Children’s Welfare History Workshop

I’m am pleased to present this thoughtful report of the workshop. Paula Rees-Rehwald is a student of mine and I’m so excited to showcase her work here. She is a mature student with 20 years previous employment and experience within the Humanitarian, Social and Education sectors. She is about to start her final, undergraduate year, studying Social Policy with the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University.

Merging History and Social Policy and while wearing a historian’s hat:

Children’s Welfare History Workshop. Children’s welfare, past, present and future.

The first Children’s Welfare History Workshop was held on 2 August 2016, organized by Dr. Lesley Hulonce and sponsored by the College of Human and Health Sciences. The workshop was led by leading historians, academics, authors, care leavers, teachers and practitioners of midwifery. Attended by academics, professionals, students and general public, the workshop was dynamic, exiting and thought provoking, and was a great success.


Each presentation addressed an area relating to the welfare of children. At the end of each session, as questions arose in my mind, the following presentations answered many of my questions. Open floor questions enabled the subject matter to be further questioned, challenged or queried.

The workshop addressed areas that had influenced history and social policy over times past and present. Being a Social Policy student, I was particularly interested in the workshop from a policy perspective and its historical development, as the merging of history and the contemporary legislation allows us to be progressive with future policies, as history advances us through knowledge and experience to create that better future.
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Lesley Hulonce opened the workshop speaking of “Children’s Remembrances”, a new term that defines the nostalgic experiences of complications, pleasures and hardships of childhood feelings throughout the poor law era and beyond. Memoirs from the lives of James Howard and his feelings on corporal punishment, Charlie Chaplin on the workhouse and Moses Rees on institutionalisation were but a few examples of how policy impacted on the welfare of children.

Following on from Victorian life and Social Policy experiences, Carol Floris, (co-ordinator) and Jennifer Coleman (volunteer) from the charitable organisation Voices From Care (VFC), shared autobiographical accounts of their experiences as children growing up in the care system.. Their presentation not only shared their personal journey and feelings but represented a larger voice, a voice for all the children leaving, or in care today. These are the voices that can help change social attitudes and shape the policy making of the future.

It was at this point I found myself putting on the historian’s hat so to speak, a hat which I kept on for the rest of the day, thinking about history with the mindfulness of children’s welfare which I have always possessed, and from the perspective of my own field of study, social policy. It made for an exciting and enriching experience, and I gained a deeper insight and understanding of children’s welfare throughout history, building upon my own knowledge gained through working in the humanitarian, social and education sectors.

Next to speak was Anthony Rhys, a talented Victorian era Artist and Special Educational Needs teacher (SEN). He spoke of his field and his joy of working with children. A video of his students in classrooms with progressive technology and advanced teaching facilities was a beautiful example of how social attitudes have advanced from institutionalisation under the poor law. It was a poignant moment demonstrating where we are today and how policy must continue to strive for egalitarianism- total equality for children and their welfare.

Taking a look at pre-school education, Dr. Daryl Leeworthy presented “Democracy in the nursery: Welfare and Education in interwar Britain”. Speaking of the interwar years he demonstrated how legislation has developed the nursery model, policy provisions and the connection between health and education as a result of that period.

Socio-cultural historian, Dr Helen Rogers, allowed us a sneak preview of her new book “Conviction: stories from a nineteenth century prison”. Writing in present tense, Helen enables the readers to feel childhood emotions through the children’s characters. Digressing away from her traditional academic style she writes in a way that shows rather than tells.

Dr Steven Taylor spoke of the emigration of British Children to Canada in the late 19th Century. The microhistory approach demonstrated that this policy idea was considered positive. Yet some children were sent away without the parent’s knowledge and children’s experiences of social inclusion varied, again providing an example of policy at that time.

Throughout the day each presentation questioned, answered, intrigued and provoked the mind regarding strategies of care, treatment and policy. They stirred empathy within the mind and heart, making you feel as though you were that Victorian child in the workhouse, the child currently in state care or the care leaver of today and more importantly, the child you would be in the future.

Keynote speaker Dr Alysa Levene brought the child in us all to the surface with quotes from children’s author Roald Dahl that represented the meaning within her talk on “shaping the children of the poor”. She demonstrated how the children of Poor Law were historically presented to society, such as Charles Dickens’ characters, The Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist which gave a perfect example of the attitudes towards the deserving and undeserving child.

Finally, Midwife Susanne Darra presented “coping, help and coherence: The impact of birth on mothers and their children” addressing the problems of intervention in birth and highlighting the importance of the importance of considering the well-being and welfare of mother and child.

The success of the event coincided with the success of Lesley Hulonce’s book launch, also occurring that evening. I left the workshop ready to read the works of all speakers. I found myself putting on a historian’s hat for the day, and to be quite honest, I don’t think I will completely take it off for the remainder of my studies, instead I will interchange the hat I wear, and at times I will wear them both.

Our world is as it is today because of yesterday. So with my newly acquired historian’s hat under one arm and my social policy hat under the other I go to broaden my research on childhoods past and gain a richer, historic and empathetic understanding of the effects of previous policy.

For one day, today’s policies are history in action, and children’s welfare, past and present, will lead us to successfully improving welfare and provision. As each day, because of history, we progressively advance social policy for the future.

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