When Thomas Barnardo left his native Dublin in 1867 to start his medical training in London, he was shocked by the conditions facing the poor in the East End of the city and especially the impact on children. In Victorian times, 1 in 5 children never lived to celebrate their 5th birthday. In those times, the poor were blamed for their poverty since it was thought they were guilty of vices (especially drink) and too lazy to work. Children would often be abandoned on the streets to make their way as well as they could by sleeping on roofs or in the gutters.
Barnardo started his work by setting up a ‘ragged school’ offering free education to boys. Three years later in 1870, he set up a home for boys and helped them to train and find places as apprentices. After his marriage in 1873, his wife played a crucial role in helping girls as well by opening a separate home for girls on the 60-acre Barkingside site.
Apart from helping the poverty-stricken, Thomas Barnardo had a number of other revolutionary ideas. Instead of keeping all the children in sterile impersonal dormitories, he advocated the ‘cottage homes’ model. In this innovative approach, children lived in smaller cottages with a ‘house mother’, which tried as much as possible to reproduce the informality of a family home. The child charity was also the first to later promote the idea of fostering so that children lived in a real family home
After the 2nd World War, studies proved how the separation of children from their parents had had a detrimental effect on the children’s development. In fact, by the end of the 1950s, nearly a quarter of the charity’s funding was used to ensure children remained in the family home even when ill health or an accident prevented the parents from earning.
Major societal changes such as the improved provision for the poor through the welfare state and the acceptance of single parents affected the charity. Easier access to payday loans online eases the situation for struggling parents who might have urgent need for cash, and often from the best in the UK. As a result, children’s homes are no longer necessary as they used to be.
Despite the closure of their residential homes, this doesn’t mean that the charity no longer has a role to play in contemporary society. In 2017-18, Barnardo’s helped over 300,000 children and their families in the UK. They deal with issues as diverse as drug abuse, domestic violence, the challenges of disability and sexual abuse. They are dedicated to helping and safeguarding children whatever their circumstances, gender, race, disability and behaviour. Their objective is to strengthen family ties and ensure that all children have a secure and happy childhood. The charity is still vocal in raising awareness about issues which have a direct impact on the futures of vulnerable children and continue to shape government policy.