Monday, 26 September 2016

Bromley (Kent) Poor Law Union children fostered 1885-1902

The Boarding Out Committee of Bromley Poor Law Union minutes in the first volume of held by Bromley Historic Collections record the development of the use of foster care for children in the care of the Union.
The 25 November 1870  General Order of the Local Government Board relating to the boarding out of pauper children formed the basis on which Poor Law Guardians could establish such provision. It was not until 1885 that the Guardians of the Bromley Poor Law Union established a Committee and elected a Chairman to effectively organise the placement of orphans or deserted children in "cottage homes" within the Union parishes. The criteria for children eligible to be placed was changed by an 1889 Local Government Order which widely expanded the eligibility for boarding out.
Although the record does not contain numbers of the children in the Union Workhouse at Locksbottom from 1885-1888 it does offer a clear record of each child and names and locations of their foster parents.
A total of 36 children were placed in 1885 and by 1887 this had reduced to 33. In 1888 the minutes record that 17 boys and 16 girls were located in the following parishes:
Green Street Green         2 boys
Farnborough                  1 boy      2 girls
Chelsfield                     2 boys     3 girls
Saint Mary Cray            5 boys
Saint Paul's Cray           no boys   2 girls
Bromley                       5 boys     4 girls
Hayes                           no boys   3 girls
West Wickham              1 boy      2 girls
Cudham                        1 boys     no girls
It is worth noting that this first group of children up to the beginning of 1887 are generally in settled foster care with few changes of foster parent unless essential and this group of children are visited by Relieving Offiver every two weeks. The Committee advertises the need for suitable foster parents and each District Relieving Officer must visit and inspect accommodation before the Commitee request the foster parent attends and completes a written undertaking before Committee.
In 1888 although the total number of children in the Workhouse is not known 12 children are said to be eligible in addition to 35 children boarded out by the end of 1888 7 children 5 boys and 2 girls remain awaiting foster carers.
The implications of the 1889 Local Government Order are considered by Committee - of 46 children in the Workhouse the Guardians identify 36 children now eligible for Boarding Out. The Committee finds and approves suitable foster parents in the Union so that by August 1889 23 children eligible are either in the Workhouse or in convalescent home at Ramsgate and by the final quarter meeting 8 boys and four girls await approval of Committee. It is also noteworthy that at the same time of this large increase in foster care two orphan infant girls and four months and thirteen months are subject of efforts to place with adoptive parents.
Bromley Poor Law Union had four districts each with a Relieving Officer and district Medical Officer. Both of these Union officers were required to report to the Committee;the Relieving Officer was required to see each child in his district in their foster home and make reports to Committe by entries on the back of report sheets. In May 1890 there remains only one child called Margaret age seven in the Workhouse eligible for foster parents and there are a number of foster parents approved and available to receive children. The expansion of the foster care leads the all male Committee to include Miss Isabella F Akers to join the Committee and this female pioneer is to dramatically change the care of foster children in Bromley. The Commitee also has a severe imbalance in demands upon it's Relieving Officers. It is estimated that around 60 children are cared for in 1890 of which 41 children are in the Bromley district reflecting the growth of population of the town and Bromley Common district. In addition to 82 visits a fortnight there are also responsibilities to escort Lunatics to the County Asylum at Barming Heath recorded in the Bromley Poor Law Union Lunacy Registers. In another district the Relieving Officer has 14 children to visit. Clearly the Guardians need to resolve these pressures.
In 1891 the Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children lead the Boarding Out Commitee to take all children in the Union under protection of that act and 65 children are recorded as being boarded out with an additional population of after care for those who have entered training or employment and are funded at either "full pay" or "half pay" by the Guardians.
In 1892 there are 30 children in the Workhouse 9 are eligible for boarding out and 3 for entry into service. Potential foster parents continue to exceed the need for children and Miss Akers by now an influential member of the otherwise male Committe begins to formulate plans to alter the handling of foster parents. In 1893 she gives formal notice to Comittee of a formal resolution to form a Ladies Committee of female vistors to take over responsibility for visiting each child and foster parent and presenting reports to the Boarding out Committee. Her proposal is unanimously approved on 22 December and she works with the Boarding out Committe clerk Robert Gordon Mullen to produce a printed Handbook for Lady Visitors.In January 1895 female Visitors from each parish in the Union are appointed by the Guardians who enter into correspondence with the Local Government Board to approve existing "Lady Visitors" and approve the change in treatment.
Bromley Poor Law Union was by no means unique in forming such a service but it is testament to Isabella Akers thorough work in her proposal that the Local Government endorses it;the only debate is with the Bromley Union custom and practice about paying foster parents for clothes mending and the remuneration for medical reports. Bromley Union subsequently conforms in both matters. Bromley Union records are a rare survival that enables searchers to explore this development in detail.
From early 1894 the Lady Visitors undertake visits to foster parents and I will blog on another occasion about the criteria used by them;one  Visitor Mrs Thomasset declines to follow the handbook instruction to examine boys underwear and the Committee approves her suggestion that she would prefer to visit "in her own way" to satisfy the Committee that clothing and food were adequate.
During 1893/4 the need for Roman Catholic foster parents vexes the Lady Visitors and Roman Catholic parishes as well as Boarding Out Committee. The Presbytery clergy at Saint Mary Cray are eneregetic in reminding the Committe that no child should be cared for by foster parents of another creed. Within Bromley Union no Roman Catholic foster parents can be found despite efforts on all sides and until 1902 this position does not improve resulting in children being boarded out where possible attending church and even Roman Catholic school. It also results in placement in a Roman Catholic institution rather than with foster parents.
During 1895 number of children in the Workhouse fluctuate from 52 in May to 93 during February 1895 but none are identified to the Committee as eligible for Boarding Out.
In 1896 a formally constitiuted Ladies Committe approved by the Local Government Board assumes full responsibilty for the care of children removing Relieving |Officers from visits unless requested by Committe Chairman or Clerk the number of children in the Workhouse fluctuates seasonally between 60-84 children while around 50 are boarded out with a number visited by ladies in after care.
From 1899-1902 only the number of children on full pay are reported to the Boarding out Committee so no number of children in the Workhouse is routinely reported In each year the following number of children are fully funded in foster homes:
1899     40
1900     41
1901     32
1902     33 to May 1902 when the record ends.
It will be seen that this volume of records contains phases of the development of foster care in Bromley. The initial phase found and supported children and foster carers and met the needs of children to live outside the workhouse and attend local village or town schools.
The impact of Miss Akers reforms until her illness in 1901 reduced her contribution and her death in 1903 is enormous and the by the time of her death female membership of the Boarding Out Committe under long serving Chairman Mister Gedney emerges from the record. The relationship between visitor and child continues into adulthood in many lives and the appreciation and support for valued long suffering foster parents is also evident.
It is worth recalling that throughout this period other well known fostering initiatives were beginning;two years after Bromley Union Doctor Barnado was to introduce fostering to help children in his care and other Doctors had developed after care for children from Workhouses. At the time of this record working class men did not have the vote neither did women have universal suffrage.
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