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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January 2005, 10:03 GMT
Barnardo's then and now
Children's charity Barnardo's has produced a report marking 100 years since its founder, Dr Thomas Barnardo, died.

Its work has clearly adapted during that century, reflecting changing circumstances and expectations.

Its orphanages may have been replaced by support groups and projects staffed by experts in their fields.

But the philosophy of Dr Barnardo remains the charity's ethos, and its own comparison shows that in some ways the problems it faces are really not so different all these years later.


People were considered poor if they did not have basic human needs - food, safe drinking water, sanitation and shelter.

Such children who came under Barnardo's care tended to suffer from conditions such as ringworm, scabies, rickets, scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough, meningitis and tuberculosis.

Infant mortality rates not surprisingly tended to reflect living conditions - particularly room occupancy, according to health officials of the day.

And immigrants often lived in the poorest conditions, though Barnardo's steadfastly refused to discriminate, accepting children from all racial backgrounds.


Poverty in the 21st century tends to be a relative term, reflecting lack of access to a basic standard of living that others take for granted.

Healthcare for even the poorest has undoubtedly improved, but carers are concerned that the likes of measles, meningitis and tuberculosis are re-emerging in some deprived areas.

More than 100,000 children do not have a permanent home, and overcrowding makes children more vulnerable, a Treasury report said last year.

In 2000, 29% of white children lived below the so-called poverty line compared with 73% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children in the UK, government figures show.


Poor health was not confined to the poorest in society. Dr Barnardo himself lost three of his seven children to diphtheria.

At a time when disabled children were often separated from their peers, he resisted that approach where possible, and included not only physically disabled but also those who would now be regarded as having learning disabilities.


Despite improved healthcare, new problems threaten the health of today's children - not least obesity, especially in poorer areas.

Barnardo's now has projects helping families with disabled children or those with mental-health problems. Up to a third of young offenders have mental-health problems compared with a tenth of the general population, the Mental Health Foundation says.


Many of the children Barnardo's took in were from families whose lives were blighted by alcohol misuse.

Children were allowed in pubs, and the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors remained legal until 1908.

In 1906 Barnardo supporter Dr J E Gorst wrote: "The towns and country villages are still covered with an admitted super-abundance of public houses and beer houses, under the management of persons who have, in almost every case, a strong personal interest in selling as much intoxicating liquor as they can possibly contrive to do."


Parental alcohol misuse is regarded as a key factor in family breakdowns, and with child neglect and abuse.

But now drug and alcohol misuse among children themselves is becoming a spiralling menace.

Laws relating to the sale of alcohol have been toughened, but according to the Office for National Statistics, 21% of 11-15-year-olds drink every week, almost doubling the group's consumption between 1990 and 1998.

Barnardo's has set up specific schemes to support children affected by substance abuse.


People were subjected to far less crime a century ago, although punishments for child offenders were often greater.

Dr Barnardo was an advocate of prevention and rehabilitation, citing the difference between the annual cost of keeping a criminal in jail - 80 per head - and that of rescuing a child from the streets - 16.


The number of reported crimes rose from 0.24% of the population in 1901 to 8.91% in 1997 (Hicks and Allen, 1999).

A century on, Barnardo's is still hammering home the message: "A total of 458m was spent on locking up children for their offending behaviour... compared with the 110m invested in prevention and rehabilitation."


Dr Barnardo's insistence on welcoming any child in need proved valuable particularly to young girls caught up in the Victorian sex trade.

Shunned by much of society, child prostitutes and other abuse victims found refuge with Barnardo's.

Relatively few adult exploiters were prosecuted in the early 20th century, and what protection there was available - the legal age of consent for girls was 13 - appeared to benefit girls from the higher social classes.


Barnardo's can point to a considerable deal of success in the cause of protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation.

Perception used to be that child prostitutes had made a choice. Now laws reflect the fact that they are victims.

Barnardo's believes its overt support and campaigning for abuse victims has helped change attitudes, leading to stricter laws on exploitation. Now it wants police to focus more on targeting abusers rather than the children.

21st Century man?
12 Jan 05 |  Magazine

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