In the last century, several thousand British children, mainly in the care of voluntary organisations, were emigrated to former Dominions - mainly Australia, Canada and New Zealand - under several schemes involving the British Government, the Governments of the receiving countries and the voluntary organisations who operated the schemes.
It is estimated that there were about 150,000 child migrants. Many children were welcomed in loving homes but some were very badly treated and had to work long hours without proper nurturing or education. Some children were told that their parents were dead although they were still alive. Most lost contact with their families.
The voluntary organisations were:
- Barnardo's (Dr Barnardo's) - Liverpool Sheltering homes, MacPherson Homes and Marchmont Homes
- Catholic Agencies and Orders
- Fairbridge - Fairbridge Society, Fairbridge Farm Schools
- Children's Friend Society
- The Children's Society - formerly The Church of England Waifs and Strays Society
- National Children's Home (NCH) - formerly National Children's Home and Orphanage
- Middlemore - Middlemore Homes
- The Salvation Army
- Fegan's Child and Family Care - formerly Fegan's Homes
- Quarriers - formerly The Orphan Homes of Scotland and Quarrier's Homes
The exact number of child migrants to Australia is not known, but estimates suggest that, from 1947 to 1967, between 7000 and 10,000 children were sent to Australia. A feature of the scheme was the care of children in residential institutions rather than by foster care or adoption. Most were placed in the care of Barnardo's, the Fairbridge Society, the Church of England and the Christian Brothers. The House of Commons Health Committee concluded that 'children were placed in large, often isolated institutions and were often subjected to harsh, sometimes intentionally brutal, regimes of work and discipline, unmodified by any real nurturing or encouragement. The institutions were inadequately supervised, monitored and inspected'.
In 2009, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologised on behalf of the government for the harm done to all those who had been abused in care, including child migrants.
Barnardo's (Dr Barnardo's)
Barnardo's was involved in migrating 30,000 children and young people to Canada between 1882 and 1939. This agency sent around 2784 children and young people to Australia between 1921 and 1967.
Children's Friends Society
As many as 230 children arrived in Canada through the auspices of the Children's Friends Society.
National Children's Home (NCH) - formerly National Children's Home and Orphanage
Records show that between 1873 - 1931, a total of 3,600 children migrated to Canada from Britain through the National Children's Homes and Orphanages child migration scheme.
Fegan's Child and Family Care - formerly Fegan's Homes
Around 3,166 boys were migrated to Canada between 1884 to 1938.
Quarriers - formerly the Orphan Homes of Scotland and Quarriers Homes
Around 7,000 children were sent to Canada between 1869 and 1939.
The UK Government recognised that the priority for most children who were separated from their families through these schemes was to re-establish contact and - where possible - to reunite with their family. The Government, therefore, offered two new kinds of help:
- an Information Index to help those who wish to find their family;
- a Support Fund to help those without means who have found their family to reunite.
In addition, the Government has also made available extra funding for the Child Migrants Trust, which offers an independent, specialised service for former child migrants and their families.
In February 2010 the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, made an official apology for the child resettlement programme and announced a £6million fund designed to compensate those affected. Information can be found at UK Government Apology.
Child Migrants Trust
In 1987 a specialist social work agency, the Child Migrants Trust, was established with branches in Perth, Melbourne and the United Kingdom. The Trust contributed to public awareness of the history of child migrants and the mental and physical abuses suffered by many of the children. It continues to provide counselling services to child migrants, help with reuniting families and acts as a lobby group. Although not all children claim mistreatment, the Trust points out that 'little attention was given to the long-term implications pf separating children, from their families, their friens, their social context and their country on a permanent basis'.
Awareness of the history of the scheme and its legacy also resulted from the work of Margaret Humphreys, founder of the Child Migrants Trust. Humphreys visited Australia a number of times in the 1980s and assisted in establishing the Australian branches. She was awarded an Order of Australia in 1993 for her work with child migrants in Australia. Humphrey's book Empty Cradles along with a number of other books and television series, notably Lost Children of the Empire broadcast in 1989, helped in the successful campaign to have the British government inquire into the scheme and the welfare of former migrants.
In 2011 Empty Cradles was made into a film called Oranges and Sunshine . It tells the story of Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), a social worker from Nottingham, who uncovered one of the most significant social scandals of recent times - the mass deportation of children from the United Kingdom to Australia. single-handedly and against overwhelming odds, Margaret reunited thousands of families and drew worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice. More information can be found at Child Migrants Trust.
Information about which groups or organisations that might be able to offer assistance, in cluding details of useful contacts in Australia, Canada and New Zealand can be found at Further Information.