Child Migration: An Overview and Timeline

[From:  National Archives of Australia]

In the heyday of British imperialism, Father N Waugh, Director of the Archdiocese of Westminster ‘Crusade of Rescue’ waxed lyrical when he thought of the child migration work of the society:

A double service is rendered to religion, humanity and civilisation, in carrying off the children of distress to the open lands beyond the sea, to live in the open, to work with nature, to wrestle with forest, field and stream, to forget the fetid city slums, to think and strive and pray in the open, to grow strong and self-reliant, to be the guardians of the outpost of civilisation, religion and new endeavour… every child a pioneer of the Empire.[2]

In his rich hyperbole Waugh expressed the commonplace notions surrounding contemporary child migration. He was probably unaware of the grim origins of this three-hundred-year-old policy of despatching unaccompanied children – abandoned, illegitimate, poverty-stricken and delinquent children – from the mean slums of British cities to cultivate and populate the wide-open spaces of the Empire. Moreover, Waugh and other child migration enthusiasts were long deceased before the controversy erupted over the last phase of child migration – the despatch of some 3 200 children from Great Britain and Malta to Australia after World War II.[3]

Child migration had a long and chequered history surrounded with controversy and marred by scandal. It was, actually, never a single policy pursued continuously: rather it was a complex tangle of competing private schemes, government initiatives, charismatic personalities, muddled priorities and confused agendas. It was critically affected by the economic, political and social pressures of particular times.

The first 100 children – ‘vagrants’ – were despatched from the London area to Virginia in the Americas in 1618, their passage arranged by the City Fathers, while the last nine children were flown to Australia in 1967 under the auspices of Barnardo’s. It follows that the origins of child migration were linked to Britain’s acquisition of an empire in North America during the early seventeenth century. In the wild, untamed, thinly-populated continent, there was an insatiable demand for men and women to populate and exploit the new territories. The demand was so great, and the perils of the sea journey and the initial pioneering so desperate, that those whom it was convenient for England to send abroad – the convicted felons, the parish poor and abandoned children were considered suitable and many were despatched.

It was in January 1615 that the Privy Council issued a warrant to exile certain convicted felons to the New England colonies and four years later that these provisions were confirmed and extended by a further order from the Council.[4] Child migration was commenced – in 1618 – in this context as state officials cast around for other sources of labour in the colonies. Later in that year, the Virginia Company requested a second consignment of ‘vagrant’ children (ie street kids) and the City Fathers cooperated in procuring them – by having the constables arrest vagrant children and place them in the Bridewell or gaol until ships were ready for their departure.[5] However, many of the children did not wish to go and under challenge it became clear that the first group had been despatched illegally. The City made urgent representation to the Privy Council and on 31 January 1620 the Council gave its approval to despatch the ‘recalcitrant’ children:

We are informed that the City of London, by Act of Common Council, have appointed one hundred children out of the Multitudes that swarm in that place, to be sent to Virginia, there to be bound apprentice… there are, among their number divers (children) unwilling to be carried thither, and that the City want authority to deliver, and the Virginia Company to receive and carry these persons against their will. We authorise and require the City to take charge of that service to transport to Virginia all and every of the aforesaid children.[6]

This ordinance marked the legal beginning of child migration. The consent of the children or their parents was not an issue, although it is clear that many of the young people were runaways and abandoned children, beyond the interest or control of surviving parents or guardians.[7]

It was likely to follow that where there was a commercial need, ie, the desperate labour shortage in the colonies, then private enterprise was likely to follow the clear, unambiguous lead taken by the state authorities. There opened a ready cash market for any able-bodied man, woman or child who could be persuaded, fooled, forced or ‘spirited’ to the new colonies. In a word ‘spiriting’ was kidnapping, and for the next 150 years child migration operated on three levels: some children were sent to the North American or West Indian colonies by various Poor Law authorities and government bodies who worked within the 1620 ordinance of the Privy Council; a few were escorted by religious philanthropists; and the majority were kidnapped or ‘spirited’ from towns close to the ports for despatch to and sale in the colonies. There the children’s labour was purchased by planters and other farmers until the child reached majority, a procedure given a thin veneer of legality by the signing of indentures.[8]

The traffic in children being ‘spirited’ to the Americas increased during the civil wars of the 1640s, and the Puritan-dominated parliament on 9 May 1645 passed a strongly-worded ordinance against the practice.[9] Ships were to be searched by justices of the peace where there was reason to believe they held kidnapped children. However, there is evidence that this measure did little to inhibit the trade which ended only with the independence of the American colonies. The ‘Flying Post’ allegations of 1698 and the kidnapping of 500 boys in and around Aberdeen in the 1740s provide evidence for this.[10] By the following decade, Europe was plunged into a quarter century of warfare precipitated by the French revolution and the career of Napoleon Bonaparte. Abandoned children became the flotsam and jetsam of the war, and many who came to the notice of the penal system were transported to the Australian colonies, where about a quarter of the convicts were under eighteen years of age.

Kidnapping to philanthropy

By 1815 and the return of peace in Europe, the United Kingdom began to experience enormous and unprecedented social change accompanied by a population explosion which doubled England’s people during the first half of the century. The result was a predominantly youthful society. Those under the age of fourteen constituted at least one-third of the total population, and for most of the period, nearly forty per cent. Moreover, it was an urban presence; it was the towns and cities which were growing at an extraordinary rate.

Social tensions increased emigration from the British Isles and some philanthropists wished to use emigration to relieve the plight of destitute and abandoned children. As early as 1645 the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England had promoted child migration, but its venture led to bitterness and recrimination and a second scheme in 1651 had to be abandoned. The first nineteenth-century religiously-inspired initiative was the Children’s Friend Society, founded by Captain Edward Brenton, a retired naval officer, in 1830.[11] Brenton had observed the destitute who lived on the periphery of London’s criminal underworld and realised that for many, a criminal lifestyle was simply a way of coping with extreme poverty and was an existence without prospects for a healthy, productive and law-abiding life. The solution was emigration.

‘Prospects’ was at the heart of the rationale for child migration. Many child carers, such as Brenton, for well over another century felt that poor, abandoned (and often illegitimate) children, already in parish care or private orphanages, would have better futures in the colonies. With the slogan ‘The Bible and spade for the boy; the Bible, broom and needle for the girl’, Brenton opened an agricultural school for twenty boys between ten and fifteen years of age at West Ham in Essex, later relocated to Hackney Wick. At first he received widespread support from prominent citizens and the press and for a few years the Children’s Friend Society flourished. A refuge for girls was established at Chiswick in 1834.

After a period of training in his homes, Brenton arranged the emigration of the children – some 700 of them – over the next few years, to the Cape Colony in the main, though some children were sent to Upper Canada in 1835 and placed in private homes by a committee of the Toronto City Council.[12] However, after this promising start, calamity struck the Children’s Friend Society: there were allegations of ‘slavery’, exploitation and harsh punishments of the young emigrants at the Cape. The bad publicity led to a public enquiry at the Cape. After Brenton died suddenly in 1839, the Children’s Friend Society lingered for only three more years. Support evaporated and no more children were sent.

As with later child migration advocates – from Maria Rye through Thomas Barnardo and Kingsley Fairbridge – Brenton had failed to realise the irrational in human life and the dark side of human nature. He and other middle-class reformers did not understand the dynamics of urban working-class life. They saw children abandoned in filth and squalor, mired in desperate poverty, abused by parents, relatives, guardians and employers, and were surprised when some youngsters clung tenaciously to their past attachments when often the objects of their devotion appeared so unworthy. It was a common situation.

Edward Brenton was the first nineteenth-century philanthropist to undertake child migration on a large scale and his pioneering work encountered the difficulties, misunderstandings and failures which were to bedevil other such drastic attempts at social engineering. Child migration schemes – from Thomas Barnardo’s to the Catholic emigration to the Western Australian orphanages of the Christian Brothers after World War II – were often awash with controversy. There was widespread suspicion that shadier agendas lurked behind the facade of charitable impulses.[13]

After the demise of the Children’s Friend Society, child migration remained small-scale for thirty years. In 1849, the Ragged School Movement, whose President was Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, received a grant of £3,000 to send 150 children to New South Wales. After this initiative, the Ragged Schools continued child emigration in a small way with their private resources until this aspect of their work was subsumed by the massive increase in child emigration after 1869 led by evangelical Christians Annie Macpherson, Maria Rye, Thomas Barnardo, William Booth and John Middlemore.[14]

Meanwhile, in 1850, an Act of Parliament permitted the Poor Law Guardians to fund the emigration of any child in their care subject to permission of the Poor Law Board. In addition, the permission of any surviving parent was to be sought where this was possible. When this was not practicable, it was necessary to procure the child’s agreement to his emigration, given before two justices of the peace in a magistrates court. In 1891, the Custody of Children Act gave the ‘rescue societies’ a legal framework within which to operate. Before this modern child migration had operated in a grey area.

Child migration peaks

Child migration peaked from the 1870s until the start of World War I. The 1920s emigration to Canada and Australia was small-scale by comparison, and the post-World War II child migration to Australia was minuscule. Some 80 000 children were emigrated to Canada before 1914; and only some 3,500–4,000 child migrants were sent to Australia after 1945.[15] Moreover, throughout the whole period – almost 100 years – the numbers of children emigrated were only a small fraction of the numbers of children in care throughout the United Kingdom.

The large increase in child migration after 1870 was triggered by desperate economic conditions over the previous few years: the social havoc caused by the 1866 cholera epidemic, the bad harvest of 1867 and widespread unemployment during a cyclic downturn in the economy. It was during this period that Annie Macpherson, Thomas Barnardo and William Booth commenced their work among the poorest and most destitute in the East End of London. To all of them, and many other religious workers, emigration seemed the one certain way for the desperately poor to better themselves.[16]

However, as well as the specific factors which led these people, and others such as William Quarrier (Orphan Homes of Scotland, Bridge of Weir, Glasgow), Robert Rudolf (Church of England ‘Waifs and Strays Society’) and Father Richard Seddon of the Catholic ‘Crusade of Rescue’, to favour emigration for their charges, there was a general climate of ideas which encouraged the sending of the children. The British Empire was reaching the peak of its expansion. This and industrial supremacy was exhilarating for some. On the other hand, amidst the rapid industrial expansion, there was for others a romantic longing for the simpler verities of rural life; a horror of the festering slums of the great cities; and a conviction that children of the lowest social class were better separated from their unworthy parents.

At higher levels of government and among some humanitarians was the realisation that emigration was a ‘safety-valve’ to tide over economic desperation in the British Isles, and to stave off revolution. Respectable middle-class society seemed threatened. Father Waugh wrote of ‘the verminous ill-fed hordes pressing closer’, while Samuel Smith, MP for Liverpool , believed that ‘the seething mass of human misery will shake the social fabric’ unless something was done to ease social tensions. Smith supported Barnardo’s Homes generously, but revolution was on his mind, not religion.[17]

Opposition to the policy

However, while 80 000 children were sent in this enthusiasm for child migration before 1914, these were only a small fraction of the children in the care of voluntary societies, the Poor Law Unions, or the industrial schools and reformatories of the criminal justice systems. Why were so few children sent? On the one hand, many inspectors and senior civil servants were proud of the British institutions they served, and they opposed child emigration because parental rights and children’s desires were often ignored. They disliked the rough-and-ready manner in which many of the private agencies operated. They suspected their motives and their charismatic styles of leadership which were likely to lead to scandals. Moreover, the civil servants knew that inspection and supervision of the children placed with Canadian farmers was casual at best and often completely lacking.

There were in addition other levels of opposition to child migration: many, if not most, Boards of Guardians were reluctant to see the children emigrated, since they argued, on principle, they could not fulfil their statutory responsibilities when the children left Great Britain. Moreover, they feared that only the fittest children would be sent, and they would be left caring for the remainder. Also, the emigration of the children from the workhouses, industrial schools or reformatories emigrated the jobs of the staff of these places. In the end, most of the children emigrated were sent by the private agencies, despite this opposition.

The Farm School movement and Australia

Child and youth migration to the Australian states came towards the end of a long experience with the policy elsewhere, although many of the early convicts could be seen as child migrants. In the early twentieth century, new migration enthusiasts involved themselves in the work, stressing that children should be trained in colonial homes before they were placed with colonial farmers. With this in mind, Mrs Elinor Close arranged the emigration of children to Nova Scotia and Thomas Sedgwick escorted parties of youths to New Zealand. However, the dominating personality of this phase was Kingsley Fairbridge, who was offered land at Pinjarra, south of Perth, by the Western Australian Government in 1911 to pioneer his farm school initiative. After an epic struggle Fairbridge and his supporters established this venture securely and other farm schools were founded over time at Molong, near Orange in New South Wales, and at Glenmore, near Bacchus Marsh in Victoria. This latter was the Lady Northcote Farm School founded in 1937.

With the outbreak of World War I, migration from the British Isles was suspended, and when it recommenced in 1920, the numbers of children sent were never on the same scale.[18] By 1920, powerful interest groups in Canada opposed the entry of unaccompanied juveniles and throughout the following decade child migration to Canada diminished. The Great Depression finally terminated their entry; no further juvenile emigrants were placed in Canada after 1932. However, as that dominion barred the entry of unaccompanied juveniles, the voluntary societies focused their attention increasingly on Australia where, in the buoyant 1920s, governments favoured their entry. Barnardo’s Homes sent children to New South Wales in 1923 and handled 872 during the decade; Fairbridge continued its work and 918 children arrived in Western Australia during this period. Meanwhile, in 1920, by an agreement with the states, the Commonwealth undertook the responsibility of recruiting, medically examining and transporting assisted immigrants, ie of all overseas activities, while the states agreed to requisition for the numbers and classes of migrants they required, and to provide for their reception, employment and after-care. Until 1946, the State governments were more responsible for supervision. It should be mentioned that there were many more youth migrants brought to Australia than child migrants: some 4 500 young men came to New South Wales under the Dreadnought Scheme before World War II and some 12 500 emigrated with the Big Brother Movement from 1925 to 1983. The focus on child migration in this introduction is because of the contemporary controversy surrounding the phenomenon.

The emigration work of the voluntary agencies was assisted in 1923 when so-called ‘collective nomination’ was widely extended, due largely to the efforts of Major C W Bavin, Migration Secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association, who toured the dominions in 1922 and 1923, interesting societies in overseas settlement. Previously, state-assisted migration had been conducted mainly under two systems, requisition and individual nomination. Under the former, the dominion government estimated the numbers and classes of immigrants required and requisitioned for them through their separate migration representatives in Britain. The migrants were selected and sent at assisted passage rates, and on arrival overseas were placed in employment by the immigration authorities. This class of migrant was referred to as ‘selected’.

Under the second system, individuals in the dominions, through the state immigration departments, might nominate relatives or friends in Britain as potential immigrants. If these nominees passed the required tests, they were granted assisted passages, and their nominators assumed the responsibility of placing them in employment, or of maintaining them until they were settled.

The aim of collective nomination was to extend this privilege to voluntary societies, and to allow them to nominate not only individuals but groups, not necessarily by name, but by numbers and classes of settlers they considered they were able to place in employment. This system was especially applicable to Commonwealth-wide societies such as the churches, the YMCA, Fairbridge, Barnardo’s Homes and the Boy Scout Association. Branches in the dominions had first-hand knowledge of local opportunities for young settlers; branches in England were in touch with deserving and needy young people likely to have new opportunities by migration. Young British people – even children and teenagers – were considered ideal immigrants. They were more readily trained and more adaptable to the new conditions and they had their whole working lives before them. The romantic and humanitarian aspect of bringing youth to Australia spread a warm inner glow.

During the 1920s, both the Dreadnought Trust and the Big Brother Movement – the latter founded by Sir Richard Linton in 1924 – encouraged the migration of young men, fifteen to nineteen years of age, for farm work, as did the Salvation Army. All these bodies were non-denominational or Protestant. By contrast, Roman Catholic child migration to Canada was only ten per cent of the total before World War I, but was to become more significant during its last phase. There was no Catholic child migration to Australia during the 1920s, though Catholic leaders in Western Australia were anxious to initiate a scheme centred on the Christian Brothers institutions in that state. The Brothers were a lay order within the church, heavily involved in education in Australia. However, enthusiastic planning and detailed discussions foundered on the unwillingness of the Commonwealth Government to approve a subsidy and the unwillingness of the English Catholic carers to send their children to the Antipodes when they had long-standing and successful arrangements over fifty years to send children to Canada.

The last phase

The Depression terminated almost all migration to Australia until 1937. However, the long-delayed plans to emigrate some English Catholic children to Western Australia reached fruition in 1938–39 when some 114 boys pioneered the Tardun scheme on a vast property near Geraldton. In 1937, Fairbridge, Barnardo’s Homes and other migration agencies recommenced their work. New farm schools were established at Molong, near Orange in New South Wales and at Glenmore in Victoria. However, with World War II, and in the wake of Japanese aggression in the Pacific, the whole migration scene changed in Australia. The Government encouraged a new enthusiasm for a comprehensive immigration policy after the ending of hostilities. Child migration was, at first, considered a major part of this new immigration policy, but it was not to be.

In 1947, nearly 500 child migrants were brought to Australia, most of them under Catholic auspices and most to Western Australia. Thereafter, Fairbridge and Barnardo’s Homes and many other bodies brought in some children but numbers remained small and diminished with the years. On the other hand, youth migration under Big Brother auspices boomed and over the next twenty years, this association sponsored up to five hundred young men each year to settle in Australia.

In 1950, some Maltese child migrants – all boys – were placed in Christian Brothers orphanages in Western Australia. During the next decade some 280 boys arrived under this scheme. Meanwhile, British officials and missions came to Australia to investigate child migration: John Moss in 1952 and a larger Home Office team in 1956. Moss tended to favour sending British children to Australia, but four years later the Fact-Finding Mission was much more sceptical of its benefits. Almost immediately, the British Catholic ‘Rescue Societies’ terminated all plans to place their children in Australia. Other societies sent a few children each year until 1967 but essentially, child migration was over.

Times had changed and the social conditions and attitudes in the United Kingdom which had led to many children being sent abroad were disappearing. Grinding poverty was being reduced and the social services of the welfare state were being extended. The social slur which illegitimacy had cast over mother and child was waning. In the event, only some 3,500–4,000 child migrants came to Australia after World War II, although some thousands of young adults were brought out by the Big Brother Movement, the Boy Scout Association, the Young Catholic Workers Movement and other similar agencies. Child migration ended because the policy did not correspond with the new social realities which existed after World War II. Changing times rendered it almost inevitable that there would be controversy over the last phase of the policy and there was.

In 1987, the Child Migrant Trust, founded by Margaret Humphreys and based in Nottingham (UK), commenced to publicise child emigration and to work actively to reunite former child migrants with their surviving parents and other relatives. The work of the Trust encouraged both popular and academic interest in the subject. Two British writers, Philip Bean and Joy Melville, published Lost Children of the Empire which brought knowledge of this phase of English child care policy to a wider audience, especially when the book’s findings were dramatised in a television documentary. In 1992, the ABC and BBC co-sponsored a television mini-series, The Leaving of Liverpool, which has been shown twice in Australia and once in the United Kingdom since that time.

In 1998, a British Parliamentary delegation visited Australia to enquire into child migration and meet former child migrants. It was led by David Hinchliffe, MP, and came under the auspices of the Health Committee of the House of Commons. Its arrival was accompanied by widespread publicity. Its report, findings and recommendations may prove to be the last act in assessing a policy which commenced nearly 400 years ago.

A child migration timeline

1607 First permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, on the north American coast.
1615 Labour shortage. The Privy Council sanctions the transportation of convicted felons to Virginia and the West Indian island colonies such as Bermuda.
1617 London Common Council and the Virginia Company consider sending ‘vagrant’ children (street kids) to Virginia.
1619 First 100 vagrant children rounded up and despatched to Virginia; venture declared a success; second group planned.
1620 (January) Opposition to child migration; first group sent illegally, but 31 January the Privy Council authorises child migration. Second 100 children sent to America.
1622 Indian massacre of 350 settlers in Virginia in the wake of which another 100 vagrant children were sent among the reinforcements.
1645 Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England arranges the emigration of some 200 poor children (not, however ‘vagrants’) to North American colonies. The children were escorted to the colonies by members of the society. ‘Spiriting’ (ie kidnapping) children for work in Americas had grown to meet the perennial labour shortage in the colonies. Bristol the main port of emigration. Parliament passes an ordinance to make spiriting a felony.
1664 An office was created, under Roger Whitely, to register intended emigrants leaving British ports for the Americas. Spiriting continues; registering not a success.
1682 Privy Council creates another department to register young persons leaving for the colonies to counter the activities of unscrupulous emigration agents and ‘spirits’.
1698 (September) Flying Post newspaper reporter claims he observed ‘about 200’ kidnapped boys held on a ship in the Thames awaiting departure for the colonies.
1740s Aberdeen (Scotland) and environs saw some 500 young people kidnapped for the colonies.
1756 Marine Society founded by Jonas Hanway and Sir John Fielding to train ‘boys from 12 to 16’ found roaming the streets for service in the Royal Navy.
1757 The Extraordinary Adventures of Peter Williamson exposes kidnapping of children in Scotland for service in the Americas. The book led to a celebrated civil action against certain Aberdeen businessmen and magistrates for complicity in the traffic.
1783 American War of Independence confirms the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen seaboard colonies in North America; end of adult convict transportation to the American colonies.
1788 New South Wales established as a penal colony; many of the convicts transported were under eighteen years of age.
1789–1815  French revolutionary wars; Napoleon Bonaparte. The wars involved many thousands of young men who would formerly have gone – freely or otherwise – to the North American colonies.
1830 Captain E P Brenton founded the Children’s Friend Society whose policy was reformation plus emigration for outcast youth. In the 1830s the Children’s Friend Society despatched some 700–800 boys as child migrants to the Cape Colony with a few children going to Toronto in Upper Canada (Ontario).
1838 Parkhurst prison established on the Isle of Wight where convicted boys under sixteen years of age passed some of their sentence before (possible) emigration to a British colony. Some Parkhurst boys went to New Zealand; others to Western Australia.
1844 Ragged School Movement founded with Earl of Shaftesbury as President.
1849 Ragged Schools received a grant of fifteen hundred pounds to send 150 children to New South Wales.
1850 Parliament allowed the Poor Law Guardians with the consent of the Poor Law Board to fund the emigration of any child in their care.
1849–51 St. Pancras Poor Law Guardians emigrated small numbers of children to the British colonies in the West Indies.
1853 In New York, the Congregational Minister, Rev. C L Brace, founded the Children’s Aid Society.
1854 The Children’s Aid Society sent its first group of ‘orphans’ from New York – by train – to be adopted or indentured to farming families in the middle west states of Iowa, Michigan, Kansas and Ohio. Between 1854 and 1930 the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital sent between 150 000 and 200 000 children on the ‘Orphan Trains’ to the western farming states.
1869 Scottish-born evangelist, Annie Macpherson, opened her Home of Industry at Spitalfield in the desperately deprived East End of London. The more famous Thomas Barnardo also commenced his work for the poor in London.
1870 Macpherson escorted her first party of one hundred children to Ontario, Canada. Rev. Charles Brace of ‘Orphan Train’ fame was, in part, her inspiration. Her centre in Ontario was at Belleville; her receiving home’s name was ‘Marchmont’. Father Nugent of Liverpool pioneered Catholic child migration to Canada.
1872 Macpherson opened two additional Canadian receiving homes at Galt in Ontario and Knowlton in Quebec. She arranged emigration parties from Barnardo’s, the Orphan Homes of Scotland (Quarrier) and the Smyly homes of Dublin as well as from her own London ‘Home of Industry’.
1875 Senior Poor Law Inspector, John Doyle, reported unfavourably on some aspects of child migration to Canada, especially that arranged by Maria Rye. The result was that fewer workhouse, industrial school and reformatory children were sent as child migrants; most young emigrants came from private care facilities.
1881 Dr Barnardo embraced child migration wholeheartedly – he was already the dominant child care personality of the age – his organisation sponsored 20 000 children to Canada by 1930.
1888 William Quarrier, founder of the Orphan Homes of Scotland, Bridge of Weir, near Glasgow, started his own Canadian receiving home called ‘Fairknowe’ at Brockville, Ontario.
1891 The Custody of Children Act (so called ‘Barnardo’s Act’) legalised the work of the private emigration societies where previously they had acted in a legal grey area.
1899 Catholic child migration was centralised through the Archdiocese of Westminster ‘Crusade of Rescue’. Its leaders in London included Fathers Richard Seddon and Archibald Douglas and in Birmingham, Father John Hudson.
1901 Australian colonies federated as the Commonwealth of Australia. Immigration Restriction Act enshrines the principle of a ‘white Australia’. The Pacific Island Labourers Act was passed under which all Pacific Islanders on contract in the colonies were to be returned to their places of origin by 1906.
1903 The tone of child migration rhetoric was becoming less religious and more imperial. A new departure came when Mrs Elinor Close advocated the training of workhouse children in Canadian farm schools before their placement with Canadian farmers. No support from Poor Law Board, but some private assistance. Training farm established in Nova Scotia.
1911 Kingsley Fairbridge popularised the farm school movement with the support of an Oxford-based committee and an offer of land near Perth by the Western Australian Government. The Dreadnought Trust – with Government assistance – subsidised youth migration to Australia, mainly to New South Wales. The youths were intended for farm work after an initial three-months training at the Scheyville centre near Windsor.
1912 Thomas Sedgwick popularised the benefits of youth migration to Australia or New Zealand for farm work. Youths sent were often around 15–19 years of age; child migrants were under fourteen years of age. Sedgwick’s first party of 50 youths selected from London and Liverpool was sent to New Zealand.
1913 The first home sponsored by the Child Emigration Society of Oxford was established at Pinjarra, some forty kilometres south-east of Perth by Kingsley and Ruby Fairbridge. The first few years were an epic struggle for survival.
1914 First World War ended all emigration from Great Britain.
1920 The British care societies recommenced sending children to Canada, but their efforts were on a smaller scale than before.
1921 The Joint Commonwealth and States Scheme allowed for new cooperation in the field of immigration between Federal and State governments in Australia. The Commonwealth took responsibility for recruiting, medical examination and transport of immigrants to Australia, while the states advised the Commonwealth on the number and type of immigrants required and arranged reception, employment and after-care. Directors of Immigration were appointed both in Australia and London.
1923 The Empire Settlement Act provided monies for the British Government to assist emigration, including child and youth migration. The first Barnardo’s child migrants arrived in New South Wales. Kingsley Fairbridge received substantial assistance from the Overseas Settlement Board in London to place his farm school at Pinjarra on a permanent footing.
1924 Kingsley Fairbridge died but the farm school movement was accepted as a superior approach to child migration as a result of his work. Sir Richard Linton founded the Big Brother Movement in Sydney to encourage youth migration on a large scale.
1926 Catholic leaders in Perth plan for a farm school at Tardun, west of Geraldton, as an extension of Clontarf Orphanage, and staffed by the Christian Brothers.
1930 In the wake of the Great Depression, child migration to Canada ended, except to the Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia, which was established later. Most immigration to Australia was severely curtailed although Fairbridge was permitted to bring children to its Pinjarra farm school and Barnardo’s to continue with its work at Mowbray Park, Picton, NSW.
1937 New farm schools on Fairbridge principles were established at Molong, near Orange, New South Wales and at Bacchus March near Melbourne. This latter was the Lady Northcote Farm School. Renewal of the Empire Settlement Act for a further fifteen years.
1938–39 The first 114 child migrants under Catholic auspices arrived in Western Australia as part of the Tardun scheme. This was part of a partial renewal of assistance schemes by the Commonwealth Government.
1939 The outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 led to the suspension of child and youth migration schemes.
1940 There was fear of a German invasion in Britain and the Children’s Overseas Reception Board arranged to send 577 children to Australia for the duration before the risk of submarine attack rendered the scheme unworkable.
1941 The fear of Japanese invasion led the Government to plan for large-scale immigration after the war. Child and youth migration was to be a major part of this effort.
1944 The Curtis Committee Report in the UK heralded a different thrust in child care principles.
1945 War ended. For two years no ships available to bring migrants to Australia. Meanwhile, social change meant that few British children were available for child migration. Youth migration to Australia was much more popular. However, the Dreadnought Scheme did not survive the war.
1947 First post-World War II child migrants arrive in Australia. The majority were placed in Western Australian institutions and about one-half now came under Catholic auspices. Big Brother Movement, NSW and Tasmania, renewed its youth migration to Australia and during the 1950s brought some 400 young men per year, fifteen to eighteen years of age, to Australia. Overall, some 12 500 teenagers came to Australia under this scheme since its inception in 1925.
1950 Maltese child migrants – all boys – arrived in Australia for the first time. All were placed in the Christian Brothers institutions in Western Australia. Eventually about 280 Maltese child migrants came to Australia.
1952 John Moss, retired Home Office Inspector, and member of the Curtis Committee, toured Australian child care institutions. In general, Moss remained sympathetic to child migration for certain deprived British children.
1956 Home Office Fact-Finding Committee visited Australia to study Australian institutions taking child migrants as the Commonwealth Settlement Act was due for renewal the following year. Committee’s secret report to the Home Office was very critical of some Australian institutions and cold to the whole idea of child emigration. British Catholic care institutions terminated all plans to send further children to Australia.
1957 The Commonwealth Settlement Act was renewed by the British Parliament but few child migrants arrived in Australia, although small numbers arrived under Barnardo’s and Fairbridge auspices. In all, some 3,500–4,000 child migrants came to Australia after World War II.
1967 The last nine child migrants came to Australia by air with the Barnardo’s organisation.
1973 The new Labor Government ended preference for British migrants in Australia’s immigration.
1983 Big Brother Movement ceases to sponsor youth migrants to Australia.
1986 Nottingham social worker, Margaret Humphreys, received her first request from a former child migrant for assistance in finding her relatives and commenced her efforts to reunite former child migrants with their families. This initiative led to the formation of the Child Migrant Trust (CMT) with some financial support from the Nottingham City Council, together with the British and Australian Governments over time.
1987 Margaret Humphreys’ research visits to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. In both Western Australia and the United Kingdom the child migration controversy commenced in the media with a series of major articles in The Observer. In Perth, Western Australia, the Child Migrant Friendship Society was founded as a support group for former child migrants.
1988 Research visits to Canada and Zimbabwe by Margaret Humphreys.
1989 Philip Bean and Joy Melville publish Lost Children of the Empire which was soon afterwards filmed and distributed as a television documentary. Both publicised child migration widely and encouraged popular and academic interest in the subject. Thousands of calls received on help lines following the screening of this documentary.
1990 Child Migrant Trust receives a three-year grant from the Australian Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.
1991 Child Migrant Trust opens an office in Melbourne, Victoria and appoints qualified and experienced social worker.
1992 The ABC and BBC co-produced a mini-series, The Leaving of Liverpool, which explored the child migration phenomenon. In Perth, the VOICES organisation was established to press for compensation for former residents of Christian Brothers Boys homes in Western Australia.
1993 In July, The Leaving of Liverpool was shown in the UK by the BBC. Nottinghamshire County Council provided free telephone help lines staffed by the CMT for two evenings. Computer monitoring revealed that over 10 000 calls were made. The Christian Brothers published nationwide a public apology in regard to physical and sexual abuses committed in their Western Australian homes and provided a counselling service and travel assistance to some former child migrants to visit the UK.
1994 CMT Director’s book Empty Cradles was launched at a function at the House of Commons in London.
1995 Following the CMT’s submission, citizenship fees were waived for former child migrants, thus effectively recognising their unique position in Australian society, as well as the expertise of the Trust in verifying the bona fides of former child migrants seeking Australian citizenship. The Trust opens an office in Perth, Western Australia.
1996 The civil action sponsored by the VOICES organisation was settled out of court with $3.5 million distributed among some 250 former students, many of whom were former child migrants. A Western Australian parliamentary committee investigated child migration. Over the next three years, the Christian Brothers produced a raft of measures to meet the needs of former child migrants which included: funding for a project to produce a computerised index to records of former child migrants who came to Australia under the auspices of the Catholic Church; and commissioning a survey of accommodation needs among former residents of Christian Brothers homes.
1997 The United Kingdom Health Committee announced an inquiry into the welfare of British former child migrants, after ten years of campaigning by the Child Migrant Trust.
1998 A UK Parliamentary Committee on Child Migration visited Australia to investigate this former aspect of British social policy. Its report, issued in August, was critical of child migration policy in general and of the treatment many former child migrants experienced in Australia, especially in certain Catholic homes in Western Australia and Queensland. The Western Australian Legislative Assembly passed a motion on 13 August apologising to former child migrants for any abuses they suffered in the state’s institutions during their childhood.
Average: 7 (1 vote)

The economy behind child placement

It's interesting to read how a country's economy decides the placement of children:

The large increase in child migration after 1870 was triggered by desperate economic conditions over the previous few years: the social havoc caused by the 1866 cholera epidemic, the bad harvest of 1867 and widespread unemployment during a cyclic downturn in the economy. It was during this period that Annie Macpherson, Thomas Barnardo and William Booth commenced their work among the poorest and most destitute in the East End of London. To all of them, and many other religious workers, emigration seemed the one certain way for the desperately poor to better themselves....

...With the outbreak of World War I, migration from the British Isles was suspended, and when it recommenced in 1920, the numbers of children sent were never on the same scale.[18] By 1920, powerful interest groups in Canada opposed the entry of unaccompanied juveniles and throughout the following decade child migration to Canada diminished. The Great Depression finally terminated their entry

Desperate economic conditions put more children in-care, but when a war broke-out, I guess those unwanted kids were needed to serve God and Country. Once things stabilized, and charity kids got to be too much of a burden again.... OUT they went, until desperate economic times hit.   Compare this history in child placement with today's practice within the international adoption community:

International adoption rates have been scaling down since 2004, when there were 22,884 adoptions. In 2008, according to the U.S. State Department, 17,438 children were adopted to the country.

The dire economic climate certainly plays a role. But other factors contribute for the downward trend.

Some other factors making up the "perfect storm" include changes in national adoption policies and tougher enforcement of international standards, said Chuck Johnson, chief operating officer for the National Council For Adoption.

And "many, many dozens (of adoption agencies) have closed within the last year because they couldn't survive the changes," Johnson said.

China, he adds, has gone through a "shift in policy" to increase the number of domestic adoptions.

Adoption rates from China to the U.S. have steadily declined from 2005, when there were nearly 8,000 adoptions. In 2008, there were 3,911 adoptions.

Baumgartner and Johnson say the need for international adoption is growing.

The international adoption rate will continue to drop further before it rises again.

"There's no doubt about that," Johnson said.  [From:  "Foreign adoptions on the decline", Jane Huh, February 16, 2009,,vadoption.article ]

Strong economic conditions allow the luxury needed to consider family-planning which may include the adoption-option.  Desperate economic conditions prevent people from adopting.. (but oddly enough, desperate times do not prevent people from having sex and getting pregnant...)

 When a private foreign adoption can cost as much as $45,000 (or more), it's not surprising the rate of international adoption will drop. One has to be in a very strong secure economy to afford that much for a single child.  Question:  if fees decrease, will the international adoption rate rebound, and if so, will it rebound only if other countries are in strong economic times?  

Of course, adopters living in countries where there are thousands of adoptable children in-care (like America and Canada), they can always buy-domestic; they can avoid the inflated foreign fees that end-up in the wrong pockets, anyway.  And they don't have to spend money on air-travel, hotel accomodations that may or may not have the right outlet plugs, or eat foreign food and drink foreign water that will give you the runs the entire trip. Sure, the cost-difference means you can't have some great T-shirt that says, "I saved a child from a Russian/Chinese/African orphanage", but adoption is for the child, not the adopter, right?

The million-dollar question is:  if the domestic adoption rate increases, will those fees for adoption increase, too?  What about adoption incentives/subsidies paid to domestic adopters?  Would they change if domestic adoption numbers rose or declined?

I'll guess we'll have to watch and see what China does...

Price elasticity

I have often wondered about the price elasticity of adoption. Does the demand of adoption drop when the price goes up, does it remain more or less stable, or does the demand even go up when the price goes up?

I think all three happen to a degree, but it's hard to figure out which mechanism is most dominant.

For some, their adoption aspirations will stop when the price becomes too high. Right now adoption fees in the order of $20,000 to $30,000 are not prohibitive for most wanting to adopt, especially when adoption subsidies are taken into consideration, but when income declines, as is the case in the current economy, the cost may become prohibitive. This is more likely for adopters that are not members of a church. For church members it is more easy to get the money for an adoption through fund raising, making the demand for adoption among that group relatively inelastic until the price really goes through the roof, or income really drops to poverty levels.  

For some there is probably even a reverse effect. The more expensive the adoption the bigger the demand. Adoption can be seen as a  Veblen good, just like Louis Vuitton bags, Prada shoes and Cartier jewelery, the more exclusive the adoption, the higher the demand. This snob effect could partially explain the reason why adoption from the American foster care system is not increasing, while the adoption subsidies are rising. Children from the American foster care system are not as exclusive as a child from Hungary, Lithuania, or even Ethiopia.

For Ethiopia the  bandwagon effect could possibly play a role too. Adoptions from Ethiopia have grown enormously over the last couple of years, making it likely that some people decide to adopt from that country because they want-one-too.

In general, it is likely, though there are no definitive figures, that the demand for adoption is relatively inelastic. Many who want to adopt, do so desperately. Quite a few have taken out an extra mortgage on their house to afford adoption. It is also uncommon for adopters to bargain about the price, something most would do for equally expensive purchases.

For the supply side of the economy very different mechanisms seem to work. During an economic down turn the effects on public funding are usually much higher than the impact on upper-middle and upper income families. It is certainly true that upper-income families lose a lot of money during a crash of the economy, but they are also the first to recover (the Dow Jones is almost at the level it was before September 2008, while States are mostly cash-strapped). Taxes are usually kept low during economic down turns, further reducing the revenues of States and with that the funding of the foster care system.

At the same time the influx into the foster care system usually grows during an economic down turn. Lower and lower-middle income families are usually hit much harder than those higher up the economic ladder, and they recover much slower once the economy picks up again. Homelessness increases, making it much more likely for children to be removed from their families, and due to unemployment and economic anxiety abuse increases (as do alcoholism and drug abuse).

Even though it sounds illogical, there is also a correlation between unwanted pregnancies and poverty. The more desperate the situation, the more likely unwanted pregnancies happen. Having positive expectations about the future delays pregnancy, while having nothing to look forward to increases the likelihood of getting pregnant. This effect causes an increase in the supply of adoptable infants, a market that is almost as appealing to most adopters as the international market.

Adoption agencies previously only working internationally are now moving towards domestic infant adoption. This is not necessarily related to the economy, because the trend started before the economic crisis of 2008, and is mostly related to a dwindling supply in foreign countries. This focus on domestic adoption however does coincide with an increase of supply of adoptable infants since 2008.

The question is if the supply of domestic adoptable infants actually matches the demand for adoptable infants. There are reasons to expect it doesn't. Economic down turns usually hit the lowest economic group most, which in the US is overrepresented by the black population. Black children (mostly of West-African decent) have been notoriously unpopular products in the adoption market. This is true for the domestic adoption market as well as for the international market (Ethiopia is an East-African country with a different shade of black that apparently IS popular) and is also one of the reasons why adoption from foster care is not all that popular.

The demand for children of West-African decent is likely to be relatively inelastic too. No matter how low the price, many prospective adopters prefer not to adopt children of West-African decent, unless the snob effect starts to play a role. Just like Angelina Jolie made the adoption of Ethiopian children a fad, so can the adoption of a black child by Sandra Bullock help create a market for black American infants. This is likely to work best if the price is kept relatively high, creating a false sense of exclusivity.

For the children in the American foster care system the Bullock-effect (if it is going to happen) will likely not do much. Most of them are older, many of them form sibling groups and many of them have experienced some form of neglect or abuse, making them "damaged goods". Lowering the price further (increasing subsidies) is not going to help much. In the end, the cost of raising a child is much higher than the cost of adoption, so it is very unlikely that people will adopt a child from foster care because it is cheap, when the cost of raising the child is much higher than the bargain made by adopting cheaply.

Unfortunately we know very little about the economy of adoption and the price elasticity of demand for adoptable children. Adoption is defined not to be the purchase of children, instead the cost of adoption is translated into the cost of adoption related services. This may be the political correct thing to do, but it blurs the actual economic activity in the adoption market. After all people don't go to an adoption agency to purchase a form I-800 application, but go to an adoption agency because they want a child.

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