150 years of childhood: finding the families of the first children in care

Posted by / Tuesday 02 April 2019 /

As Action for Children marks 150 years of helping vulnerable children, the charity is today launching a nationwide search for the descendants of some of the UK’s first children in care.


The charity has released historic images from its archives of vulnerable children in Victorian Britain from 1869 up to 1919, to allow members of the public to identify family members. The children featured were looked after in some of the country’s first ever care homes, established by the National Children’s Homes - now Action for Children - in the late 1800s.

The homes were set up at a time of widespread poverty when children were sleeping on city streets and families were facing the workhouse. Children were taken into care for these reasons and others, including the loss of parents to illness, to having disabilities families struggled to cope with, or people in abject poverty simply wanting to give their children a better life.

In its 150th year, the charity wants to remember the lives of some of the first children it cared for and help descendants find out more about their family members; as well as explore the issues that affected vulnerable children when it was founded and still do today.

Carol Iddon, Action for Children’s managing director of services, said: “This search is a reminder of how far we’ve come when it comes to helping the most vulnerable in society, but also how far we still have to go to make sure children today have a safe and stable future.

“Every day at Action for Children we still see families under threat of losing their home, living with problems like domestic violence or struggling to put food on the table. All the while, children’s services are continuously being stripped back due to lack of government funding.

“Our 150th year is a time to remember the first children we cared for and to hear their stories. But it should also serve as wake-up call to the work government and charities need to do now to invest in our children today, and give them the childhoods they deserve.”

Case study: The charity has already tracked down a handful of families of relatives who were cared for in their historic homes. One is the family of eight year old Emily ‘Emmie’ Rhymes who was admitted to the Princess Alice Orphanage in Warwickshire in 1898, along with her sister Lillie, after the deaths of their parents.

Lance Richardson, 60, from Coventry is Emmie’s great nephew and has been thrilled to find out more of his family’s history. He said: ‘I knew quite a bit about my family but finding out more about my great aunt and great nan has been wonderful - my 82 year old father has really enjoyed seeing them too.

“To hear exactly when the girls arrived and left the home and the skills they learnt to help prepare them for life outside has been a real voyage of discovery. I can’t wait to find out more details such as what daily life would have been like for them in the home and what impact that had on their personalities. All of their experiences ultimately helped to shape the destinies of their families and descendants, including me.’

For a full gallery of over 30 images go to actionforchildren.org.uk/archive. If you recognise anyone from these images, or you know of an ancestor who was in a home run by the National Children’s Homes, please email 150@actionforchildren.org.uk




Freya Barnes, Head of Media, Action for Children: 07540 920038 /freya.barnes@actionforchildren.org.uk

Beth McDonald, Media Officer, Action for Children: 07940 441770/ beth.mcdonald@actionforchildren.org.uk

Out of hours 07802 806 679 / mediateam@actionforchildren.org.uk



  • For a full gallery of over 30 images go to actionforchildren.org.uk/archive
  • Spokespeople and case studies are available for interview
  • HOW ACTION FOR CHILDREN WORKS: For 150 years Action for Children has been helping disadvantaged children across the UK through intervening early to stop neglect and abuse, fostering and adoption, supporting disabled children, and by campaigning tirelessly to make life better for children and families. With over 550 services the charity improves the lives of more than 300,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers every year. www.actionforchildren.org.uk