The Waifs and Strays Story

Into the Modern Era

Vaughan's successor as the Society's chief, a post which now became known as 'Director', was Colonel E. St. J. Birnie. It was Birnie who was to oversee the transformation of the Society from a Victorian rescue mission to a modern agency which promoted the welfare of underprivileged children. Its aims and objects, revised in 1952, were now summarised, in order of priority, as follows:

(a) Provided home conditions are reasonably satisfactory, the Society considers that the child's best chance of development and happiness is to remain with his or her mother or parents. In cases of financial distress the Society provides grants to enable this policy to be carried out.

(b) If it is inadvisable for the child to remain with the parents or parent, and unless the help is of temporary nature, the next best prospect is adoption.

(c) If neither of the above two courses is practicable or desirable, the third best procedure is to board-out the child with foster-parents, so that he or she can be brought up in a natural home.

(d) Children who cannot be cared for in natural homes are sent to one of the Society's Nurseries or Homes, where every effort is made to give them security. Some become available for adoption or boarding-out and are provided with natural homes as soon as possible. The remainder stay in the Society's Homes until they are old enough to go out to work. The Society is strongly opposed to anything of an institutional nature in the conduct of its Homes. It does its best to provide the children with as many outside contacts as possible so that they can obtain self-reliance and knowledge of the outside world, before they leave the Society's direct care.

By the 1970s, great changes had taken place in social attitudes towards matters such as lone parenting and abortion. At the same time, there were fewer children entering children's homes or being placed for adoption by voluntary agencies as local social services departments increased their activity in this area. As a result, the Children's Society made two major changes to the way it worked. The first, and most visible, was the closure of many of its children's homes. Second, it moved away from adoption and fostering and began to focus on helping young people solve their own problems.

A new initiative began in 1969 when the Society opened its first day-care centre at Foulkes House in south London. It offered support for one-parent families and those affected by illness, stress or severe poverty. The success of the venture led to the Society opening further centres across the country, often on the sites of its former residential nurseries.

The Society also opened a series of purpose-built family centres, often run in conjunction with local social services departments. In 1981, the Society's centenary year, twelve new family centres were opened in locations on large housing estates. Other projects at this period included the opening of toy libraries and soft play areas, and the setting up of information services to offer help with welfare rights.

In 1982, the Society shortened its name to just 'The Children's Society'. 1986, the Society's headquarters moved from their long-standing home at the Old Town Hall in Kennington and is now based at Edward Rudolf House on Margery Street, London.