The National Children's Home Story
The End of the Homes
Between 1950 and 1969, under the directorship of John Waterhouse, a gradual change began to take place in the direction of the National Children's Home. During that period, fourteen old homes were closed and eighteen new ones opened, although some of these such as Newcastle and Scarborough were simply relocations of existing branch homes. Others, such as two hostels at Manchester, the nursery at Ealing, and the Springside nursery and the Firbank diabetic unit (both at Frodsham) reflected a growing trend towards more targeted provision. This was also apparent in the eight homes that changed their use during this period, with the Edgworth and Bramhope becoming Special Schools, and the former Elmfield TB Sanatorium at Harpenden being converted to a Special School for physically handicapped children.
One rather different home emerged out of the NCH's centenary celebrations in 1969 (also the United Nations International Year of the Child) with the proposal to launch a welfare project in a developing country. The area chosen for this initiative was East Caribbean, initially in Barbados and St Lucia. After expanding to other islands, a training centre and residential care home was set up in Jamaica.
Back in Britain, though, the tide was turning away from the Home's long-held principle of 'rescuing' children from bad surroundings and towards alternatives such as boarding out, adoption, and supporting families to allow children to stay with their natural parents. Charities such as the NCH were increasingly affected by the financial burden of providing long-term residential care, and by the growing provision of residential care by local authorities. Enormous social changes also took place in the 1960s and 70s such as the rise in the numbers of single-parent families, divorces, and couples cohabiting. The children in need of new homes were increasingly likely to be older, have a disability, have emotional or social problems, or be from an ethnic minority.
The 1980s onwards saw a major change in the NCH's focus towards more specialist projects. These included residential facilities for children with particular physical, mental or emotional difficulties, family support schemes, and help for young offenders, homeless youngsters and those leaving care. These projects have included:
- The Bristol Housing Project (1987) — three houses, each with a resident adult, housing a total of thirteen young people aged 18-plus.
- The Calderdale Leaving Care Project (1987) — a support scheme, based in Halifax, West Yorkshire, for young people leaving care.
- The Share Youth Counselling Project (1990) — based in Bodmin and providing counselling and support for youngsters with a wide variety of problems including homelessness, relationship difficulties, and sexual abuse.
- The Beacon Heath Family Centre (1990) — located near Exeter, providing a wide range of family support resources including counselling, child protection issues, parenting skills and respite care.
- The San Jai Project (1985) — support for the Chinese community in Glasgow and the Strathclyde area.
- The West Suffolk Youth Justice Centre (1992) — a centre in Bury St Edmunds working with young offenders aged ten to eighteen.
As the NCH changed its focus, the large old homes were gradually wound down and eventually sold off. Two of the largest sites, Harpenden and Frodsham both closed in 1985. The same year marked the disbanding of the Sisterhood, the group of devoted women who for many years had managed the charity's homes.
In 1994, reflecting its new outlook, the NCH was renamed NCH Action for Children with the name being shortened in 2008 to just Action For Children.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.