Over the past 20 years, a number of countries across Europe, North America and Australasia have seen the rise of public inquiries and reports into cases of historic institutional child abuse.Footnote 1 This can, in part, be understood as an expression of relatively recent social trends, including greater public discussion of the nature and effects of child sexual abuse as well as the growing social influence of concepts of trauma and of moral restitution for past institutional failings.Footnote 2 Behind these more recent developments stands a longer and often hidden history of suffering caused through psychological, physical and sexual harm in childhood that has left lasting marks on individuals’ emotions, relationships and bodies.Footnote 3

In many of the cases from the past century towards which a critical historical gaze has now been turned, such suffering did not occur because of an absence of policy or legal prohibition. Surveys undertaken by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia documented 4444 individuals who had claimed to have been sexually abused in Roman Catholic organisations as well as 1085 complainants of sexual abuse concerning Anglican organisations since 1950.Footnote 4 This abuse was often the subject of institutional responses that prioritised protection for organisations’ public standing over criminal justice for child victims despite legal measures across Australian States prohibiting sexual assault and rape of children.Footnote 5 Similarly, in Ireland, the Ryan Commission concluded that existing legislation and guidelines concerning the corporal punishment of children were routinely broken across all of the residential institutions that it investigated, leading to violence against children that was arbitrary, spontaneous and excessive by standards of the time and which had a lasting effect on those exposed to it.Footnote 6 Rather than occurring through the absence of legal protections or policy standards, children suffered in these cases in spite of policy and legal frameworks intended to prevent it. The policy aspiration to protect children’s well-being, reinforced by wider discourses around children’s flourishing as both a public and private good, was for varying reasons too often undercut by other aims or loyalties, and impeded by institutional cultures, structures and systems.

This book is a study of another such case of policy failure in post-war children’s out-of-home care. The nature of ‘failure’ in policy contexts is, as recent studies have argued, at least to some degree in the eye of the beholder and depends on the criteria being used.Footnote 7 There were various ways in which organisations involved in child migration felt it to be a failure at the time. The numbers of children sent from the United Kingdom to Australia never matched either the ambition of, or financial investment from, the Australian Commonwealth Government and, by the early 1960s, assisted child migration was allowed to fade into obscurity in its immigration programmes. Others, as we shall see in coming chapters, thought of failure in this context primarily in educational terms and expressed concern that some receiving institutions were failing to provide a wide enough range of training suited to the needs of the individual child. As one administrator of the Fairbridge Society put it in 1945, the assumption that children need only be trained as farm labourers or domestic workers was ‘a serious injustice to the individual’.

The particular form of failure with which this book is concerned, however, is in the gap between the standards for children’s out-of-home care set out in the 1946 Curtis report which came to define child-care policies in the emerging welfare state and the conditions in Australia which many British child migrants experienced. Such a gap between policy aspiration and practice was far from unknown in the United Kingdom. The emphasis on the use of adoption and foster care over placement in residential institutions in the Curtis report and 1948 Children Act was still being unevenly implemented across Britain well into the 1960s, with services also, in many cases, being delivered and monitored by untrained child-care workers.Footnote 8 However, assisted child migration was, in several important respects, a different case to children receiving out-of-home care in the United Kingdom. As the Curtis Committee recognised, sending a child thousands of miles away from other family members and beyond the jurisdiction of British authorities entailed a special responsibility for ensuring both appropriate standards of selection and overseas care for child migrants. To imagine that emigration would give a child a better life was much harder, from this perspective, if it involved sending children to types of residential institution that the Curtis Committee felt unable to endorse in the United Kingdom. Whilst civil servants and ministers at the Home Office—which became the lead government department for children’s out-of-home care in 1947—understood and supported this policy perspective on child migration, it proved ultimately ineffective in ensuring that this policy was applied. By 1956, the gap between these Curtis standards and the realities on the ground for British child migrants in Australia had become all too clear to British policy-makers and within a few years, civil servants were privately hoping that the schemes would wither and die for lack of children being made available for emigration rather than face serious confrontation with Australian authorities and the voluntary societies still supporting this work. Far from being an anachronistic critique of child migration programmes by today’s standards, this book therefore seeks to provide a case study of how a post-war policy framework intended to safeguard children’s emotional and social development failed in practice to achieve this. In short, it is an attempt to make sense of how ‘A11’ and many others like him experienced childhood trauma through British child migration schemes in a policy context in which much better had been hoped for them.Footnote 9

The experience of ‘A11’ was far from unique. Child migrants’ experiences could vary significantly, with some viewing them positively or seeing their experiences as both a mix of positive and harmful.Footnote 10 However, the past 20 years has led to much greater documentation of forms of suffering experienced through child migration programmes. The recently concluded review of the abuse of child migrants undertaken by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is the ninth investigation to have taken place that has, in some way, touched on this.Footnote 11 Child migrants have themselves published memoirs of their experiences as well as wider accounts of the history of particular schemes,Footnote 12 alongside books by journalists and others with significant involvement in this field.Footnote 13 Oral histories have also been recorded, notably through a major project undertaken by the National Library of Australia, which explore former child migrants’ memories of their lives before migration and in Australian institutions, their adjustment from institutions into adult life and their reflections on the history of child migration in a period of public apologies.Footnote 14 These have provided various accounts of physical and sexual abuse, the pain of separation from families left in the United Kingdom or from siblings also migrated to Australia, the psychological effects of life in impersonal institutions and the longer-term effects of childhoods spent in some institutions that prioritised use of children’s labour over their education. As Margaret Humphreys, the founder of the Child Migrants’ Trust has put it, a number of child migrants faced multiple traumas in the wider context of a sense of fundamental loss of home and identity bound up with their migration from Britain.Footnote 15

These experiences took place in a post-war policy environment in which renewed attention was being given to the administration and standards of children’s out-of-home care. The establishment of the Curtis and Clyde Committees in 1945 to review systems and approaches to children’s out-of-home care in England and Wales, and in Scotland, respectively, had emerged out of a growing recognition within and outside government that the fragmented systems of governance and oversight currently in place were inefficient and unsafe.Footnote 16 With the experience of children’s war-time evacuation fresh in the national consciousness, and the rise of popularised ‘child psychology’ continuing to focus attention on children’s emotional lives and individual development,Footnote 17 the Curtis report became a means not only of setting in train clearer lines of administration for children’s out-of-home care in the emerging post-war welfare state, but a marker of standards to be expected for the future. Children’s care was to move decisively from older institutional models of containment to a new era of more personalised care, attentive to the child’s need to develop through play and increasing autonomy, in an environment that resembled as closely as possible the ‘normal family home’. Although far from being a central concern in its final report, the Curtis Committee recognised that assisted child migration was likely to resume soon. Whilst not completely opposing this, it recommended that this be restricted to a very limited range of children for whom it would genuinely represent the best option for their individual future and that it only be undertaken on the basis of the standards commended in the Committee’s report for children’s out-of-home care more generally. This was the policy agenda that the Home Office, as the lead department for children’s out-of-home care was to take up and that was meant to frame post-war child migration policy.

In attempting to explain the gap between post-war policy aspirations for children’s out-of-home care and the lived experience of many British child migrants,Footnote 18 this book focuses primarily on knowledge, assumptions and decisions within the parts of the UK Government most involved in the administration of this work: the Dominions Office (which became the Commonwealth Relations Office in 1947), the Home Office and the UK High Commission in Canberra. These governmental bodies operated in the context of wider trans-national administrative networks which involved UK voluntary organisations and local authorities who provided children for migration, eight ‘recognised’ sending bodies (all of whom were voluntary organisations),Footnote 19 UK-based immigration officials at Australia House in London and the Australian Commonwealth Government, Australian State Governments (particularly their child welfare and immigration departments) and voluntary organisations in Australia who received child migrants and acted as their custodians.

The decision to focus this analysis primarily on the UK Government is not intended to imply that the sources of policy failure in this context lay only with British policy-makers. The complex, multi-agency oversight of post-war child migration to Australia was an anomaly in the context of the emerging welfare state in which greater clarity and integration in the administration of children’s out-of-home care were being prioritised. Such complexity increased the potential for the delivery of assisted child migration to be compromised by competing policy priorities (including different policy goals for assisted migration and for children’s care), by failures in information-gathering and sharing and by caution in over-stepping departmental remits or causing overt confrontation with other organisational stakeholders. Failures to protect the welfare of British child migrants therefore occurred across many of the organisations involved in this work as well as in the policy and administrative systems through which they interacted with each other. In the case of the voluntary societies involved, I have shown elsewhere how their particular meso-level structures and cultures also contributed to failures to protect the welfare of child migrants.Footnote 20 These included distinctively religious factors, including different forms of governance structure within religious organisations, religious conceptions of the child and the ways in which actions that proved harmful to children were obscured through different forms of religious legitimation.

Whilst this book provides insights into wider systemic failures in these post-war child migration programmes, and within particular voluntary societies, its primary aim is therefore to develop a better understanding of policy failure in government systems. By providing a close reading of policy decision-making and administrative processes within the relevant departments of the UK Government, it seeks to clarify the specific factors which caused the gap between policy-makers’ awareness of appropriate standards and the capacity of the machinery of government to ensure that these standards were applied. The focus of the coming chapters is therefore on archival material which provides evidence of key periods of decision-making and the operation of administrative systems for these child migration programmes from the early 1920s until the early 1960s, by which time unaccompanied child migration to Australia was substantially in decline. The coming chapters do not seek to provide a detailed account of former child migrants’ own experiences of those early lives. That work has already been undertaken very substantially by the books, oral histories and inquiries referred to above. Rather this book has been written to provide the most extensive analysis yet undertaken to understand the policy context and systems in the United Kingdom through which their childhood experiences took place.

As the coming chapters will show, before child migration to Australia resumed in the summer of 1947, there was already a substantial understanding within the Dominions Office of both actual failures and potential risks associated with this work. Despite this, funding was provided by the UK Government to voluntary organisations for around 3200 unaccompanied child migrants sent to Australia in the post-war period. Child migration resumed and continued in the post-war period not because it was assumed to be without problems in the Commonwealth Relations Office and Home Office. Rather the post-war schemes operated in the midst of continuing negotiations about what conditions for child migrants were actually like, what standards could reasonably be expected and how problems might be mitigated bearing in mind the complex web of organisational relationships through which interventions needed to be implemented. Through this process, British policy-makers increasingly saw child migration as, at best, a tolerable system, perpetuated by precedent, rather than something strongly desirable. Organisational investments in this work and desire to avoid conflict with influential stakeholders meant that these programmes ultimately came to an end not through central government intervention but the declining numbers of children put forward for migration.

Child migrants were therefore placed at risk not simply through over-complex systems of administration and governance, but because of specific institutional cultures, interests and decisions. In the case of the UK Government, this centred around policy-makers’ sense of what was desirable for child migrants balanced against their perceptions of what was practical given the actual or imagined limits of their power and the need to maintain working relationships with other governmental and voluntary organisations. As the coming chapters will demonstrate, such causes of policy failure lie not simply in rational choices about policy priorities or macro-level political and economic factors, but in the meso-level structures of, and relations between, specific government departments and micro-level factors such as policy-makers’ perceptions of affinity, trust and expertise.

In examining this case of policy failure, the book also seeks to contribute to the growing academic literature on the history of the early post-war welfare state. Whilst operating in a period of the consolidation of state power over the provision of children’s out-of-home care, the history of post-war child migration to Australia further illustrates how the emerging welfare state operated not simply as a system of centralised control, but as a ‘mixed economy’ between state and voluntary organisations.Footnote 21 The case of post-war child migration to Australia, which involved interactions between local and national governments in both the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as between a range of voluntary and professional organisations, provides a rich example of this ‘mixed economy’ in action. Supported by state funding, and operating at least notionally within systems of state oversight, these child migration programmes were delivered primarily by voluntary organisations and involved at least five times as many children sent from the care of voluntary organisations than from local authorities. This system was not one of a straightforward divergence of provision by the state and voluntary sectors, however, but of complex and evolving interactions between them. Far from constituting an example of the growing power of the centralised welfare state, these child migration programmes provide evidence of policy-makers’ perceptions of the limits of their power.Footnote 22 They also demonstrate that whilst broad principles of ‘child psychology’ were becoming increasingly influential in post-war public policy on children’s out-of-home care, that influence was not uniformly strong and could be diluted by other organisational pressures.Footnote 23

More specifically, this study adds to knowledge of the role of civil servants in these processes. Although high-level decisions about assisted migration policy and the administration of children’s out-of-home care were ultimately made by politicians, the day-to-day operation of the child migration schemes was over-seen and managed by civil servants in Britain and Australia. Politicians only usually became involved in more detailed policy discussions when they either involved serious concerns about child migrants’ welfare, substantial policy changes or parliamentary questions and debates. In practice, this meant that the evolution of policy on British child migration often took place through intra- or inter-departmental discussions between civil servants. By offering a fine-grained analysis of these policy interactions, this study in particular adds greater detail to the broader analysis of the working of the Home Office Children’s Department provided by previous studies.Footnote 24

This book also seeks to contribute to the wider literature on the history of British child migration schemes. It provides the most extensive account yet published of the United Kingdom and Australian Commonwealth Government’s involvement in post-war child migration to Australia, adding to existing historiography on British child migration that has focused on migration to Canada,Footnote 25 Southern Rhodesia,Footnote 26 the work of particular voluntary organisations,Footnote 27 or more specific aspects or periods of policy and practice.Footnote 28 Through its discussion of the failings of religious organisations in their child-care work, it also seeks to demonstrate a shadow-side of religious involvement in post-war welfare systems that has not always received adequate attention in more positive historical and sociological accounts of religious welfare initiatives.Footnote 29 A related undercurrent within the book, reflected in the growing tensions between Curtis standards of care and some religious organisations, is the increasing divergence between secular concepts of childhood well-being, grounded in broad principles of child psychology, and understandings of childhood that prioritised formation within particular religious denominations. The emerging tension between secular and religious conceptions of the child in the post-war period—exemplified in diverging views of Curtis Committee members on the relative importance of religious formation within a particular denominationFootnote 30—remains an important topic for further exploration and is one which I hope to return to in more detail in future.

The first part of this book sets out the policy context from which post-war child migration schemes to Australia emerged. Chapter 1 examines how the gradual growth of child migration work in the inter-war period was situated in a broader policy shift towards better co-ordinated and resourced imperial settlement, intended to promote more efficient use of the British Empire’s natural and human resources. Leading to the passing of the Empire Settlement Act in 1922, this policy emphasis created an environment in which child migration was initially seen as a small part of wider imperial settlement strategies compared to juvenile migration schemes which were expected to play a more significant role. With UK Government support for most child migration to Canada ending in 1925, interest in child migration to Australia began to grow. From 1928, the global economic depression was to have a major effect on assisted migration policy more generally. As the economies of British Dominions declined, and unemployment grew, it was no longer politically nor economically sustainable for governments to fund adults or juveniles to travel overseas to Dominions in which the supply of paid employment was weakening. A major re-evaluation of British assisted migration policy took place, through both the Empire Migration Committee of the Economic Advisory Council and an Inter-Departmental Committee on Migration Policy, in which the belief that assisted migration could stimulate the imperial economy was now rejected in favour of the recognition that imperial migration was a symptom, and not a driver, of economic growth. Whilst ambitions for co-ordinated approaches to adult and juvenile migration were scaled back, child migration came to be seen as one of the most sustainable forms of assisted migration. Children did not pose immediate demands on the Australian labour market and the costs of their overseas care would not be significantly greater than if they remained in the United Kingdom. Further opportunities to send child migrants opened up with new farm schools associated with the Fairbridge Society being built in Victoria and New South Wales, and approval also being given for children to be sent to institutions run by Catholic religious orders in Western Australia. By 1939, child migration programmes to Australia had become a well-established element in the migration policies of both the UK and Australian Commonwealth Governments.

Chapter 2 examines how, during the war years, the Dominions Office and UK High Commission in Canberra became far more aware of a range of problems in the delivery of child migration work than in the inter-war period. Although the Dominions Office had already become involved in the 1930s in growing tensions that had arisen in administrative relations between Fairbridge committees in London and Australia, a succession of incidents were to raise doubts about several of the institutions to which British child migrants were being sent. In 1942, the UK High Commissioner, Sir Ronald Cross, sent the Dominions Office a report detailing a number of concerns that he had about the living conditions and organisational attitudes he had observed during a visit to the Christian Brothers’ farm school at Tardun. This was followed, a few months later, by a report from another member of staff at the UK High Commission, Walter Garnett, describing a series of problems at the Northcote farm school at Bacchus Marsh which were largely blamed on the out-going Principal. Whilst a follow-up report on Christian Brothers’ institutions in Western Australia by a State Government official was judged by Clement Attlee to have alleviated some immediate concerns about Tardun, the need for a further visit from the UK High Commission was accepted. Copies of correspondence about the Northcote farm school forwarded to the Dominions Office by the Fairbridge Society in London also revealed their knowledge of a range of problems at Northcote, including failures to provide regular reports on children sent there, since 1939. Later in 1943, the Fairbridge Society in London also raised concerns with the Dominions Office about reports about restrictive training and work opportunities being provided for child migrants sent to Pinjarra. A few months later, Fairbridge forwarded on a dossier detailing a range of criticisms that had been made about the Pinjarra’s management and which were supported by a critical independent report produced by a consultant, Caroline Kelly, for the Australian Commonwealth Government. Whilst Walter Garnett challenged many of the claims in the dossier, a fuller report that he produced in 1944 argued that significant improvements were required in the management, staffing, training and after-care at some institutions accommodating child migrants if these schemes were to resume successfully after the war. By 1945, the Dominions Office was coming to the view that in future Australian institutions receiving British child migrants would need to receive annual monitoring visits from an official at the UK High Commission, even if these were presented more as informal visits than formal inspections. Whilst concern was expressed about sending children to institutions over which the UK Government, or British voluntary organisations, could exercise little or no control, others suggested that to attempt control from the United Kingdom smacked of old colonialist attitudes inappropriate to a new era of autonomous government in the Dominions. Despite much greater knowledge of the ways in which child migration programmes could fail children, and of the lack of effective monitoring in the past, the presumption remained, however, that child migration still had a useful if limited role for the future.

Chapter 3 examines the significance of the 1946 Curtis report in shaping the post-war policy landscape of children’s out-of-home care in which child migration to Australia was to resume. Arising both out of an awareness within Government of the need to restructure a fragmented out-of-home care, and a successful public campaign by Marjorie Allen for an inquiry to examine standards in residential institutions, the Curtis report put forward a number of recommendations for reforming administrative systems that were subsequently implemented in the 1948 Children Act. Beyond its influence on the administration of children’s care, the Curtis report also offered a substantial review of standards across a range of residential institutions and foster homes. Whilst recognising that standards of material provision were, on the whole, reasonably good, the report was far more critical of standards of emotional care in residential homes. Drawing on popularised concepts from child psychology, particularly from Susan Isaacs, the report argued that too many institutions failed to offer children sufficient individual attention, security of affection or adequate resources to develop through play. With this in mind, it recommended that children in future be cared for in environments that resembled as closely as possible the ‘normal family home’, ideally through adoption or failing that through boarding out with foster carers. Where residential care continued to be used, this should not follow the model of the large, impersonal ‘barrack’ institution, but smaller grouped or scattered homes, with no more than ten children under the care of a ‘cottage mother’. Whilst aware of the existence of child migration schemes, the Curtis Committee chose only to receive evidence from central government departments with statutory responsibility for different forms of children’s out-of-home care, which did not include the Dominions Office. The Committee’s views on child migration were influenced by a memorandum from the Fairbridge Society which again raised the London Committee’s concern about the problems of sending children to institutions in Australia over which it had no control with regard to standards of care. Whilst giving qualified support to the resumption of child migration, the Curtis report emphasised a point made by the Fairbridge Society that child migrants sent overseas should not receive standards of care that were any lower than those which the report recommended should be implemented in England and Wales. Whilst ostensibly creating a policy framework in which greater attention would be given to conditions in Australian receiving institutions, limitations in achieving this were to become apparent in the following years.

Part two of the book discusses the processes through which post-war child migration to Australia resumed, grew and gradually declined. Chapter 4 begins by examining how post-war child migration to Australia operated in the context of more ambitious policy goals for child migration by the Australian Commonwealth Government, which began to be developed during the war years. Whilst initially aiming to receive 50,000 British child migrants in the first three years after the war, these plans were scaled down both in the light of reduced expectations of the numbers of children likely to be available for migration and a realisation about the cost of building new cottage-home style accommodation under State Government control. Whilst child migration was still seen as one important means of resisting an anticipated demographic decline in the Australian population through the middle decades of the twentieth century, a less expensive solution was found by funding the expansion of existing residential institutions run by voluntary organisations. In the context of this stronger interest from the Australian Commonwealth Government, several voluntary organisations in Britain and Australia sought to begin or to scale up their child migration work. Through a somewhat chaotic planning process, the first parties of post-war British child migrants began to arrive in Australia in the autumn and winter of 1947, facilitated by a visit by the Commonwealth Minister of Immigration, Arthur Calwell, to Britain that summer. Around this time, the Home Office, recently identified as the lead central government department for children’s out-of-home care, began to involve itself more in policy discussions about expected standards for child migration work in the light of the Curtis report. Based on very limited knowledge, however, the Home Office’s initial interventions were treated sceptically by Walter Garnett at the UK High Commission in Canberra where they were seen as uncritically mirroring the views of the Fairbridge Society in London and adding little to his report in 1944. Poor communication between what had become the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Home Office meant that the latter had little initial involvement in decisions about the approval of a growing number of residential institutions in Australia wishing to receive British child migrants. With two years elapsing before any inspection reports by Australian officials were forwarded to the UK High Commission, British child migrants were in some cases sent to institutions that were ill-prepared to receive them. By 1949, however, the Home Office was becoming better informed about the organisational systems through which child migration programmes operated and making more sustained efforts to influence Australian policy in line with Curtis standards. Whilst managing a complex array of administrative reforms and expanded responsibilities, its Children’s Department appeared confident of its ability to develop more effective controls over child migration and the process of drafting regulations for the child migration work of voluntary organisations under s.33 of the 1948 Children Act was begun.

Chapter 5 examines how the process of drafting these s.33 regulations developed in the context of growing criticisms of the resumption of child migration from some professional and political organisations. Beginning with initial discussions of the principles for these regulations with its new Advisory Council on Child-Care in the spring of 1949, the Home Office Children’s Department oversaw a slow consultation process on these draft regulations which took almost three years until the Advisory Council were presented with an initial draft for their approval. The sensitivity of these regulations was demonstrated both by a defensive reaction to them from both the Australian Commonwealth Department of Immigration and the UK High Commission in Canberra as well the creation of a new body, the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration, intended to provide voluntary organisations with a stronger representative voice in this process. Whilst formally approving the vast majority of the proposed regulations, some constituent members of the Council were far more concerned about whether such regulations might effectively curtail their child migration work and the Children’s Department continued to take the view that relations with the Council’s members required careful handling. More problematic for the drafting process was advice from Government legal officers that, whilst in some respects contradictory, broadly indicated that it would be impossible for the UK Government to introduce regulations that would bear directly on standards of care received by British child migrants after they had arrived overseas. This advice increasingly created doubts within the Home Office as to whether the draft regulations would have any practical benefit in protecting child migrants’ welfare overseas and serve only to create unnecessary additional administrative work. Another significant factor influencing this process was the production of a report on the systems and standards of child migration to Australia by a former member of the Curtis Committee, John Moss. With the Home Office still only having relatively limited information about receiving institutions for child migrants in Australia, the suggestion made by Moss in the summer of 1950 that he combine a personal holiday in Australia with visits to receiving institutions was welcomed by the Children’s Department. Although initially intended by the Home Office as a low-key, informal information-gathering exercise, Moss’s tour attracted growing publicity and he began to insert himself into policy debates in which he had no formal role. When he eventually presented the Home Office with a broadly positive report on child migration to Australia in the summer of 1952, in which he recommended further expansion of this work, the Home Office had little choice but to agree to arrange for its publication in some form. Although Moss’s report attracted comparatively little public interest, its suggestions for future policy improvements were broadly endorsed by the Commonwealth Department of Immigration, keen to demonstrate its willingness to respond to feedback that would enable this work to continue and grow. With the Home Office Children’s Department reassured that Moss’s comments indicated that child migration was working well enough, and signs of Australian willingness for further improvements, the Home Office took the view that the s.33 regulations were not urgently needed and that a policy of gradual, moral persuasion was likely to be more productive.

Chapter 6 examines how the optimism of supporters of child migration for further expansion of this work in the wake of the Moss report proved short-lived. By 1954, the Commonwealth Department of Immigration was becomingly increasingly unhappy with the limited numbers of child migrants arriving from the United Kingdom given the financial investment it had made in expanding residential institutions to accommodate them, as well as with the ‘quality’ of many of the children sent in the original migration parties of 1947. Prospects for increasing the numbers of child migrants being sent faced the obstacle of opposition from most local authority Children’s Officers, who took the view that it was not a suitable option for the vast majority of children in their care. Despite numbers of child migrants being sent from the United Kingdom beginning to fall, the mid-1950s saw an increasingly intense policy discussion about assisted child migration between the Commonwealth Relations Office and Home Office. Periodic inter-departmental reviews of the wider post-war policy of assisted migration to Australia had demonstrated that whilst there was limited strategic benefit to the United Kingdom in continuing to contribute financially to its citizens’ emigration to Australia, a complete withdrawal of financial support risked a strongly critical response from the Australian Commonwealth Government. Assisted child migration, which constituted a comparatively small part of the wider assisted migration budget, could, it was suggested, be continued as a symbolic expression of commitment to Anglo-Australian relations whilst the larger budget was substantially reduced. A further review of this policy in 1954 led to a consensus position between the Commonwealth Relations Office and Home Office that further improvements were needed in the care of British child migrants in Australia, but that these were best addressed through a process of gradual reform rather than any more sudden policy intervention. Although it was hoped that this policy could be endorsed and implemented through periodic reports on assisted migration by the government advisory body, the Oversea Migration Board, support for child migration amongst some of its members delayed this process. The Board was eventually manoeuvred into proposing that a formal fact-finding mission be sent to Australia. When the mission, led by the former head of the Children’s Department, John Ross, undertook its work in the spring of 1956, it returned a far more critical view of receiving institutions than that given by Moss and recommended stronger policy interventions that would have made it easier to prevent continued migration of children to a number of specific institutions. Fearing the political consequences of the mission’s work, and sceptical of the practical value of its proposals for tighter controls, the Commonwealth Relations Office and Home Office agreed to return to the policy of gradual reform, introducing new unofficial inspections of sending organisations’ work the following year. Whilst events around the mission’s work had demonstrated that the Australian Commonwealth Department of Immigration was prepared to tolerate standards of child-care very different to those advocated in the Curtis report, UK Government officials were unable to find a way of addressing this policy challenge. Instead, their hope increasingly became that child migration would wind down over time through falling numbers of available children.

Chapter 7 reviews this history and considers the underlying factors within the UK Government which led to post-war child migration to Australia resuming and continuing against the grain of child-care standards reflected in the Curtis report. Supporting the argument that such policy failures are best understood multi-causally, factors identified include the competing timetables and priorities of policy agendas for assisted migration and children’s out-of-home care, civil servants’ unwillingness to stray into the policy remits of other government departments, policy-makers’ perceptions of the limits of their power, the influence of precedence on policy decisions, caution about provoking overt conflict with other organisational stakeholders and the persistence of beliefs about a policy’s value despite contradictory evidence. Each of these factors contributed to policy processes in which effective policy interventions were delayed and deferred. Although the largest numbers of unaccompanied child migrants sailed to Australia over little more than a ten-year period, from 1947 until the end of the 1950s, the slow and ineffectual process of managing these programmes allowed them to persist over a period of time which could constitute an individual’s entire childhood. Much recent work on historic abuses of human rights and transitional justice has tended to focus on contexts in which rights were violated as a matter of conscious policy, or regarded with indifference as acceptable damage in the pursuit of other policy goals. The case of the UK child migration schemes to Australia shows how, in other cases, vulnerable individuals can be exposed to considerable harm in contexts where policy-makers can both express concern about their welfare whilst perpetuating a system that harms it. Whilst this book therefore seeks to contribute to our understanding of the specific history of child migration from the United Kingdom to Australia, it also offers insights into the harmful effects of failures in policy systems that may prove relevant to a wider range of cases in which governments fail their vulnerable citizens.

Although the following chapters provide the most substantial available account of policy processes within the UK Government concerning assisted child migration to Australia, they do not complete our understanding of the history of these programmes.Footnote 31 Better understanding of the organisational conditions through which child migrants experienced trauma in institutional care will also be possible through work that situates children’s experience of life in residential institutions in both the history and social dynamics of specific institutions as well as the wider systems and policy context within which they operated.Footnote 32 Comparatively little has been published from material in Australian State archives on how child migrants’ experiences were shaped through the relationships that existed between receiving organisations and immigration officials, child welfare officers and politicians of the State Governments responsible for over-seeing and part-funding their work. As many former child migrants come to the end of their lives, this work may become the concern of a new generation, keen to understand a history that continues to speak to the ways in which societies can fail vulnerable members through welfare initiatives which claim to improve their lives.