In 1917, in response to an appeal by the London County Council, a group of religious and social workers met to see what steps could be taken to deal practically with the problems of moral evil affecting young children. As a result this group appointed the first children’s worker, as they were to be known, to work in Lambeth, Battersea, Clapham and Wandsworth. A year later, a second children’s worker was appointed for Camberwell, Greenwich, Woolwich and Lewisham, and the West London Diocesan Children’s Committee was set up for Chelsea, Kensington, Fulham and Hammersmith. Three years later this committee was known as the West London Children’s Rescue Committee, and in 1930 it was renamed the West London Committee for the Protection of Children, as it was thought that this described the scope of the work more accurately.
In the early years more committees were formed and children’s workers appointed in other parts of the country. The need for combined action soon became clear and the Federation of Committees for the Moral Welfare of Children was formed in 1919. The roles of the Federation were to co-ordinate and consolidate the efforts of all affiliated committees, to circulate useful information, to seek and secure co-operation with bodies engaged in similar work, to promote discussion and educate public opinion and to raise funds to supplement the work.
Quite soon after its foundation, the Federation was directly responsible for the founding of the Children’s Medical Home at Waddon in Surrey. This home, the first of its kind in England, provided a centre for children with VD enabling them to receive skilled medical treatment and regular education from visiting teachers. Another successful undertaking was the setting up of a Home, in 1925, to provide temporary shelter for young boys and girls who had been criminally assaulted or were in moral danger. This was later taken over by the London Police Court Mission, but half of its places were still reserved for children coming on the recommendation of Federation Committees.
Over the course of the years a number of the Committees outside London disbanded, when children’s work became incorporated with adult moral welfare work. However, as late as 1969 most Inner London Boroughs were still represented by Committees, either completely voluntary or under the auspices of the statutory education authority.
Today the West London Committee is known as West London Action for Children, but the cases being dealt with seem to have changed remarkably little. There are still cases of child abuse, physical, emotional and sexual, unsuitable home conditions, truanting from school, children out of control and teenage pregnancies. In 1918 children were often removed from their families and placed in Homes or Industrial Schools or boarded out with foster families in the country. As the years went on, more and more emphasis was placed on keeping children with their families wherever possible. This is still the policy today, and the Children Act 1989 reinforces this by stressing the importance of partnership with parents.
Despite the enormous material improvements in our society and the increase in the general standard of living, children still find themselves in similar personal crisis and distress to their predecessors and the need for organisations such as West London Action for Children is therefore still as great as ever.