Timeline of Social Policies which changed childhood

Below is a timeline of some of the social policies which changed childhood, from the early 19th century through to the present day.

Most people would adopt a ‘March of Progress view‘ and argue that these polices improved the lives of children, however there are some sociologists who see these policies as placing too many restrictions on children.

The main types of social policies which have changed children’s lives are those relating to work, education and child welfare and protection.

This post was written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the families and households module.

The 1833 Factory Act

Made it illegal for textile factories to employ children under the age of 9, and they had to provide at least twelve hours of education a week for children aged between 9-13.

The 1867 Factories Act

Made it illegal for any factory to employ children under the age of 8, and they had to provide all children aged between 8-13 with at least 10 hours of education a week.  

Thomas Barnardo also opened his first children’s home in 1867.

The 1870 Education Act

Mass Education for children aged 5-12 was introduced

This is effectively the introduction of national primary education in Britain, although it wasn’t made compulsory for all 5-12-year olds until 1880, and the quality of education could be very poor indeed in some areas until the Education Reform Act of 1944.

The 1878 Factories and Workshop Act

Banned the employment of children under 10 in Factories.

The 1880 Education Act

Schooling in Britain made compulsory for every child up to the age of 10. Local Education Authorities

1889 – The Prevention of Cruelty towards Children Act, commonly known as the Children’s Charter

This Act gave the State the right, for the first time, to intervene in relationships between parents and their children. The Police could now enter a private residence and make arrests if a child were being mistreated. 

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Children (NSPCC) was established in the same year.

This policy and new institution together laid the foundation for modern child welfare, and the idea that the state could intervene if parents were not being responsible.

The 1908 Children’s Act

This established juvenile courts, so that children would be prosecuted according to different standards from adults.

It also introduced a formal register of Foster Parents, formalising the idea of State approved Foster Parents taking over from ‘removed children’ who had suffered abuse from their biological parents.

The Punishment of Incest Act was introduced in the same year – this made sexual abuse within families a matter for state intervention and punishment, previous to this the Church had been responsible for dealing with this.

1918 – School Leaving Age Raised to 14

The 1944 Education Act

While students of sociology should be familiar with this date as the year in which the Tripartite System was introduced (and students probably familiar with criticising this act!), at the time this was a huge leap forward in the rights of children.

The 1944 Education act was the first time the State really took responsibility for education at a national level, rather than leaving education to Local Education Authorities. The act saw a huge increase in funding for education funding for education and a massive building programme of new secondary modern schools.

The School Leaving Age was also raised to 15.

The 1948 Children’s Act

This established a children’s committee and a children’s officer in each local authority and represents the emergence of ‘child protection and welfare’ being a major responsibility of each Local Authority.

A series of legislation throughout the 1960s and 1970s, often in response to high profile deaths of children at the hands of their parents or foster parents, consolidated children’s social services and safeguarding strategies in Local Authority in the UK.

1973 – School Leaving Age raised to 16

1989 – The Children’s Act

Gave children the right to protection from abuse and exploitation and put child welfare at the heart of everything the Social Services did. It also reinforced the central principle that children were best looked after, wherever possible within families.

1991 – The Child Support Act

This gave children protection in the event of Divorce – it emphasised that prime concern of family courts in a Divorce should be the welfare of the children.

2003 – Every Child Matters

This was a government report following the death of Victoria Climbie

It outlined five key principles that every child should have the right to:

  • Be healthy
  • stay safe
  • enjoy and achieve
  • make a positive contribution
  • achieve economic well-being

The idea was that everyone working within children in any capacity should be ensuring these principles guided their interactions with children.

2013 – Children were required to remain in education or work with training until at least the age of 18.  

Further Legislations

The history of child labour, education and welfare legislation doesn’t stop here, there is more, but I am!

NB Safeguarding is now a big policy agenda, but to my mind it doesn’t really do anything new, it’s just refining and rebranding Every Child Matters and previous policies.

Sources used:

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