History of Child Welfare

Page last modified 20/9/2020


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See also Crime and Punishment

See also Morals and Fashion

See also Education - Schools


1995, The Anti-Slavery Association estimated that,worldwide, between 104 million and 146 children worked,making things like car parts.

1991, In Britain the Child Support Agency (CSA) was set up.  The principle was to trace errant absent fathers not paying maintenance for their children. However single mothers acting ‘unreasonably’ in failing to divulge details of the father faced Benefits sanctions, leading to accusations that the CSA was in fact to save the Treausry money, rather than assist single mothers.

1986, In Britain, Childline was set up for children to ring confidentially if they were being sexually or physically abused.

1975, In the UK, the Childrens Act made it possible for adopted children to know their original family name once they reached age 18.

1/8/1963, In the UK, the minimum age for prison was raised to 17 by the Criminal Justice Act.

1938, US President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set 16 as the minimum employment age during school hours (for companies which sold their products across State borders). The Act also set minimu age 18 for ‘dangerous occupations’, and age 14 was the minimum age employment for work outside school hours, except for mining and manufacturing work.

1937, The Factory Act prohibited persons under 16 from working more than 44 hours a week. Persons aged 16 – 18, and women, were limited to 48 hours a week.

1935, In the USSR, Joseph Stalin decreed that children over 12 were subject to the same draconian laws as adults – for example, 5 years in a labour camp for stealing cucumbers, or 8 years for stealing corn or potatoes.

1933, In the UK, the Children and Young Offenders Act raised the age band for being tried at a juvenile court from 7 -  16 upwards to age range 8 – 17. See 1908.

1/9/1916, In the US the Keating-Owen Act was signed, outlawing work in mines and on night shifts by children under 16. Daytime shifts formunder-16s were limited to 8 hours, and interstate commerce in articles made by children under 14 was banned.

4/1/1910, The first Juvenile Courts in Britain opened in London.

1908, In the UK, the Children and Young Persons Act abolished the practice of sending children aged under 14 to prison. The death penalty was abolished for persons aged under 16; prior to this children as young as seven could face the death penalty. Special juvenile courts were set up for young offenders aged 7 to 16. This Act also made it an offence for parents to neglect their children’s health. See 1933. See also Crime and Punishment.

Other provisions of this Act included;

1)      Children were now ‘protected persons’ and their parents could be prosecuted for neglect or cruelty.

2)      Regular inspection of children’s (orphan’s) homes was instituted.

3)      Public House operators were prohibited from admitting children aged under 14, or selling alcohol to children. Tobacco could not be sold to children aged under 16..

9/12/1908, Germany introduced restrictions on the hours that women and children could work in factories.

1906, In the UK, The Education (Provision of Meals) Act allowed local authorities to use public money to provide free meals for children of poor parents. See also prices and the economy, years 1846 and 1834. The significance of this Act was that children were now being seen as a national asset for the future.

1906, In the USA the National Child Labor Committee lobbied to end ‘Our National Disgrace’ – child workers in factories. Their poster child was a 14-year-old named Fannie Harris who in 1896 in New York testified that she work a 60-hour week,5 12-hour shifts, in a garment sweatshop. She was illiterate,and her mother lived off her wages.

19/9/1905, Doctor Thomas Barnardo, who set up over 112 homes for deprived children from 1867, died aged 60 at Surbiton, SW London.

1901, In Britain the Factories and Workshops Act raised the minimum age of employment in factories to 12.

1900, France limited the working day for women and children to 11 hours.

1892, Italy raised the minimum age for marriage for girls to 12.

1891, In Britain the Factories and Workshops (Consolidation) Act raised the minimum age of employment in factories to 11.

1889, In the UK, The Prevention of Cruelty and Protection of Children Act provided for the removal of children from homes deemed dangerous to their health and wellbeing. This often meant deprived househilds where the children had to work to supplement the household income.

1886, Italy made it illegal to employ children aged under 9, or under 10 in mines, or under 12 in night work.

1/10/1885, Lord Shaftesbury, reformer who made it illegal for children to work in factories, died this day. Many of London’s poor turned out to pay tribute.

8/7/1884. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded in London.

1878, In Britain the Factory and Workshops Act moved the responsibility of inspection from local councils 9many ofwhom could not afford to carry out this duty) to a central Government authority. There was still a problem in ensuring that work regulations were adhered to in the case of servants in private houses.

1876, The UK’s Elementary Education Act forbade the employment of children under 11, and none were to be employed between ages 11 and 13 unless they had obtained a certificate of education of having reached a standard set by the local bylaws of the district.

1874, In Brtiain the Factory Act raised the minimum age of employment to 9 in all sectors. Women and all young people to work no more than 10 hours a day in the textiles industry. Children under 14 to work only half a day.

1873, The UK’s Agricultural Children’s Act forbade the employment of children aged 8-10 unless the parent certified that the child had completed 250 attendances at school the previous year; for children over 10, 150 attendances were required.

1872, The UK’s Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act prohibited the employment of any children aged under 12 in mines.

1872, Dr Barnardo founded the Girls Village Home at Barkingside, near Ilford.

1871, Lord Shaftesbury spoke in Parliament about the appalling conditions he had seen children working in at brickworks. They were carrying heavy loads of bricks or clay, and enduring intense heat in kiln areas.

1867, Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905) established the East End Mission for Destitute Children. This subsequently expanded to comprise a number of homes across London, known as ‘Dr Barnardo’s Homes’. The organisation is now the charity known as Barnardos, the largest child care charity in the UK.

1867, The UK Factory Acts (Extension) Act extended all previous Factory Acts to all places of employment with more than 50 employees. The UK Agricultural Gangs Act 1867 forbade the employment of any child aged under 8 by a roving gangmaster, whose ‘public gangs’ (as opposed to the so-called ‘private gangs’, organised by the farmer himself) moved about in the eastern counties of England, from Norfolk and Suffolk through Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire and the Fens up to Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. Children represented cheaper labour, but were prone to exploitation. This Act also forbade the employment of female children by a male Gangmaster. The labour of these gangs included draining marshy areas like the Fens. See also agriculture, school education.

1866, Massachusetts ruled that childen under 10 could not work in textiles mills.

1864, In Britain the Factory Acts (Extension) Act extended the regulations on child employment hours in textiles and mining sectors to other dangerous sectors, including match-making, pottery and cartridge manufacture.

1862, In the UK, the Children’s Employment Commission was appointed to investigate the conditions of work in as-yet unregulated work sectors.

1859, The world’s first children’s playgrounds opened in Manchester, UK. Horizontal bars and swings were installed in Queen’s Park and Philips Park.

1850, In Britain the Factory Act now limited the times of day that women and young persons could be employed. They could only  work between 6am and 6pm, with 1 hour break for meals. In 1853 a new Factory Act extended the compulsory meal break for children to 1 ½ hours.

1848, Pennsylvania ruled that children aged under 12 could not work in cotton, woollen or silk mills.

8/6/1847. Britain passed the Factory Act, limiting the working day of women and children aged 13 to 18 to ten hours.

1844, The Factories Act prohibited the employment of all women (aged 18 and over), and youths of both  sexes aged between 13 and 18, from working more than 12 hours a day in textiles factories. Maximum work hours for children under 13 were reduced from 9 to 6 ½, however the mimum age for children starting work was reduced from 9 to 8. In the US, Massachusetts legislated to limit the working day of children under 12 to 10 hours a day. This Act also provided for dangerous machinery ti be fenced off, and a separate area for eating meals in factories.

1842, Connecticut limited the working day for children aged under 14 to twelve hours.

1842, In Britain the Mines and Collieries Act prohibited both women, and all children aged under 10, from being employed underground. Inspectors of mines were appointed.

See also Geology and Mining for more on mining technology and legislation

1837, Child workers as young as seven were frequently employed in US textile mills (they could work the machinery just as well as adults could), and could be whipped with leather straps for disobedience. They could be ‘employed’ on much lower wages than adults, and made up half the workforce of many mills.

1834, The UK’s Chimney Sweeps Act forbade the apprenticing of any boy in this trade aged under 10, amended to under 16 in 1840.

1833, In Britain the Factory Act further restricted the employment of children in textiles factories. Children aged 9 to 13 to work no more than 9 hours a day and no more than 48 hours a week. Young persons aged 14 to 18 to work no more than 12 hours a day or 69 hours a week. No child under 9 to be employed in any textile factory except silk mills. No night work by anyone aged under 18 in any textile works except in lace factories. All children aged 9 to 11 (later, 13) to receive 2 hours compulsory education every day. Although some poor families claimed their 10 – 12 year old children were really 13, the start of compulsory registration of births, marrigaes and deaths in Britain in 1836 was to solve this problem. However there were scant funds provided for education, so only a very few more progressive factory owners provided the required education. There were also far too few factory inspectors; four to cover the whole country. After one died of overwork in 1836, more assistant inspectors were appointed,

1832, France made it illegal to ‘commit an act of indecency’ against a child aged under 11.

1831, In Britain the Truck Act prohibited payment for all workers in tokens and goods; all workers except domestic servants to be paid in coinage only. No young people aged under 18 to work more than 12 hours a day.

1819, In Britain the Cotton Mills and Factories Act prohibited the employment of children under 9 in cotton mills. Those aged 9 and over were restricted to a 12-hour day. Peel and Owen had wanted a 10-year age limit.

See also Education for improvements in Child Education during the 19th Century

1802, In Britain, the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act prohibited workhouse children apprenticed to textile factories from working more than 12 hours a day, and they could not work after 9pm; they were also to be provided with elementary education. They were also to be given two sets of clothes a year, sleep no more than two to a bed, and boys and girls were to sleep separately. The Overseer of the Poor and local magistrates were supposed to monitor compliance with this Act but often failed to do so. This was because local magistrates were often friends of the mill owner.

Many pauper children from London were being sent to textile factories in the north of England to work long hours. Sir Robert Peel, the Bill’s proposer, objected that this practice allowed exploitation of children, far from their parents.

24/1/1800, Sir Edwin Chadwick, physician who promoted the Ten Hour Bill in the UK Parliament, which restricted children working in factories to a ten-hour day, was born in Longsight, Lancashire.

1601,The Poor Laws of England permitted ‘binding out’of children, effectively a form of slave labour.They had to obey all orders of their master,who was paid a State allowance for their food. They seldom learned a useful trade, but were utilised for menial tasks until discarded at adulthood.


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