“A better childhood. For every child” is the slogan for The Children’s Society where the Duchess of Gloucester serves as Royal President and will make a visit on Wednesday.
The history of the Children’s Society has long been rooted in improving the welfare of poor and disadvantaged children in England and Wales. And though the organization has grown and evolved over the years, it still seeks to fight for disadvantaged and vulnerable children, giving them the best chance in life possible.
Edward Rudolf, a Sunday school teacher and civil servant in South London had the original idea to establish homes for children to serve as a better alternative for the workhouses and orphanages that were commonplace during that time. Workhouses were a last resort for runaways, neglected children or those involved in criminal activities.
These houses isolated children instead of offering them to be part of a community. They did not afford them the love and home environment all children need. Rudolf wished to change this practice. He was inspired by seeing two of his pupils begging on the street. Witnessing the oppression endured by his students, opened his eyes to the long-term problem of poverty around him and in British society.
Rudolf wrote to Archibald Tate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, encouraging him to get the church to lead the way in bettering the lives of poor and homeless children. Rudolf set up family or cottage homes. Each home had up to ten children and a master and matron who served as parents. The Archbishop loved the idea and thought the Church of England could make incredible strides in improving the lives of poor and disadvantaged children.
First registered in 1881, The Children’s Society was known until 1946 as the Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays until it changed to the Church of England Children’s Society.
Finally in the 1980’s, it became known as the Children’s Society. From the opening of the first home in Dulwich in 1882 until the late 1960’s, the focus of the organisation was to serve as an adoption agency.
With the changing times in the 1970’s, The Children’s Society had to adapt its focus more on preventative care in local communities and to families. It established family centres, playgroups, youth clubs, and accommodations for pregnant, single mothers. It encouraged young people to learn how to solve their problems on their own. It wasn’t until 1990 when the Children’s Society began working to drawing attention to the social injustice of child prostitution and sexual exploitation.
Today, with the help of its many volunteers, the Children’s Society works directly with families and children, confronting issues like child poverty and neglect head-on by providing frontline services. They work to assist families in debt, child runaways, and their caregivers and to put an end to the sexual exploitation of children.
Between 2014 -2015, the organisation served 34,000 vulnerable children. And, through its influence on policy, The Children’s Society will change the lives of over 1.8 million children and young people.
To serve the 3.7 million children in poverty in the UK, the group, although a national charity, works locally to assist children and their families. They partner with the Church of England to bring about change in children’s welfare. The Archbishops of both Canterbury and York serve as presidents of the group.
The Society also works with senior bishops and clergy throughout the UK. It wishes to work with all parishes of the faith and those of all religious denominations who want to change the lives of children for the better.
What also sets them apart from others is the board of Young Trustees. The board consists of young people who are encouraged to challenge the board of older trustees. With their input and influence, they form the future strategy and shape the direction of the organisation.
Following her visit to The Children’s Society, The Duchess of Gloucester will head on to Manchester to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of Withington, a school for girls.
Withington is an independent day school in 1890 with the goal of giving girls the same education as boys of that time. Today, Withington is a small school, its pupils numbering less than 700. The girls range from ages 7 to 18. By the end of her time at Withington, the student is well-prepared for university and her life ahead.
Photo credit: Northern Ireland Office via Flickr