The question of Child Welfare is one which has exercised the legislative mind considerably since the ‘’Children’s Charter’ (the Children Act of 1908) was passed. Prior to that, the Factories Act and others regulated the employment of children, thus scotching the appalling conditions of infant slavery which existed in English factories in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries, but until the passing of the Act of 1908, little was done for the everyday welfare of the little ones, apart from acts dictated by public opinion or individual charity. The Children’s Act embraced Infant Life Protection, Prevention of
Cruelty, the Regulation of the presence of Children in Criminal Courts, and the sale of intoxicating liquors or tobacco to children. It tightened up the regulations regarding the employment of children, and reinforced the Education Act (which, by the way, was to some extent another Children’s Charter). The Children’s Act imposed penalties for exposing children to the danger of burning, by leaving fireplaces unprotected, for allowing children to beg, and for causing or encouraging the prostitution of young females.
No person having charge of infants may effect or have an interest in any assurance on the life of her charge. If she undertakes the care and maintenance of children under the age of seven years, for reward, she must notify this to the local authority, giving full particulars of all such children, and must also give notice of any change in the condition of the infant—as removal, death, &c.
Infant Welfare Centres have been instituted throughout the country for the care of school-children, the education of expectant mothers and for the providing of post-natal clinics for the care of both mother and child. Dental clinics are established in connection with the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education, and in some centres, meals and clothes are provided for the children of indigent parents, proper rest and recreation facilities conducted in the schools, and the sanitary and hygienic conditions of all schools strictly regulated. Welfare visitors call on the mothers of the children, and are always ready with helpful advice for the proper care thereof. These latter ladies are carefully trained in social work, physiology, hygiene, cookery and general household management. They are instructed to regard themselves as being in a merely advisory, and not in any way in an authoritative, capacity.
Under the ajgis of the Ministry of Health, Creches and Day Nurseries are run, under the care of fully qualified nurses, wherein the children of working-class mothers, may be fed, entertained and cared for during the hours their parents are at work.
In conjunction with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the authorities are empowered to enquire into alleged cases of neglect and actual cruelty to youngsters, and to prosecute the perpetrators of flagrant instances. It may be noted that the ready sympathy and cooperation of the police renders the work of the Society extremely effectual.
Under the Notification of Births Act (together with its extension of 1915) powers are granted to the local authorities to institute bylaws whereunder all births must be notified to the Medical Officer of Health within thirty-six hours. Municipal rates are levied for the maintenance of the Welfare Centres, and the upkeep of the Home-Visitors, Day Nurseries, &c.
The Maternity and Child Welfare Act of 1918, and the Guardianship of Infants Act of 1925, reinforce the other existing schemes for child welfare, and fresh measures are perpetually passed to meet any unprovided contingencies, in fact the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education are granted very elastic powers in this direction.
The Guardianship of Infants’ Act provides for the adequate guardianship of children when parents are judged incapable or unsuitable to have control of their offspring ; it defines the position of the child in cases of separation or divorce, and regulates the authority of the duly constituted guardian. The Court has power, where necessary, to appoint guardians for infants, to control the administration of any funds which they may possess, and to settle disputes between the guardians.
It must be noticed that the Acts of 1915 and 1918 are not applicable in Scotland, but the local authorities there have flexible powers to make their own arrangements regarding the care of expectant mothers, and the post-natal care of both mother and child until the latter shall have attained the age of five years.
In consequence of the far-reaching effects of the various Acts for Child Welfare Legislation during the present century, infantile mortality has been overwhelmingly reduced, and the present and future generations bid fair to becoming emphatically ‘A.l.’