was shown in these homes.

There was little evidence of inspection of foster parents but there were contacts with local authorities and voluntary organisations.

In relation to inspection, the Committee found that:

  1. the frequency of inspections was inadequate except for approved schools, homes for the mentally ill and defective and poor law nurseries;
  2. nothing was done as a result of inspection reports;
  3. there had been an improvement in the quality of reports as a result of the appointment of women inspectors;
  4. there was general acceptance of low standards;
  5. there was no evidence of resentment of inspection.

Summarising their general impressions, the Committee said that:

  • They were dissatisfied with the immediate provision for children coming into care.
  • Nurseries generally provided the best long-term care but provision for older children in foster homes and children in children’s homes generally was poor.
  • There was little evidence of seriously bad conditions in children’s homes except from witnesses speaking about the past, but they thought there was always a risk of individual carers adversely affecting children.
  • Most children’s homes were reasonably well run but dreary, drab, over- regimented and unimaginative, with a shortage of the right kind of staff. In many homes there was “a lack of personal interest in and affection for the children which we found shocking” (1946a, p. 134); children were not recognised as individuals and there was no one for them to turn to; they noted that “where individual love and care had been given, the behaviour of the children was quite different” (1946a, p. 134) .
  • There was a need for higher standards of accommodation.
  • The person in immediate charge of the children was significant; “this task has not been regarded as one calling for any special skills, and many of the children have suffered in consequence” (1946a, p. 135).
  • The foster homes had created a generally favourable impression but a few foster parents had been over-possessive and the most significant factors in the success of foster care were the attitudes of the foster parents and accidents of fortune.
  • There was a need for “a greater sense of personal interest and responsibility at local authority headquarters” (1946a, p. 135).
  • The administrative systems were full of pitfalls.

They conclude that “there is probably a greater risk of acute unhappiness in a foster home, but . . . a happy foster home is happier than life as generally lived in a large community” (1946a, p. 135).

In Section III: Conclusion and recommendations, the Committee begin with several recommendations for changes to the statutory framework:

  • raise the age for registration of private fostering from nine to sixteen;
  • provide supervision for all adoption placements;
  • introduce inspection of voluntary homes which are not otherwise inspected;
  • make care and protection solely a local authority responsibility;
  • discontinue resolutions assuming parental rights for orphans/deserted children and instead extend the 1886 and 1925 Guardianship of Infants Acts.

They argue that a substitute home must promote affection and personal interest, understanding and respect and it must offer stability, opportunity and a share in the common life of a group, all of which is not an impossible task.

In considering the variety of authorities responsible for children, they reject a central body and prefer a local one where children can be part of the neighbourhood. They note that the Education and Public Health Departments would still have responsibilities for children cared for by a central body. Instead, there should be:

  • one central department responsible,
  • local provision by local authorities and voluntary organisations,
  • mechanisms to enforce remedial work identified by inspectors,
  • inspection of all voluntary homes regardless of whether they are receiving public money or not,
  • better liaison with local authorities.

The central department should have a Children’s Branch and be responsible for all children except the mentally ill or defective.

Each local authority should have a single ad hoc committee reporting directly to the Council which could not refuse to accept responsibility for children. It would have as its executive officer a Children’s Officer, being a person of high standing and qualifications. Two authorities could share a Children’s Officer if there were fewer than 500 children in need of oversight in an area.

The Children’s Officer would, among other things, represent the Council in their parental functions and there might be a need for subordinate officers to maintain continuing personal relationships with children in care.

The Children’s Officer should be well-educated, over 30, have administrative and interpersonal skills and have high standards of physical and moral welfare.

The aim would be to keep children in their own homes and, where this was not possible, there would be a range of options.


There should be a supervised probationary period of 3-6 months at the Court’s discretion for all children placed for adoption, with provisions to remove a child during the probationary period. The Children’s Officer would be the guardian ad litem and there should be an option of care proceedings if the adoptive home was unsuitable. There should also be a ban on private adoptions and a compulsory medical examination and adoption society. Officers should be at least as competent as local authority Boarding Out Officers.

Boarding out

The limitations in the Poor Law rules plus reluctance in practice had led to fewer Poor Law children being boarded out than might be possible; the practice of taking children back into residential care from boarding out should be stopped and the focus should be on affection and stability.

The Committee caution that the power to remove children from unsatisfactory foster homes is not enough because “children undergoing several changes of foster parents are often worse off than if they had never been boarded out at all” (1946a, p. 153). They consider reluctance to foster and argue for a vigorous effort by trained officers to find new foster parents. Advertising should be focused on the child and not on the money and this should be supplemented by visits to speak to community groups. More middle class placements should be encouraged.

Enquiries should be undertaken by “trained and skilled” persons (1946a, p. 154) and selection should be based on an interview and two references. Recruitment should also take account of the need for short term placements for children in boarding schools. Each local authority should keep a register of foster homes which would be open to voluntary organisations and homes should be inspected if they have not been inspected recently in the normal course of events.

A foster placement should enable integration into the neighbourhood and remote placements should be avoided. Foster parents should be given full information and there should be clarity about what happens if the foster mother falls ill or other problems arise.

Fostering rates should be standardised and there should be a minimum of £12 per annum clothing allowance; this might vary because clothing needs vary and it may be necessary to take account of special needs. The Committee rejected payment for individual foster placements but not the idea of a foster mother being employed by a local authority to care for a number of children in her own home, for example, to keep siblings together.

The existing Boarding Out Rules should be reviewed to remove the limits on which children could be boarded out and how many in one home; they should ban placements in a home where there are no other children, follow the Home Office rules regarding frequency of visits and ‘religious persuasion’ and the Poor Law rules on medical examinations.

The Children’s Committee should be responsible for visits but they should be undertaken by trained staff at least once every three months. Their training should be different from that proposed in the Interim Report (Care of Children Committee, 1946b) with more focus on social conditions and family relationships; the proposal to use Health Visitors for this purpose should be rejected. Visitors should have contact with the school. The same principles should apply to voluntary organisations.

Private fostering

The Committee did not favour Children’s Committees taking over responsibility for private fostering but they recommended the ‘Birmingham system’ of payments to private foster parents which would be recovered from the parent or guardian.

Institutions (residential communities)

The Committee doubted whether they could be dispensed with within the next 10-15 years and noted that they also offer opportunities to develop community life; their main problem was lack of interest in the child as an individual.

There should be specialist nurseries for infants under twelve months and residential nurseries for those twelve months to two and a half years prior to boarding out, though infants over twelve months could also be placed in a children’s home with suitably qualified houseparents. Children should live in family groups to the ages of fifteen or sixteen in both local authority and voluntary organisation homes.

Each area should have one reception home for medical checks, observation, places of safety and, if necessary, treatment but children should only stay in them for a few weeks; they could also be used as short stay homes, since 60% of admissions are short term, and as remand homes for children up to twelve years old – in connection with which the Committee suggested raising the age of criminal responsibility to twelve.

Long term care should take place in family groups with large institutions broken into smaller units each under their own housemother; boys over twelve years old might go to a boarding school and to foster placements for holidays. Each unit should have a maximum of twelve children of both sexes with siblings kept together if possible. Both husband and wife should be employed only if both are suitable. The children should be encouraged to contribute to domestic life as appropriate for their age.

Nearly half of children had lived in cottage homes in 1939 but the Committee thought some groups were too large and the homes were often depressingly uniform. They recommended separate bedrooms for over-twelve-year-olds and gardens rather than asphalt play areas.

They stressed the importance of not leaving housemothers isolated in family group homes: “it is most harmful for children to be in the charge of an unhappy woman” (Care of Children Committee, 1946a, p. 164). The children should go to local schools, use local facilities and join local clubs.

Schools needed to discourage labelling and the Committee rejected the National Union of Teachers’ recommendation for a maximum of 4% of children in care in a school as too low. However, they did recommend limiting cottage homes to 100 children in total to avoid the impact on local schools or using the powers, as yet not in force, under Part III of the 1944 Education Act to set up a school in the institution and admit local children.

The Committee also made a number of recommendations relating to the registration and inspection of voluntary homes, the composition of Children’s Committees, staffing ratios, pay and conditions, recording, medical examinations and treatment, diet, including the Housemother in charge being given as much freedom as possible in planning meals, decor, furnishings, clothing, personal possessions, presents, recreation, money for outings, birthdays and pocket money, outside contacts and contact with relatives, unfortunate names for homes and cooperation with local clergy.

The Committee argued for a prohibition on corporal punishment, as was already the case in poor law homes, no punishments for bed-wetting and to see pilfering as a symptom, not a crime.

They recommended limited use of homes for up to thirty children for some children with difficulties but there needed to be a competent Superintendent and Matron. Education Authorities should be encouraged to take over wartime hostels for maladjusted children, partly because having maladjusted children in ordinary homes disrupts them.

Approved schools

Improvements in children’s homes may lead to reduced demand for approved schools but juvenile courts should have the option to send children to a local authority boarding school or hostel for maladjusted children as well as to an approved school.

The Committee considered the schools generally well conducted but with insufficient feminine influence and a tendency to regimentation. They doubted the value of senior girls’ schools and recommended minimising the sense of being in custody for girls and using hostels instead. They supported the call of the Committee of Enquiry (1946) for special training for staff.

Currently there was arbitrary committal of children in need of care and protection to approved schools dependent on vacancies but the Committee anticipated that, if its recommendations were accepted, there would be fewer children going to approved schools. They noted that schools are unevenly distributed across the country and there needed to be central coordination especially if it was necessary to set up new approved schools in areas not well served.

Remand homes

The Committee recommended using them for short stays only and abolishing punitive detention; they should focus on finding out the facts about a child for the juvenile court and ensure that education was provided. They should not be used as places of safety and girls with sexually transmitted diseases should be segregated. There should be no voluntary remand homes except perhaps for girls in moral danger.

After care

This should be a responsibility of the Children’s Committee, who should focus on developing children’s ability and aptitude and make use of the Juvenile Employment Service. Girls should not be kept in homes to do domestic work without changing their status to paid employee – ditto for boys kept on who do work in the home – and girls should be given opportunities for other careers. There should be facilities for children who have left placements to visit as guests and information should be provided to the Children’s Officer of any other authority to which the child moves.

Local authority hostels

Hostels should be opened only where there are insufficient lodgings or voluntary hostels. They should be 12-20 in size and the Superintendent should not dictate to, but take a parental interest in, the young people, liaising with Juvenile Employment Officer but treating the residents as lodgers.

Provision for mentally defective children

The Committee considered this inadequate with very little extra having been provided since the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act and recommended a census of all children with a mental deficiency and referral to the Mental Deficiency Committee by Children’s Departments of any child under two found to have a mental deficiency. The Committee did not recommend any change to the current arrangements but the creation of more residential accommodation because children with a mental deficiency often ended up in the wrong sort of institution.

Provision for physically handicapped children

The only change the Committee recommended was greater attention to education; in some institutions there was none.


The arrangements in the receiving country should be as good as they would get in the United Kingdom.

The Report concludes with a Summary of Recommendations, two minority reports on religious care, Appendix 1: Training in child care, which set out the Committee’s recommendations for those not covered in the Interim Report (Care of Children Committee, 1946b), namely, boarding out visitors and inspectors, and Appendix II: List of witnesses.


Nothing as comprehensive as this had been attempted before or has been attempted since. There are obvious weaknesses in a largely descriptive account and places where, with hindsight, one can see that Committee members had missed the point or picked up on the wrong point. Nonetheless, both as a historical document and as an attempt to make sense of the hotch-potch of provisions for children and young people that had grown up over the previous four centuries, it is an outstanding piece of work, with the detailed statistics and observation providing crucial source material for understanding the state of child care in the middle of the twentieth century.

Starting with their observations which are of long-term interest, the figures for the dramatically increased use of Fit Person Orders in the wake of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act demonstrate why “the fifteen years following the passing of the 1933 Act represented the lowest level of closed provision for young offenders since custodial institutions had first been introduced as a legal penalty” (Cawson and Martell, 1979). Fit Person Orders could at this time be made to an individual, a voluntary organisation or a local authority, who had to agree to the order being made. One wonders whether re-introducing the voluntary principle and allowing suitable individuals to accept responsibility for young people in need of care and protection might be worth reconsidering to reduce our over-dependence on criminal sanctions for such young people.

The finding that giving responsibilities to Education Committees did not increase the quality of provision should perhaps have given pause for thought before giving children’s services back to education and making Ofsted responsible for inspections!

It may be difficult for child care workers today to imagine that conditions in children’s homes could be as bad as they were. Yet as Banner (1982) was to recount nearly 40 years later, those were the conditions in which he had begun his career and that image of child care has persisted in England and Wales ever since.

Their positive remarks about approved schools combined with a few criticisms which could have been made at almost any time reinforce the picture that the decline in success rates of the boys approved schools (Rose, 1967) had not started. In fact, the success rates of the girls’ schools never declined, which raises interesting questions about whether the Committee were right to argue for the abolition of the girls’ schools.

However, their criticisms of the classification system because it resulted in schools becoming more specialised and boys being sent much further away from home never appear to have been picked up. As Crowther (1981) has argued in relation to Poor Law institutions, specialisation, which was presented as a way of improving Poor Law care, often created as many problems as it solved and, on the Committee’s evidence, the only part of the Poor Law child care system which appeared to have benefited from it were the nurseries.

Their finding that the authority which advertised for foster parents without mentioning money got high quality applicants was later to be reflected in Richard Titmuss’s classic study of blood donation (1970) in which he showed that countries that did not pay blood donors had higher levels of donation of better quality blood.

Their acceptance of some homes of up to thirty appears to reflect an awareness of the work of people like George Lyward (Burn, 1956) and David Wills (1945) though they do not mention anyone specifically.

Among the things the Committee got right was the hypothesis that the children’s reactions – destructiveness, attention-seeking behaviour or pilfering – were responses to their current situations rather than anything inherent in the children.

Similarly, their advocacy of stimulating environments with facilities for personalisation and the display and storage of personal items was on the mark. Their emphasis on the value of community involvement and contact with relatives was to be taken up nearly forty years later by Berridge (1985).

In making an issue about the voluntary organisation that still recalled foster children for residential training before discharging them, they remind us that practices from the past can often last far beyond their sell-by date. In the eighteenth century, it had been normal practice to foster children until they were at least seven years old and then apprentice them. As education and the gradual raising of the school-leaving age had raised the age at which a child might start work, so the organisation had delayed the recall date without thinking that, the longer the child stayed with the foster parents, the more appropriate it was for them to manage the foster child’s transition to work.

The Committee’s focus on those in immediate charge of the children and in particular on training heads of units (Care of Children Committee, 1946b) was to be vindicated by research just over twenty years later (King et al., 1971).

Their recommendation to discontinue the use of resolutions assuming parental rights and extend the 1886 and 1925 Guardianship of Infants Acts, though not accepted at the time, can be considered to have been vindicated by the 1989 Children Act though this may instead have led to greater use of the family courts to achieve the same outcomes by a different route.

Their recommendation that local authorities should accept a parental function in relation to children in need, while accepted in theory, does not appear to have been accepted in practice, with local authorities continuing to abandon children to the criminal justice system (Gibbs and Hickson, 2009).

Their perceptive comment that having powers to remove children from unsatisfactory foster homes is not enough because “children undergoing several changes of foster parents are often worse off than if they had never been boarded out at all” (1946a, p. 153) was to be supported over forty years later by Wiener and Wiener (1990) but had clearly not been picked up in 1948 by those authorities preparing fostering forms with space for half a dozen foster parent names and addresses (Volkov, 1948).

Their recommendation for a maximum size of twelve was to be vindicated in the only study of which I am aware which examined the size of group in detail (Nicholson, 1968).

However, the Committee did not see beyond their observation of the value of contacts with relatives the significance of contact with parents even though that had featured as recently as 1938 in the Fifth Report of the Children’s Branch (Home Office, 1938). As Taylor and Alpert (1973) and Fanshel and Shinn (1978) were to show, this is often the most significant variable in out-of-home care.

Their observations about the less satisfactory care given by older foster parents may have been misleading and their apparent support for fostering children alongside natural children of the same age was later shown to have been very misguided and damaging (Berridge and Cleaver, 1987).

Their findings about the ineffectiveness of most inspections reflected the experience of the Poor Law Commissioners a century earlier (Crowther, 1981) but there is no evidence that their argument that improving the quality of inspections and extending them to all forms of provision would bring the benefits they sought. If anything, the evidence from quality management is that they don’t (Deming, 2000).

Their focus on after-care was later to be shown to be misguided (Taylor and Alpert, 1973) but they were certainly not alone in this respect.

However, given the limitations of the circumstances in which they found themselves, perhaps the only real failure which can be laid at their doors is failing to take account of the reports of the Home Office Children’s Branch (Home Office, 1923, 1938), particularly in view of their recommendation for such a body in the future. In other respects this is a quite outstanding report.


Banner, G (1982) Retrospect and prospect. In Managing to care: a collection of the major papers presented on 26 /27 October 1982, pp. 45-50 London: Residential Care Association

Berridge, D (1985) Children’s homes Oxford: Blackwell

Berridge, D and Cleaver, H (1987) Foster home breakdown The practice of social work 16 Oxford: Blackwell See also Children Webmag April 2010.

Brosse, T. (1950). War-handicapped children: report on the European situation Publication No 439 Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Burn, M (1956) Mr Lyward’s answer London: Hamish Hamilton See also Children Webmag May 2009.

Care of Children Committee (1946a) Report of the Care of Children Committee (Chairman: Myra Curtis) Cmd 6922. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office

Care of Children Committee (1946b) Training in child care: interim report of the Care of Children Committee (Chairman: Myra Curtis) Cmd 6760 London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office See also Children Webmag December 2010.

Cawson, P and Martell, M (1979) Children referred to closed units DHSS Research Report No 5 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office See also Children Webmag December 2009.

Committee of Enquiry (1946) Approved schools and remand homes. Remuneration and conditions of service. Report of the Committee (Chairman: Mr B J Reynolds) London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office

Crowther, M A (1981) The workhouse system 1834-1929: the history of an English social institution London: Batsford

Deming, W E (2000) Out of the crisis: quality, productivity and competitive position Boston: MIT Press

Fanshel, D and Shinn, E B (1978) Children in foster care: a longitudinal investigation Guildford: Columbia University Press See also Children Webmag March 2009.

Gibbs, P and Hickson, S (2009) Children: innocent until proven guilty: a report on the overuse of remand for children in England and Wales and how it can be addressed London: Prison Reform Trust

Home Office (1923) Report on the work of the Children’s Branch London: Home Office

Home Office (1938) Fifth Report of the Children’s Branch London: Home Office

Home Office (1945) Report by Sir William Monckton KCMG KCVO MC KC on the circumstances which led to the boarding out of Dennis and Terence O’Neill at Bank Farm, Minsterly and the steps taken to supervise their welfare, etc. Cmd 6636 London: Home Office

King, R D, Raynes, N V and Tizard, J (1971) Patterns of residential care: sociological studies in institutions for handicapped children London: Routledge & Kegan Paul See also Children Webmag April 2009.

Nicholson, J (1968) Mother and baby homes: a survey of homes for unmarried mothers National Institute for Social Work Training Series 13 London: Allen & Unwin

Parker, R A (1983) The gestation of reform: the Children Act 1948 In P Bean and S MacPherson (Eds.), Approaches to welfare, pp. 196-217 London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

Rose, G (1967) Schools for young offenders London: Tavistock

Taylor, D and Alpert, S W (1973) Continuity and support: following residential treatment New York: Child Welfare League of America See also Children Webmag March 2009.

Titmuss, R M (1970) The gift relationship: from human blood to social policy London: Allen & Unwin

Volkov, P (1948, July) The re-education of war-handicapped children: some questions about re-education in loyalty. Paper presented to the UNESCO meeting of Directors of Children’s Villages from 4 to 11 July 1948 at Trogen, Switzerland. Paris, 20 July 1948. (UNESCO/ED/Conf.1/5).

Wiener, A and Wiener, E (1990) Expanding the options in child placement Lanham MD: University Press of America See also Children Webmag January 2010.

Wills, W D (1945) The Barns experiment: an account of the organization of a hostel for boys in Peeblesshire London: Allen & Unwin

Winnicott, D W and Britton, C (1957) Residential management as treatment for difficult children In D W Winnicott (Ed.) The child and the outside world: studies in developing relationships, Chapter II:6, pp. 98-116 London: Tavistock See also Children Webmag October 2009.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.