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On the Education of Neglected Children

June 12, 1862 — International Congress of Charities, Correction and Philanthropy, Hall of Meeting, Burlington House, London, England


The education of neglected children is one of the most important subjects which can claim the attention of this great International Congress.

Many and varied, fraught with the deepest interest to thousands, influencing the welfare of many countries, many classes of society, as are the topics which will be here discussed, the subject before us differs from them all in this — that we have directly in our hands the welfare of the next generation as well as of our own; and that the discussion of it must be based on general principles affecting all countries alike.

We are not now to consider education in general, nor how far a government is bound to provide the means of obtaining it to every member of a state, since without it the state cannot have good and profitable citizens. This subject would open a discussion sufficient of itself to occupy the meeting of a whole Congress. But we are now to speak of the education of neglected children.

Who are these? They are young creatures incapable, by their immature condition of body and mind, to provide for their own wants, to regulate their own actions — ignorant of all that is needed to guide them in this world, and to prepare them for the next — very susceptible of the impressions around them—their faculties untrained and undeveloped — their self-will strong — their passions unregulated, and likely to lead them into actions injurious to society, as well as most hurtful to themselves. These young creatures, thus growing year by year, are to be the members of our future society, in their turn to stamp an impress upon it, as they have received it from the last; and to become, according to their original nature, and the circumstances in which they may chance to have lived to man hood, outlaws, hunted by the police from town to town, living luxuriously on the plunder of the honest, subsisting at their cost, more abstemiously perhaps, but still in abundance, in gaol; or, idle or careless, they may drag out a wretched and worthless existence as paupers in a workhouse, perchance leaving as a legacy to the next generation a race of paupers. This is no overdrawn picture, as those will testify who have like myself watched with wrung hearts their miserable existence, vainly striving with unassisted efforts to arrest their impending fate. Thus have I seen the little boy of twelve years old, wandering the country with precocious indifference to privation and recklessness of law; fresh from a distant prison, he knows the worst that can befall him, and knows too how to evade the observation of the police. Society holds itself aloof, professing inability to interfere with “the liberty of the subject;” he feels himself independent, and loves his wild freedom, despising the restraints of school, or of a proffered home, or of regular work. And then he has been again in gaol, and has come out with increased zest for his old life, and that very evening leads others astray. And then, after the lapse of a year or two, he has compelled society to take some hold of him, and to exercise some control over him, and to maintain him for four long years in a costly prison ; and then he comes out strong and well in body, well appointed in clothing, with more money in his pocket than he had ever earned in his life, but debased in mind, strong in will, and ready to begin a fresh career of vice. Such is a faint picture of the life of one “neglected child,” Ec uno disce multos. Numbers doubtless perish miserably from want and privation; the wretched constitutions they have inherited from probably vicious parents, rendering them unable to cope with the trials of life, and so their heavenly Father has mercifully taken them, and society has lost her children before she knew of their existence.

Now, has society done her duty to these children? Had these children a right to expect very different treatment from society? There cannot be a doubt as to the answer. It has been most truly laid down by a high authority, “That the object of society is to protect individuals from wrong — that those who cannot protect them selves are as much entitled to protection as those who can — that children are as much entitled to protection as adults.” — (Suggestions on Popular Education, by Nassau Senior.) They are indeed more so. By the order of Providence, the young and immature being is placed under the guidance of parents, bound by every motive, and by the laws of man as well as the instinct of nature, to nurture and protect him. But if deprived of this protection, from whatever cause, it is the duty of the State, and of society, to take charge of the , child, to be to in loco parentis. And further, every child born in a Christian and civilized country, has a right to demand such protection, such help. He has a right to expect a better condition than if left neglected in a savage and heathen country; there the wild instincts of nature would have awakened compassion, and secured care in untutored heathens. Here, where, if he grows to manhood, he must take his place in a civilized community, and will be compelled to obey its laws, he has a right to expect such education as will enable him, when arrived at maturity, to take his proper station in society. Such we hold to be the distinct duty of the State, such the rights of the neglected child. And if the State neglects this duty, then, instead of being sustained and strengthened by good citizens, she will ever have that something rotten in her social condition which will undermine her resources; and she must annually spend thousands or millions, earned by honest industry, in the cure of disease she has herself caused.

Let it be assumed, then, that every child who is without the guardianship appointed for it by the Creator — proper parental care — has a right to claim from the State such tutelage; and that it is the duty of the State to assume the control and education of such children.

To some this will seem a self-evident proposition, almost unnecesary to state — some will dispute it. I will, however, leave it to others to argue it; it can be proved by reference to the highest authorities: I must not now delay to do so.

There is, however, another and most important element in our social condition which must not be passed by — the Christian element. This is so inseparably woven into the very constitution of our country, and is so especially recognised by the noble Congress which I have the honour of addressing, that it would seem superfluous to mention it, were it not for the purpose of showing the particular position it has to occupy, and duty to perform, in the subject before us. The followers and true disciples of the Saviour, who came to seek and to save the lost, the neglected of men, know well what he wishes from them and even requires from them. They have heard him ask the fallen and repentant apostle, as a token of his love, to “feed his lambs;” they know that it is not the will of our Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. They behold in each miserable, neglected child an immortal being, an heir with them of eternal life, one equally with themselves for whom Christ died. They know that he is a child of the same Father, and they look on him with unspeakable com passion, which would fain find relief in helping to save him. We know well the verdict of Christianity on this matter. This care for children, whom no ties of blood have united to us, is the direct result of the teachings of the Saviour; and no feature of a Christian nation more forcibly distinguishes it from others, than institutions where children who are neglected, scorned, and degraded in social position are received as in a home, educated and prepared for that state of life in which it shall please God to place them. So declared a Brahmin who recently visited our shores. So may our country ever bear a testimony to the religion of Christ. The State and a Christian Society must help each other in this work; neither can do it effectively without the other. The State, having alone the power, must supply the authority, and such pecuniary means as are needed for the maintenance of the child; the benevolent, the Christians, must give the loving labour and such supplementary contributions as are needed.

What, then, are we to do to educate these neglected children, and how is this double duty to be discharged by both parties?

Neglected children are of several classes. First are those whose parents are dead. Here it is evident that society must take charge of them; it is done so in our country by the poor-law, under which a child has a legal right to maintenance in a workhouse. There the child is stamped as a pauper, and the care of him is in the hands of certain bodies called guardians of the poor, who may personally be excellent men and true Christians, but who, in that special capacity, have duties in many respects inconsistent with those of the parental guardians of young children. The system has been unfavourable to the condition of orphan children. They ought not to be called or considered paupers. No children, of whatever rank, are able unaided to maintain themselves; and it is no fault of these poor children that they are deprived by death of those who should have maintained them. They are called paupers, they are treated as paupers, and many thus early stamped pass the remainder of their lives as paupers. Our country does not believe that these children are brought up as they should be, to become independent, self-supporting members of society, or why should there be erected and maintained at such enormous cost orphan asylums, where the voluntary Christian element can have its due influence, and whence the children can come forth an object of solicitude and interest to society, not of neglect and scorn. Such a state of things needs a remedy in our land.

Next are the children who have been termed “moral orphans.” They have parents, but they are in a worse position than if they had none. Even if they do supply them with the bread that perisheth, do not they neglect all the education which should prepare them for life, and leave them to learn by example, and even by precept, all that is most injurious to them? Some of these commit overt acts of dishonesty or other offences recognized by law, and then there is a definite reason why the State should now assume the parental responsibility over the child. When the case is of such a nature that there is no probability that the child will be properly educated, he or she is committed to a Reformatory for a number of years. The State deputes its charge of the child to the voluntary managers of the institution, investing them with authority for his due control, paying for his maintenance, and, like a wise parent, exercising constant inspection to ascertain that the trust is duly discharged. For these institutions we are mainly indebted to Mettrai and to the Rauhe Haus; but one principle has been developed in England which has prevented the abuse of such institutions, which has elsewhere made them premiums on parental neglect. The parent is compelled, wherever a possibility exists, to pay towards the maintenance of his child, however unwilling he may be to have it separated from him. This compulsory payment is just, and has been of immense importance.

Our Government has now assumed a still further guardianship of neglected children. Instead of waiting until a child has received a prison brand to protect and educate him, a recent act of parliament authorizes any children who are found vagrant, pilfering, or homeless, to be brought before the magistrate, and, if the parents are such that they cannot correct or better educate the child, he is committed to an Industrial School, certified as fit and proper by the Secretary of State, but under voluntary management, whence he may go forth into the world without a stain on his character. Thus far only has the State hitherto gone in separating a neglected child from an unworthy parent, and providing him a proper education. We believe that one step further is needed for the safety of the child, and his due protection. Only during the last week, a case of atrocious cruelty in a parent was brought before the bench of magistrates in the city of Bristol, which, unfortunately, is not a solitary instance in that city, or in others of England. A father was actually proved to have put a chain round his son’s body, fastened with a padlock, of which he kept the key, and thus to confine him to a bedstead for six days together. The same man frequently beat his wife furiously. The man, in extenuation, spoke of the bad character of his son, and no wonder when he had been brought up under such treatment! Must not a child be protected by the State when he is so treated by his natural guardians? Has he not rights? Is he to be compelled to remain with such a brutal father? Surely not; and surely such a man should be deprived of the responsibility which he has so abused, and his son placed under other guardianship, he at the same time being compelled to pay towards his maintenance.

We have hitherto considered the cases of neglected children who are orphans either through having lost their natural parents, or through having none who will so train them as to prevent them from becoming an injury to society. In each case, the duty of the State is clear to provide for the education of the child, aided, as it must always be for the work to be done effectually, by benevolent voluntary effort.

But, granting that all these are provided for, there is still a great who visit the alleys, the back streets, the districts unknown to those whose course of life runs smoothly on, a vast multitude of children, who may most truly be called “neglected.” Their physical condition generally indicates extreme neglect. Not only is their raiment tattered, and their persons filthy, but a stunted growth, an unhealthy aspect, a wild air, and boldness of manners foreign to well-trained youth, indicate unmistakable neglect in their education of all that is needed to enable them to fill their station in life. Statesmen have doubted the existence of this large portion of the population — these neglected children. But they can be no longer ignorant; for, if they cannot go and see for themselves, they can at least read the testimony of numerous witnesses, who, during the last session of the House of Commons, laid their evidence before the Committee appointed to inquire into the state of neglected and destitute children; evidence of what they had personally seen, and of what they knew from their own painful experience. These children ought to be educated. In a large proportion of these cases the parents cannot do this for them. Their means are precarious — often they know not where to get the next meal; with difficulty do they find bread for their children, but little of their scanty earnings can go in clothing, nor can they send school-pence, which they need for food. They are themselves low and uneducated, and the localities where they live present none but debasing lessons to the childish mind: an infant of five years old has already learnt to pilfer, and this is regarded by his parents as a clever childish trick; a little girl of nine is a skilful pickpocket, and, when she has successfully accomplished many feats of the kind, she may be taken and trained, but not until then. These children, as a class, are receiving an education to idleness and vice. They are “neglected” in every sense. Now, here the State has not seen its way clear. It is unnecessary and most undesirable to break the parental tie, unless its existence is proved absolutely injurious to the child. Parents should be rather stimulated to do their duty to their children than relieved from the responsibility. But they do not, and cannot, educate them. “Now,” (again to quote Mr. Senior,) “education is as much necessary to a child as food is.” “A child is as much wronged by being left uneducated as it is by being left unfed.” “It is as much the duty of the community to see that the child is educated, as it is to see that it is fed.” We hold, then, that whatever provision is made by the government of a country to assist in the education of those who can and will obtain some amount of education for themselves, it is an absolute duty for it to make provision for the education of this portion of the population, wherever it is found to exist. This duty has not yet been recognised by the Government of our country. It pays its many thousands annually for the education of children in pauper schools; it educates those who are convicted of crime; but it will not make one-tenth of the outlay so to educate these children that they may be preserved from pauperism or crime. During the last sixteen years, an effort has been made to do so in Great Britain by voluntary Christian benevolence. The undertaking seemed visionary to carry education, or even civilization, into the homes and haunts of the wretched little heathens who were swarming in our Christian city. The records which still exist of a few of the first schools, and the tales which can still be told by some of the first workers in them, reveal how great was the mass of ignorance to be penetrated; how persevering must have been the zeal and devotion of those who were daunted by no difficulties in their efforts to seek and to save those for whose souls none seemed to care. But the work has gone on prospering, and results far surpassing the anticipations of the most sanguine, have been effected wherever the schools have been well carried on. The marvellous transformation of the little Arabs of the city into ordinary scholars — the various well-ordered bands of shoeblacks—the annual prizes to those who have kept their places of work, and obtained a good character in them — the many hundreds of pounds annually deposited in their penny savings’ bank — sufficiently prove the vast benefit to society, as well as to individuals, which such schools confer. But pecuniary help is still greatly required from the Government, to make these schools equal in number and condition to the wants of the country. Large districts exist without any efficient attempt being made to carry education among the children that swarm there. Other schools are so feeble in resources, that they fall far below the condition needed to do effectual good. Voluntary effort is proved to be utterly inadequate to the task of extending a good and appropriate education to all the neglected children of Great Britain. And surely, on every ground, they may claim it from their country, that, while protecting their lives even from earliest infancy as subjects of the sovereign—while securing to them the bread that perishes — she shall not withhold from them the means of becoming honest and useful subjects. Their parents may be unable to give it to them — they may be culpably negligent — they may be even criminal in transmitting to their offspring the degraded condition they received from their progenitors; but, for all this, the children are not responsible — it is not they who are culpable. For the well-being of society as well as their own, education must be given to all neglected children.

But the question now occurs, “What kind of education is to be given to these children?”

We must here confine ourselves to a few general principles. In all schools where the child is completely removed from the parental abode, such as Reformatories, Refuges, Industrial Schools, Pauper Schools, as near an approximation as possible must be made to a Home. A family feeling must be established, and the members must never be so great as to prevent the individual influence which this implies. The physical development must be promoted by careful attention to sanitary conditions, by sufficient and wholesome food, and by such industrial work as will strengthen the muscles, and exercise both the mental and bodily powers. Such intellectual culture must be given as will place in the child’s possession those keys of knowledge which will unlock its stores as he may need them, and enable him to take a fair place among the workers of our community. It is unnecessary to add, that religion must be made a living reality to him — not a mere storehouse of dogmas — and the truths of the Bible must be imparted to him as the guide of his life.

In the day schools for the neglected children, intellectual training forms a part, and an important one, of the education; but here, too, it must be supplemented by industrial work, and the varied moral and physical training of which we have spoken. All these will be supplied by voluntary effort, and varied with the differing wants of each locality. And the labours of the teacher must not be limited by the walls of the school; he must mingle in the sports of the children in the playground, which should always be adjacent to it, and must carry his influence by friendly visitations into their homes. Such, to be efficient, should be the schools which have hitherto been called Ragged Schools. We would prefer a term which would convey no stigma — Free Day Schools.

Were such education completely provided for all neglected children, what more would remain to be done?

The State will have done its duty, and voluntary effort will have co-operated as it should, in placing education within the reach of all. Yet more will still remain, and this must be especially the work of Christian zeal — none other will suffice; it will be necessary to go out into the highways and byeways of life, to seek the lost ones, in order to save them.

A society has for some time been in active operation in New York, U.S., called the Children’s Aid Society. Here, to a central office, which is always open, are children brought by the police, by passengers, by any one who happens to meet with them, and here, after temporary reception, their cases are investigated, and they are disposed of as seems best. Surely such a society should exist in every large town; should send forth its agents into every lane, and court, and alley; collect all neglected children, and, by the force of Christian love, bring them into the schools. By such persevering action co-operating with the State, and acting on the children, we may see the time, even in our generation, when there shall be education for every neglected child in the realm.



Source: Congrès International de Beinfaisance de Londres: Session de 1862, Tome II, Partie Anglaise, Mémoires, Notices et Documents, (London: Trübner et Co., 1863), pp. 87-94.