Finding the families of Sussex’s first children in care

As Action for Children marks 150 years of helping vulnerable children, the charity is 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 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 Home – now Action for Children – in the late 1800s. 

Jan Twynam, from Chichester, is the great grandniece of Alice Valentine, who was looked after in National Children’s Homes in London and Yorkshire.

Jan said: “I’ve been researching my family tree for seven years and although I knew of Alice I had absolutely no idea she’d been in a children’s home.

“It shocked me at first but then I was so happy to find out she’d stayed in the home for a number of years and that she lived a long life, dying at the age of 89. As far as I can tell she lived a happy life too.

“I was four when Alice died and as far as I know I never met her but I really wish I had. Getting involved with Action for Children’s search has renewed my determination to find out even more about my other relatives from all those years ago.

“It’s also been so wonderful seeing photos that the charity had of Alice as a little girl and the notes written about her from the home. It’s opened a whole new chapter up in terms of researching my family.”

The homes were set up at a time of widespread poverty when some children were sleeping on city streets and families were facing the workhouse. Children were also taken into care followingthe loss of parents to illness, when families struggled to cope with disabilities, or parents in abject poverty simply wanted 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 in 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.”

For a full gallery of over 30 images go to www.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 Home, please email [email protected]

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