This essay will highlight how children’s health and the laws to protect them from being exploited by employers through the introduction of Parliamentary Acts have been effective. It has also been important to discover how taking children out of the workforce impacted on society and how it was able to support them. A further issue to be investigated will be how important it was to rescue children from living rough and trying to support themselves which was taken up by Nonconformists such as Thomas Barnardo and how the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) was founded (Cunningham-2006). Another aim of this assignment is to seek out how children’s health has improved through both Government and other organisations’ intervention. Therefore, what Government Acts were introduced to improve the living standards of the very poor and how they have been updated to deal with the problems of the twenty first century. Another part of trying to improve the lives of all children has been focused on providing all children with an education that would link into them achieving a better standard of living and being able to make a positive contribute to society. This has been a theme of Barnardo’s homes since Victorian times (Rose. J 1987) and is still been seen as a necessary goal in the Government’s green paper ‘Every Child’s Matters’ (2003) and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS-2007). Therefore this will be the final area discussed in how different historical and sociological views of childhood are linked to the in present day UK.
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Cunningham (2006) & Miller et al (2002)research states that Victorian times saw fifty per cent of recorded deaths in children aged five years old and under, the biggest killers being diarrhoea, whooping cough, measles and small pox. In 1840 it became compulsory to be vaccinated against small pox; a vaccination founded in 1790 by Edward Jenner a country doctor working in a practice in Gloucestershire. He had a chance conversation with a milk maid who had contracted cow pox and she told him that folk lore said that if a person had survived cow pox they could not contract small pox. His vaccine was an important discovery as small pox was the biggest killer in Victorian time; in today’s terms it claimed as many lives as cancer or heart disease. During this period ten percent of the population suffered from the disease in rural areas, this rose to twenty percent in towns and cities who contracted the virus and subsequently there was a higher death toll due to overcrowded conditions. The largest group was of children, as one in three died. Jenner’s assertion was “that the cow pox protects the human constitution from the infection of small pox” (Health affairs, 24 No 3 2005) He called it the “Speckled monster” (www.Jenner museum.com-30/12/10). In 1853 an act was passed that made it compulsory that all infants under three months were to have the vaccination. If parents failed to have their children immunised they could be ordered to court where they would be fined, property confiscated and finally imprisoned. However, this did not deter some parents across all classes who continued to battle with the authorities until their children were fourteen years old and did not have to have the vaccination. This was because many parents feared that the conditions in which the procedure was carried out were not sterile. Their fears were well founded as there was evidence that other disease were spread e.g. erysipelas, syphilis and scrofula (Baxby, small pox vaccination). Although Jenner gave this vaccination to the world for free, the doctors charged for this service therefore many poor people, who were amongst the most vulnerable, could not afford it. If doctors had not charged for this vaccination, small pox would have been under control a lot soon than it was. (www.History Learning Site.co.uk-30/12/10).
However, children’s survival rate did increase as they got older although other health factors came to the forefront. Life expectancy was reduced due to the hazard of death at work, from dust in mines, quarries, barns, mills and bakeries alongside many accidents involving using dangerous equipment. In 1842 the mines act (Maybin.J, 2003) was passed so that no child under ten years old or woman were to work underground in mines but this did not stop them from working above ground where the conditions were not much better. Many acts were also passed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that tried to control the hazardous, and what proved in many cases the fatal occupation of chimney sweeps or “climbing boys” as they were called (Cunningham, H 2006). All these previous acts proved ineffective and it took a court case in 1875 about an eleven year old boy, George Brewster who died when sweeping a flue at Fulbourn Hospital in Cambridge. The post-mortem showed that George had suffocated, his head was congested and he had large levels of black powder in his lungs and windpipe. Lord Shaftesbury then put forward another bill to parliament, this time with success. This ended what the Times newspaper called the worst “public scandals of the Kingdom”. (Strange, K.H, 1982)
Other Acts of Parliament were also passed to try and safeguard children in cotton mills and factories over a period of time e.g. 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act and the Factory Act of 1819 (Maybin,J.2003) but no provision had been ordered for these acts to be enforced. Things did not really improve until 1832 when thousands of children and adults marched to York to listen to speakers calling for a ten hour day act. The outcome of this was the 1833 Royal Commission on the Employment of Children in Factories Act (Maylin, J.2003) which said that no child under nine years of age could work in a factory and it also said that the eight hours older children spent at work had to be matched with eight hours of time spent in school until they were fourteen years old. This was supposed to be implicated by inspectors even thought there were only four for the whole of Britain. However, their work did go some way to put into place regulations that refined a system that progressed through the century. This meant that children spent equal amounts of their time in work and in school until 1918 (Cunningham-2006).
Although these acts gave children more rights they were also the cause of other problems for society and the policy-makers. The poor law amendment act of 1834 (PLAA) was still in place, which was a problem for certain authorities who had to care for the children as the work they were allowed to carry out was getting more difficult to find. However, factory masters in Northern England and the Midlands needed children to work their machines in these remote sites. This led to the London authorities who were in charge of the poor houses, to take these factories’ needs as an opportunity to send cartloads of children to these valleys to work. One boy, Robert Blincoe tells of how 80 girls and boys were promised “Roast beef and plum pudding “,but instead were forced to work 14 hours a day, were regularly beaten and given insufficient food .( Cunningham, H.2006)
Thomas Barnardo became one of the most famous men in shaping children’s history in Victorian Britain. He arrived in London from Ireland in 1866.The city at the time was coping without much success with the effects of the Industrial Revolution. London was over populated had bad housing, poverty, massive unemployment, and an outbreak of cholera had just ripped through the East End of London.3,000 people had died leaving many children without family, homeless and also many were left with terrible injuries sustained from accidents in factories. Barnardo was appalled at the site of these unfortunate children and in 1867 set up a ragged school, so called because of the condition of the children’s clothes, in the East End of London for poor children to receive some basic education. A young boy Jim Jarvis from the mission showed Barnardo round the streets one cold night, children were sleeping on roofs huddled together for warmth. This sight effected Barnardo greatly and he decided to dedicate his time and efforts to helping destitute children. In 1870 Barnardo opened the first home for boys in Stepney Causeway. One evening a boy, John Somers was turned away from the home because it was full. He was found two days later dead from malnutrition and exposure. The home from that day had a sigh which read “No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission”. Barnardo opened a home for girls in Barkingside which housed 1,500 girls. The aim of these homes was by the time children left they had a skill to help them make their way in the world and make a contribution to society. Boys learnt a craft or trade, girls learnt domestic skills. Barnardo believed that family life was the best for children to be bought up in. He started the first fostering scheme boarding out children to well to do families; he also started a scheme to board out babies born to unmarried mothers. The mothers worked in service nearby so they could still see their off spring. Victorians looked upon poverty, something they had helped to create, as shameful. They believed it came about through vice and laziness. Thomas Barnardo felt that all children, no matter what background they had come from deserved a chance and the best start in life . A philosophy that still inspires the charity today.
Even though Barnardo was seen as a benevolent person there were still those who opposed him and tried to undermine his efforts. He was accused of having liaisons with a prostitute, falsifying photographs by dressing children in ragged clothes and miss using funds. All this was unfounded.(Cambridge University 1998)
In 1946 The Curtis Report was published it was a national report on children “deprived of a normal home life”. Children were acknowledged as the nation’s responsibility. This report was the backbone of the Children’s Act of 1948 which placed local authorities responsible for the care of homeless and those children in need.
Another Act that helped to change history and the plight of children for ever is the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The Reverend George Staite caused a public stir in writing a letter to the Liverpool Mercury dated 1881 in it he asked “Whilst we have a society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, can we not do something to prevent cruelty to children?” This statement summed up the callous way the late Victorian era still treated its children. Social attitudes of Victorian people saw a very distinct line between public and private lives. Lord Shaftesbury, who himself had campaigned successfully for the Mines Act of 1842, warned Reverend Staite against trying to help protect children using the legal system. Shaftesbury said “the evils you state are enormous and indisputable, but they are of so private, internal beyond the reach of legislation”. However by 1884 The London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was born. Lord Shaftesbury was given the post of President and the Reverend Benjamin Waugh and Reverend Edward Rudolf were joint honorary secretaries. Waugh lived in Greenwich in London, and after seeing the high levels of child cruelty in the area, wanted to draw public and government attention to the unnecessary suffering of the children. The London Society lobbed parliament hard and succeeded in changing the law through what was called “Children’s Charters.” These charters reduced the parental powers. The society recognised that most neglect and abuse happened at home. An annual meeting was held in 1889 and the name of the society was changed to the “National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.” Queen Victoria became patron and Waugh the director. In 1889 the society had thirty two branches across the UK. Inspectors were paid by raising funds. They investigated reports of abuse and neglect usually from neighbours. The public had finally got behind this Act and by 1901 the NSPPC had 250 inspectors and had had over 50,000 complaints. The NSPPC continues to uphold the traditions set in place by its founders; it acts as an independent voice of children and young people to this day.(Hendrick,H.2003)
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With more children now attending school scientific studies showed that were serious health issues. These studies lead to the 1906 Welfare Act .Until this Act was in place free school meals for children of poor families were suggested but optional so some local authorise did not provide them. By 1914 150,000 children were getting one good meal a day. These studies also paved the way for the 1907Act that meant that all children who attended school were entitled to a free health check. The floor in this Act was that not all children went to school and were still working more times than not to keep their family from poverty.
In 1986 a National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) came into effect in the UK and a similar attitude to that of the Victorians recurred with parents having concerns about links between vaccinations specifically the MMR and neurological problems. Research was headed by Dr Andrew Wakefield at the Royal Free Hospital London. The research suggested that there were links between the MMR vaccination and autism in children. It went on to also make possible links to bowel disease. Two reports in1998 and 1999 looked at the evidence from Dr Wakefield’s team and concluded that firstly there was no evidence to link the MMR to autism or bowel disease and secondly that there was not enough information available to cause concern about the safety of the MMR vaccination. The Department of Health did acknowledge that the final decision was with the parents or guardian of the child but they had no hesitation to advice the use of the MMR vaccine. In 2001 (WHO) the World Health Organisation came out in a report supporting the MMR vaccine (MacLeod-Brudenell 2004).
Even though things have improved for children from Victorian times, things are still not ideal for our children of today. Poverty is still a major concern in the 21st century .Three times as many people are living relative poverty compared to 1979. Families are experiencing high levels of divorce, separation and traditional networks decrease(DSS 1999a).These changes have an adverse impact on children’s emotional well-being and physical health. Children who live in families experiencing relative poverty are; less likely to eat healthy, to be breastfeed for any length of time, to do well in school and more likely to have childhood accidents, to have parents that smoke and have parents that suffer from depression. After the death of an eight year old girl ,Victoria Climbie, she was tortured and killed by her aunt and partner. Lord Laming chaired a public inquiry it asked how in the 21st century this little girl could have been failed so miserably. After the Laming Report, a minister for children,. The government published the green paper “Every Child Matters.”(DfES 2003)The spirit of this paper is positive. This policy outlined the care that needed to be in place to protect our children including the National Service Framework(NSF) for children’s health, Sure Start for families with children under five, improve access to health food, and reduce child poverty.(Miller,L.2002)
In conclusion, from Victorian days up to modern times there have been pioneers who developed vaccinations such as Edward Jenner’s small pox inoculation to Lord Shaftesbury’s law to protect the chimney sweep boys. However, any changes no matter how well intended have had some serious implications to families’ ability to survive poverty. Further, even though there were laws to ensure the authorities did take care of the poorest in society, reforms to protect children from working had serious implication to their ability to fulfil their role.
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