Including the Excluded: Cataloguing the records of disabled children

Janine Stanford, The Children’s Society

Many readers of this blog will be aware of the difficulties facing voluntary sector archives. These challenges have been exacerbated by recent spending cuts, as Dr Georgina Brewis has discussed in this blog.

In this context, we at The Children’s Society are grateful to have received funding from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives for just such an undertaking. Our ‘Including the Excluded’ project will catalogue and open up an important part of our collection.

The records to be catalogued in this project offer a window into how disabled children were cared for in the 19th and 20th centuries. As Ian Wakeling Records, Archives & Data Protection Manager for The Children’s Society, has said:

“This project will give a unique insight into the circumstances of disabled children in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and will show how medical and social care allowed them to lead as normal a life as possible. The Children’s Society’s approach to disability was ahead of its time and the records that document this and the innovative fundraising involvement of the Children’s Union are a rich resource for the history of disability and childcare.”

Despite the usefulness of these records, they remain an under-used resource. Our project aims to make them more accessible and also to raise awareness of them amongst academic researchers and a wider audience, including disabled people, community researchers, individual young people and schools.

The materials to be catalogued include records of The Children’s Society relating to its work with disabled children and records of one of its fundraising initiatives, called the Children’s Union. The Children’s Society is a national charity that was founded in 1881. In its early history, the work of the charity focussed on children’s homes, which were established to give poor and homeless children a caring and secure environment in which to grow up.

Disabled children had been cared for by The Children’s Society since it was founded, and the first of The Children’s Society’s homes to cater specifically for the needs of disabled children was opened just seven years later in 1888. From then onwards, the number of disabled children cared for by The Children’s Society grew, as did the number of its specialist disabled children’s homes.

This work with disabled children was supported by an innovative fundraising initiative called the Children’s Union. Running from 1889 to 1979, the Children’s Union collected donations from children across the country. Initially, the Children’s Union aimed to collect enough money to sponsor beds in The Children’s Society’s homes for disabled children, but the Children’s Union soon became so popular that it was able to fund the running of a number of the homes themselves.

The materials to be catalogued as part of the ‘Including the Excluded’ project include records of The Children’s Society’s disabled children’s homes, records of the Children’s Union and nearly 3,000 case files. This covers a wide range of materials, including correspondence, publications, publicity material, artefacts and photographs. The diversity of the material makes it valuable for anyone interested in uncovering the realities of the lives of disabled children in the past.

© The Children's Society

Of particular use in this respect will be the inclusion of selected case files from the records of The Children’s Society. They are a fascinating resource, as they document the individual stories of disabled children in The Children’s Society’s care. The sensitive nature of these files means we will also be taking steps to ensure the safeguarding of confidential and personal information, while cataloguing them and making them accessible to researchers.

To make this cataloguing possible, we have a team of volunteers assisting our Project Archivist in flattening and repackaging the case files. This important work ensures the records can be properly stored and preserved for the future.

They can then be made accessible, not least by means of website listings. Details of the completed catalogues will be given on The Children’s Society’s Hidden Lives Revealed website, as well as various archival hubs such as AIM 25, The Archives Hub, and A2A.

In the long term it is hoped that ‘Including the Excluded’ will be part of a wider project to enhance Hidden Lives Revealed, to digitise material, and to help with the delivery of social work projects using the archive. More immediately, it is our objective that this project will open up a valuable voluntary sector archive to academic and other researchers.

For too long, disabled children have been amongst those hidden and excluded from our national story. Our project and the research it will make possible can help to grant them the place they deserve.

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