Following the first wave of British child migrants to arrive in Australia in the autumn of 1947, and the evident hope of the Commonwealth Government for more to follow them, voluntary organisations and religious orders in Australia became increasingly active in attempts to involve themselves in this work. In 1947, 11 residential institutions across Australia had been accepted as receiving institutions for British child migrants. By the spring of 1952, this number had increased to 40.Footnote 1

At the same time, in the United Kingdom, the resumption of child migration was coming under increased scrutiny from some professional and voluntary associations. As noted in Chap. 2, a few individuals had made private, critical comments about receiving institutions for child migrants in Australia in the pre-war years. However, the post-war period saw a noticeable growth in organisations directly contacting the UK Government and using other public means to express concern about child migration, reflecting a critical re-evaluation of this work in the light of recent experience of war-time child evacuation and the approach to child-care endorsed by the Curtis report.

In June 1945, following press coverage of the planned Australian resumption of child migration, the Provisional National Council for Mental Health became the first organisation to submit a memorandum to the Dominions Office, setting out what it considered to be appropriate standards for this.Footnote 2 Assuming, incorrectly, that migration schemes would operate on the basis of child migrants being placed in foster homes in Australia, the memorandum suggested key measures that would need to be in place for the setting up and monitoring of such placements. It also outlined need for sending organisations in the United Kingdom to have some administrative systems through which contact could be maintained between child migrants and any parents or other relatives they still had at home.

More co-ordinated public criticism of child migration also began to develop. In May 1947, The Liberal Party Organisation Committee on the Curtis Report published Nobody’s Children: A Report on the Care of Children Deprived of Normal Home-Lives.Footnote 3 Part summary and part commentary on the Curtis report, Nobody’s Children accepted the view of the Curtis Committee that emigration might be appropriate for some children under particular circumstances. However, it claimed that ‘deplorable notions of child care’ still persisted in some organisations involved in sending and receiving child migrants, and argued that no child should be emigrated if they had parents able to make reasonable provision for them in this country. It condemned attempts to tempt parents into consenting to their child’s emigration on the basis of unrealistically optimistic pictures of the life that might be possible for them overseas and argued that no child should be allowed to emigrate unless it were in their individual interests and that good standards of care, staffing and training would be provided.Footnote 4 Children sent overseas should have contact with someone equivalent to a Children’s Officer and contact with family remaining in the United Kingdom should be supported. On the basis of concerns that old attitudes might still prevail in child migration work, Nobody’s Children recommended that an inter-governmental inquiry be set up specifically to consider the placement of child migrants in work, the after-care provided to them and the management of compulsory savings schemes for child migrants by receiving organisations.Footnote 5 On the basis of the report, the Women’s Liberal Federation wrote to the Home Secretary to inform him that it had passed a motion calling for an inter-governmental commission of enquiry to ‘examine the whole system of the emigration of deprived children to British Dominions and overseas’.Footnote 6 This call was also endorsed by the Young Women’s Christian Association of Great Britain, as well as by MPs in House of Commons debates during the passage of the Children Bill.Footnote 7 It found support too from the British Federation of Social Workers, whose President, Chair and Secretary wrote to the letters page of The Times commenting that they had ‘reason to think that the practices of the various agencies for the migration of children oversea vary and that their methods of selection of children, their welfare, education, training and after care in the receiving countries are not always of a sufficiently high standard’.Footnote 8 The Federation also published a pamphlet recommending that, in future, all sending organisations select children through formal selection committees involving professional social workers, that care should be taken to ensure that emigration was always in the best interests of the individual child and stating that ‘it should be borne in mind that it is a very serious matter to break a child’s home ties, however slender they may be’.Footnote 9 Doubt about the value of child migration was also expressed more widely in Parliamentary debates on the proposed Children Bill, with MPs including Somerville Hastings (the former Curtis Committee member) expressing reservations about the emigration of any unaccompanied children under school leaving age.Footnote 10

Such criticisms were made at a time in which it was generally assumed that the passing of the 1948 Children Act would make possible not only checks on the emigration of children from the care of local authorities (by requiring Secretary of State consent for each case) but would also lead to the introduction of regulations to control the child migration activities of voluntary organisations.Footnote 11 Indeed a specific assurance had been given in the House of Lords by the Lord Chancellor, Viscount Jowitt, that regulation of voluntary organisations would be introduced through the provisions of the Act following representations on behalf of the Fairbridge Society that regulations reflecting the Curtis report should be implemented to ensure that the work of any voluntary organisation undertaking child migration work should be ‘brought up to the mark’.Footnote 12 Whilst civil servants in the Home Office may have shared some of the reservations expressed about past practice in child migration work, any concern about its post-war resumption was tempered by a confidence that better standards could be enforced through these soon-to-be introduced regulations. In a letter to the Commonwealth Relations Office about the calls for an inter-governmental commission of enquiry, Mary Rosling wrote that the Home Office would not support such an initiative because it was already actively in touch with sending organisations to clarify their working methods and that the 1948 Children Act gave adequate powers to the Secretary of State to ensure proper standards were maintained in the future.Footnote 13 Although Rosling remained open to the possible value of a later investigation of post-war standards for child migration, she argued to undertake a major inquiry at the present time might serve only to publicise past bad practices and discourage people from thinking about the emigration of children who might genuinely benefit from it.

Such optimism proved ill-placed, however. This chapter examines how attempts to introduce regulations for the child migration work of voluntary organisations under s.33 of the 1948 Children Act failed, with the Home Office eventually deciding in 1954 not to introduce regulations which it had taken nearly five years to develop. In the absence of regulations during this period, the Home Office prevaricated over the extent to which it wished to enforce suitable standards for residential institutions in Australia that had applied to receive child migrants. Whilst making the Commonwealth Relations Office and Australian Commonwealth Government aware of broad standards that it hoped to be achieved, in practice the Home Office ultimately failed to insist on these when it came to specific decisions about the approval of particular organisations or receiving institutions. Combined with continued pressure from the Australian Commonwealth Government for more child migrants to be sent from the United Kingdom, these failures meant that post-war child migration expanded without the effective safeguards in place which were anticipated with the passing of the 1948 Act.

Bureaucratic Drag and the Slow Process of Drafting the s.33 Regulations

Despite the pressures of its new role as the lead department for children’s out-of-home care, the Home Office Children’s Department identified the drafting of regulations for child migration work by voluntary organisations as one of its early priorities.Footnote 14 The process was to be conducted in consultation with the Home Office’s new Advisory Council on Child Care, whose creation had been recommended by the Curtis report and made part of the 1948 Act. Membership of the Council included specialists in child health, psychiatry, those representing the experience and interests of local authorities and voluntary organisations and other individuals, including Lady Allen of Hurtwood and Leila Rendel, the founder of the Caldecott Community.

At its first meeting on 19th January 1949, the Advisory Council began its discussion of how to approach the drafting of these regulations.Footnote 15 John Ross, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Home Office and head of the Children’s Department, opened by explaining that the Home Office hoped as soon as possible to introduce regulations which could ensure that children emigrated by voluntary organisations would receive care comparable to what was expected in Britain, be helped to assimilate quickly into their new country and be offered training that would prepare them for a wide range of employment appropriate to their abilities. This would, Ross hoped, be achieved whilst avoiding creating regulations which would be impossible to enforce in practice. After hearing from a Council member, Mr Kirkpatrick, who served as General Superintendent of Dr Barnardo’s Homes, about Barnardo’s experience of this work, the Council decided that it needed more information about voluntary organisations’ working methods in this field and asked the Home Office to obtain this on their behalf.

The Children’s Department began collating this information the following month, contacting the seven voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom known to the Commonwealth Relations Office to be involved in child migration.Footnote 16 Mr Prestige, the Assistant Secretary in charge of the Division of the Children’s Department overseeing the child-care work of voluntary organisations,Footnote 17 questioned whether the Council needed to generate this additional work and would be better confining itself to recommending broad principles that the regulations should follow. However, John Ross replied that it was better on balance for the Department to provide such memoranda for the Council to set out its own understanding of issues and ‘even to suggest the advice that the committee might give’.Footnote 18

A memorandum summarising this information was initially written up by a more junior member of staff in the Children’s Department.Footnote 19 This draft presented a generally positive view of current practice and did not suggest any areas of immediate concern. Organisations were generally said to engage in careful selection of children, informed by full case histories and medical reports. Parental consent was also said to be obtained for each child migrant by six of the organisations, with written copies of parental consent now being said to be required as an attachment to children’s immigration applications by officials at Australia House in London. Organisations were also understood to have systems of three or six monthly monitoring reports sent for each child back to parents/guardians, local authorities or other organisations who had sponsored the child’s emigration, or to have regular reports sent from the receiving institutions back to the sending organisation.

The overall impression given in this initial memorandum was much better than the reality of some organisations’ work since the resumption of child migration in 1947, reflecting a perhaps unsurprising attempt by voluntary organisations to present as positive an image of their work as possible to government officials.Footnote 20 The text of the final memorandum that the Children’s Department eventually submitted for discussion by the Advisory Council for its monthly meeting in March 1949 struck a more critical tone, however, reflecting John Ross’s view that the Department should seek to steer and not simply inform the Council’s discussions.Footnote 21 A number of clear underpinning principles for future regulations were clearly set out, reflecting Mary Rosling’s memorandum that had previously been circulated in the autumn of 1947. Voluntary organisations involved in child migration should be financially sound, adequately staffed and capable of continued supervision of children they had sent overseas. Selection should be made carefully on the basis of complete educational, family and medical histories of the child; a report of a home visit to parents or guardians; and an interview with the child themselves in which the implications of emigration were clearly explained to them. A trained social worker should also be involved in selection decisions. Care should be taken to ensure a child’s proper consent was obtained, and where a child was too young to give meaningful consent, other safeguards should be in place. A period of pre-emigration training should be given to prepare the child for life overseas. Organisations should ensure that the care, training and social integration of child migrants overseas ‘should be as high as that aimed at in this country’, in other words compliant with the standards of the Curtis report. Children who did not settle or progress well should be subject to a process of independent review which could determine whether it might be in their best interests to return to the United Kingdom.

Whilst the memorandum noted variations in standards between voluntary organisations, it was clear that significant improvements needed to be made more generally. Particular areas for attention included making selection processes more rigorous, changing institutional accommodation overseas to make it more in line with Curtis standards of smaller residential units housing children of mixed age and gender, improving the range of education and training for child migrants and ensuring regular after-care visits of children by trained workers after they had left institutional care. Other areas identified for future improvement included the need to ensure that proper case records were sent with child migrants to heads of receiving institutions so that they had appropriate information to provide individual care, the appointment of liaison officers to ensure effective communication between sending and receiving bodies and sending organisations taking on the responsibility for seeing that appropriate managerial appointments were made in receiving institutions. Whilst showing that the Home Office was developing a better understanding of sending organisations’ practices than it had two years before, the memorandum still reflected some continued gaps in understanding. Its suggestion of greater administrative control of overseas receiving institutions by sending bodies, for example in areas such as the appointment of senior staff and provision of training for residential workers, better fitted organisations such as the Fairbridge Society or Dr Barnardo’s Homes who were working with affiliated parts of their own organisation overseas. It was far less relevant, as was to become clearer in coming years, to religious organisations such as the Catholic Child Welfare Council or Church of England Advisory Council which sent children to institutions run by religious orders or other diocesan bodies over which they had no formal control at all.

The Advisory Council’s discussion of this memorandum was, however, crowded out by other businesses, in particular the development of a national system of reception centres recommended by the Curtis report to assess and provide initial interventions for children needing out-of-home care. As a consequence, the Children’s Department’s memorandum had still not been properly discussed by the Council’s meeting in June, when a member of the Council, Philip Dingle, apparently impatient with progress on this issue, tabled his own proposals.Footnote 22 These included the compulsory registration of all voluntary organisations emigrating children with the Secretary of State (with approval only given to well-managed and resourced organisations), the prohibition of advertising to raise funds for child migration, a requirement for voluntary organisations only to be able to send a child overseas with the consent of that child’s local authority and the development of a national register to record all child migrants. Dingle’s scepticism about current standards in child migration work was also reflected in his suggestion that ‘even more drastic regulations’ might be needed to be set in place as soon as possible to protect children until more detailed, final regulations were eventually drawn up. Dingle’s views elicited a more cautious response from John Ross, who suggested that the terms of the 1948 Children Act did not give the Secretary of State power to prohibit all child migration, or to make decisions about the cases of individual children whom voluntary organisations wished to emigrate, but only to give approval to an organisation’s general policies and procedures without which that organisation would not be able to send children overseas.Footnote 23

The Children’s Department’s memorandum finally received a full discussion at the Council’s meeting in July 1949,Footnote 24 where its principles and concerns were generally endorsed. Members of the Council expressed particular concern about child migrants being sent to foster placements or residential institutions in isolated areas where monitoring of their welfare might be difficult and opportunities for engagement with the local community limited. Rather than sending children to such places, the Council took the view that voluntary organisations should be encouraged to develop scattered homes in urban areas, unwittingly reflecting the model initially proposed in Ben Chifley’s ‘war orphans’ scheme.

Following the Council’s broad endorsement of the principles for regulations suggested by the Children’s Department, John Ross indicated that another memorandum would be prepared in due course where the Council would be invited to consider how these would be developed into specific regulations. Whilst the initial urgency of this task might have suggested that this matter would return to the Council soon, two and a half years elapsed before these draft regulations were presented to it. Part of this delay was caused by time taken for the Home Office to produce a copy of draft regulations—first filed on 5th October 1950—which were believed to be ready for sending out for consultation.Footnote 25 It was then not until the end of December that the Children’s Department wrote to the Commonwealth Relations Office for their views, asking that these be returned as soon as possible so that the draft regulations could be presented to the Advisory Council early in the New Year.Footnote 26 As the Secretary of State for Scotland had responsibility, under the 1948 Children Act, for children emigrated from Scotland the Scottish Home Department was also contacted for its views on the draft to ensure that common regulations could be developed across England, Wales and Scotland.Footnote 27 In April 1951, nearly four months after receiving the draft regulations, the Commonwealth Relations Office forwarded them on to Walter Garnett at the UK High Commission in Canberra for comments from both him and the Australian Commonwealth Government.Footnote 28 A June deadline for feedback from Australia was requested by the Commonwealth Relations Office as they informed Garnett that the Home Office hoped to introduce these regulations early in the following year.

Whilst the consultation process for the draft regulations continued to drag on, new pressure for their introduction came with the publication of a major report, Child Emigration, by the influential Women’s Group on Public Welfare.Footnote 29 Having previously produced widely read reports on other aspects of child welfareFootnote 30, the Women’s Group on Public Welfare convened a sub-committee in 1948 to review current practices of child migration organisations with the specific intention of producing recommendations that would inform future regulation of this work. Involving representatives of the National Association for Mental Health, the Church of England Moral Welfare Council, the Women’s Liberal Federation, the Family Welfare Association, the YWCA and the British Federation of Social Workers, the report was published in conjunction with the National Council of Social Service, marking it as a substantial evaluation of child migration work by a number of key voluntary organisations. The fact that three of the organisations represented on the sub-committee for this report had been involved in the unsuccessful attempt to call for an inter-governmental inquiry into child migration further suggested that this report was attempting to provide the public review of this work which the UK Government had refused to undertake.

Whilst the authors of the report did not visit any of the countries to which child migrants were sent, they sought to build as detailed a picture through eliciting information from some child migration organisations. Dr Barnardo’s Homes, the Fairbridge Society and the Northcote Trust were noted as being particularly helpful in terms of giving access to their written records, although it appears that (at least in the case of the Fairbridge Society) access to recent case material consisted of three case study summaries being sent to the report committee rather than them undertaking any direct or extensive review of the sending organisations’ records.Footnote 31 The writers did obtain access to information held by Fairbridge and Dr Barnardo’s Homes for children emigrated to Australia between 1920 and 1929 in order to establish what jobs they were able to take up after completing their overseas training.Footnote 32 An attempt to access case records held by the National Children’s Home was refused by the charity’s Vice-Principal.Footnote 33 A number of social service organisations in countries to which British child migrants were sent also provided written responses to questions about their overall impressions of child migration work. Detailed work was also done to try to understand the legal and policy context of this work. After examining case records in an attempt to understand the routes through which child migrants came to be sent overseas, the report went on to consider current practice in sending relevant information about children on to receiving institutions, pre-emigration training, the conditions into which child migrants were received, and the current standards of education, training and after-care.

Given the second-hand and partly out-of-date knowledge on which the report drew, the report added little to what was already known in the Home Office about child migration to Australia (although it did provide greater insight into post-war child migration to New Zealand in which the UK Government had no formal involvement). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the prevalence of Curtis standards in framing post-war discussions of child-care standards, there was also little in the report’s 38 recommendations that differed from the standards already advocated in the memorandum presented to the Home Office Advisory Council on Child Care by the Children’s Department two years before. However, given that discussions of the draft s.33 regulations had, up to that point, taken place privately within Government, the publication of the Women’s Group on Public Welfare’s report was seen as potentially shaping the public reception for any proposals about the content of the s.33 regulations. Writing to the Commonwealth Relations Office in July 1951 to chase up their feedback on the draft regulations, Prestige also noted that the publication of the report had also made voluntary organisations involved in child migration ‘restive’ and ‘very anxious to know what we propose to do about some of the recommendations made in the report’.Footnote 34

Recognising the potential risks of greater Government regulation of their work, voluntary organisations involved in child migration liaised with each other to form a new body, the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration, which would share information between its constituent members and try to present a common front in representing their views to policy-makers.Footnote 35 In the words of Cyril Bavin, who chaired the meeting at which the decision to form the Council was agreed, it should be a source of pride for all those involved that they had come together ‘so that—with one voice—a reply might be made to those who would seek to obstruct child emigration’.Footnote 36 Meeting formally for the first time in March 1951, constituent members of the Council were the Australian Catholic Immigration Committee, the Catholic Child Welfare Council, Dr Barnardo’s Homes, the Big Brother Movement, the Church of Scotland Committee on Social Service, the Fairbridge Society, Middlemore Emigration Homes, the National Children’s Home, the Northcote Trust, the Over-Seas League, the Rhodesia Fairbridge Memorial College and the YMCA.Footnote 37

An early focus of the Council’s meetings was to formulate a common response to recommendations set out in the Women’s Group on Public Welfare report—as well as discussions of how best to respond to what was regarded as sensationalist coverage of the treatment of child migrants in one newspaper in the wake of the report’s publication.Footnote 38 The Council was also given early informal assurances by the Home Office that it would be consulted about the draft s.33 regulations before they were finalised, and was led to understand (via the Fairbridge Society), that although the Home Office would take some notice of the Women’s Group on Public Welfare’s report, they ‘did not seem unduly worried about it’.Footnote 39 This assurance reflected an internal Home Office memorandum which analysed recommendations from the report and concluded that there were either already included within their draft regulations, beyond the powers of the Government or the Children Act, or impractical.Footnote 40 The Conservative Home Secretary, David Maxwell Fyfe, later rejected a request from the Women’s Group on Public Welfare for him to meet with a delegation from the Group to discuss the draft s.33 regulations on the basis that their report had already been sufficiently taken into account in this process.Footnote 41

In August 1951, the Home Office finally received comments on proposed regulations from Walter Garnett and Tasman Heyes, via the Commonwealth Relations Office.Footnote 42 Comments from both were defensive, with the potential new regulations regarded as an unnecessary layer of administration for a system which, Heyes and Garnett argued, was regarded by the UK High Commission and the Commonwealth Department of Immigration as ‘highly organised’. The suggestion that the Secretary of State might need to be provided with information by sending organisations about standards of care in receiving institutions would, they observed, duplicate the independent information already provided by State Government officials which was shared (after passing through the Commonwealth Government and UK High Commission) with the Home Office by the Commonwealth Relations Office. This information was already, Garnett noted, being produced in accordance with standards suggested by the Home Office, and would be more accurate than that given by sending organisations whom—Garnett noted—might only be recruiting agencies for overseas organisations and not have detailed or up-to-date knowledge of conditions at overseas institutions. Concern was also noted by Garnett and Heyes that the addition of any further requirements through these regulations might have the effect of seriously disrupting child migration work. Heyes, in particular, was unhappy at any suggestion that sending organisations’ selection committees for child migrants might contain members who were generally opposed in principle to child migration and who could stifle that organisation’s work in this field altogether. Garnett also gave a clear hint that any greater role for other Government departments back in the United Kingdom had the potential to upset the ‘very close and friendly’ contact that the UK High Commission had with receiving organisations, State officials and the Commonwealth Department of Immigration. Child migration, Garnett implied, was better managed through these informal, ad hoc contacts, than through a regulatory system which would alter the dynamics of these relationships without any significant additional benefit. The Home Office was eventually to come to a similar view.

Following an initial meeting at the Home Office between Prestige and a delegation from the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration in July, the Children’s Department also formally sent a copy of their draft regulations to the Council at the end of August.Footnote 43 In the July meeting, the Council’s delegation raised concerns about some of the recommendations in the Women’s Group on Public Welfare report. Both Cyril Bavin (on behalf of the Over-Seas League) and Enid Jones (representing the Church of England Advisory Council of Empire Settlement) demurred against the proposal for children to be given pre-emigration training in the United Kingdom. Bavin objected that such an initiative was unnecessary for children being sent to private households overseas, with Jones complaining that her Advisory Council would be unable to meet the costs of such a requirement given that it had no reception centre at which such training could be provided. Fr William Nicol, on behalf of the Australian Catholic Immigration Committee, also complained that any regulation requiring child migrants to be housed in smaller residential units overseas would be highly problematic for the religious orders involved in this work. In response, Prestige again gave broad assurances that draft regulations would not be introduced in the very near future and that a further opportunity would be given to the Council’s members to comment on them.

After being sent the draft regulations, the Council subsequently gave their formal written response to the Home Office in the following November, indicating their broad support for them.Footnote 44 It accepted the principle of convening selection committees to review the cases of individual children, informed by relevant case histories provided by an experienced worker based on interviews with both the child and their parent or guardian. Where necessary a specialist psychological report should also be provided. The Council regarded it as an ‘accepted fact’ that no child would be selected for emigration without the consent of their parent or guardian. The need to ensure the effects of emigration were understood both by the child and their family members was accepted as was the need to avoid breaking any significant emotional connection that the child still had with relatives who remained in the United Kingdom. The Council noted that overseas receiving institutions were already subject to approval processes and accepted the need to use suitable staff but without making any commitment on standards of training that should be expected. It also gave much stronger weight than the draft regulations to the principle that ‘religion should play a vital part in the child’s life, with every facility being given to the child to be brought up in its own faith’, and argued that ‘members of staff should, by example, as well as precept, be fitted to undertake this obligation’. An attempt by Fr Nicol to include an insistence in this letter that children be placed in institutions with staff of the same religious denomination was rejected by other members of the Council as potentially unworkable.Footnote 45 The Council concurred with the expectation that sending organisations should remain well-informed about children they had sent overseas, noting that ‘regular and comprehensive reports on the progress of each child should be sent to the Emigration Society concerned’. Areas in which the Council expressed less enthusiasm for regulation were any age requirements for child migrants—as the Council claimed that their members had successfully placed children overseas of all ages in accordance with their needs—and any requirement for extended pre-migration training for children which the Council argued would only needlessly unsettle children as they waited to go overseas.

Whilst its formal response to the Home Office suggested a general unanimity in views and standards across the Council’s constituent members, the reality was more varied. Despite endorsing the principle of selection by committee and the need to ensure parental consent, there is little evidence that children emigrated by the Australian Catholic Immigration Committee or Catholic Child Welfare Council before or after 1951 often experienced such standards. The majority of children sent from institutions run by the Sisters of Nazareth, for example, had consent signatures on their LEM3 migration application forms signed by the Mother Superiors in charge of those institutions rather than parents or other guardians.Footnote 46 In many cases, Catholic child migrants were selected by direct approach by Australian Catholic administrators—Br Conlon, Fr Nicol and Fr Stinson—in liaison with individual heads of institutions run by religious orders with no formal selection committee convened or case papers for review produced. The practice of sending children’s case records with them overseas was not usually adhered to by Catholic sending organisations nor, generally, by the Church of England Advisory Council on Empire Settlement. These organisations, as well as the Over-Seas League, also failed to establish any consistent monitoring of children emigrated under their auspices.

Given that Canon Flint (of the Catholic Child Welfare Council), Cyril Bavin and Enid Jones made up half of the six members of the Council’s sub-committee convened to discuss the Council’s formal response to the draft s.33 regulations, a clear gap existed between the principles that were espoused on behalf of the Council and the practice of at least some of its constituent members. Although Bavin, Jones, Flint and Nicol objected in the Council meetings to some specific elements of the Women’s Group on Public Welfare recommendations and the Home Office draft s.33 regulations, the gap between their organisations’ practices and the principles being discussed were never fully disclosed. Gaps between their practices and the principles they supported during the Council’s discussions were nevertheless obvious to at least some other members of the Council. At a later meeting of the Home Office Advisory Council on Child Care, the new General Superintendent of Dr Barnardo’s Homes, Mr E.H. Lucette, commented that the views expressed by the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration did not reflect the actual policies of all of its constituent members, in part because of the diverse aims and structures of the organisations involved. This gap between the principles that some voluntary organisations were prepared to endorse in contact with the Home Office and their actual practices can be seen as a reflection of the threat that they perceived s.33 regulations might entail for their work. In later discussions of these draft regulations at the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration, representatives of some of these organisations were increasingly explicit about how they viewed this. Fr Nicol commented that they would ‘limit the activities of the Voluntary organisations and the Authorities concerned failed to appreciate that the organisations were only interested in emigration with a view to giving children a chance in life which would not otherwise be available to them’. His Committee, Nicol continued, ‘would be reluctant to carry on with their child emigration activities if they were bound by such regulations’. Cyril Bavin expressed the view that ‘the introduction of further regulations might cause the New Zealand Government to abandon child emigration altogether’. Canon Flint added, rather dismissively, that ‘the regulations merely followed on from the Curtis Committee’s report and… there was a general feeling against child emigration by the “powers that be”’.Footnote 47 In the context of this perceived threat, organisations who recognised that their practice fell short of the requirements of likely regulations sought to avoid drawing the Home Office’s attention to this, possibly in the belief that if the Home Office became aware of them, s.33 regulations might be introduced more quickly and more strictly. Instead, the safer course seemed to be to continue broadly to support Home Office standards in principle, whilst hoping that regulation of their work based on these would not come too soon.

Alongside this consultation process, the Home Office had also been receiving legal advice throughout 1951 about the scope and content of any proposed regulations. One view given in response from a Government legal officer was that the very language used in s.33 of the 1948 Children Act showed the ‘characteristic woolliness of compromises’ over the kind of powers to be allowed to the Secretary of State. Whilst the Secretary of State’s powers were inevitably limited to those which could be enforced through British courts—which constrained the degree of control that could be exercised over organisations based overseas—the specific language used in s.33 of the Act also added further constraints. By empowering the Secretary of State to control only the ‘arrangements’ of voluntary societies, this meant that regulations could only control the stated policies and working practices of voluntary organisations, but not have any powers over failure to adhere to those standards once a child was no longer in the care of that sending organisation.Footnote 48 As a result the legal drafting of the regulations continued to pose considerable difficulties in terms of what could, and could not, be introduced through the s.33 regulations in terms of the on-going treatment of a child after leaving the care of the sending organisation. Even those sending organisations who sent children to institutions which were they ran overseas might not be held responsible by a British court for breaches of s.33 regulations if they had acted in accordance with the laws of the receiving country.Footnote 49 Another set of legal advice suggested that whilst it would be intra vires for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations relating to ensuring that suitable arrangements were made for the care of a child overseas, it would be ultra vires to require that a voluntary organisation based overseas produce regular reports on that child’s progress.Footnote 50 Despite these apparent impediments, the Home Office Children’s Department continued to work on the draft regulations, even including clauses which this legal advice appeared to rule out as being beyond either the scope of the legislation or the powers of the UK Government in relation to overseas organisations. Internal disagreements continued within the Home Office as well as to whether the s.33 regulations should be phrased in a minimal form—requiring sending organisations to provide the Secretary of State with information described in more detailed in an accompanying memorandum—or whether the regulations should try to circumscribe voluntary organisations’ work in more detailed ways.Footnote 51

As a result of this protracted drafting and consultation process, the Home Office Advisory Council on Child Care was only given a draft of the proposed s.33 regulations for discussion at its 23rd meeting in January 1952 and completed its discussion of them at its next meeting the following month.Footnote 52 The draft regulations submitted to the Advisory Council by the Children’s Department consisted of 15 clauses covering details of policies to be provided for approval by the Secretary of State by sending organisations regarding the selection, preparation and post-emigration care of children, and the need for annual statements by sending organisations about child migration work they had undertaken in the past year. Other clauses gave powers to the Secretary of State to prohibit the emigration of individual children under the age of five or in cases where a child had decided that they no longer wished to emigrate, set out standards expected of selection committees and made a requirement for children emigrated by organisations to be gathered together in advance to get to know others in their migration party and be prepared for life overseas. Requirements were also set out for good practice for escorting children during their voyage, transferring any relevant information on children to their receiving organisation, ensuring annual post-emigration reports were made on each child’s welfare and allow penalties to be introduced in relation to specific regulations. The Advisory Council largely endorsed this draft, suggesting only that voluntary organisations not be allowed to emigrate children against the advice of their selection committees, that the regulations made stronger references to the use of trained workers and that the first post-migration report on a child be received within six months of their first arrival. The Home Office agreed to provide the Advisory Council with a revised draft in the light of their suggestions, also taking into account further consultations with Government legal officers.

Stalled Regulation: Policy Decisions and the Perceptions of State Power

Work on the regulations progressed slowly in the coming months. By July 1952, a revised draft was sent to the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration for their further comments. Despite the reservation of some members that the regulations could completely curtail their organisation’s involvement in this work, the Council’s official response was to accept this draft subject to an amendment that a prospective child migrant would need to be interviewed by just one member of the selection committee and not by the whole committee.Footnote 53 In correspondence with the Scottish Home Department, an official in the Home Office Children’s Department expressed surprise that the Council had not resisted these regulations more strenuously—‘perhaps because they had expected more drastic proposals’.Footnote 54 After sending a representative to meet with the Council in October, the Children’s Department agreed to accept the Council’s amendment about the interviewing of children.Footnote 55 Further delays occurred as fresh legal advice was sought on the revised draft. After being chased by the Scottish Home Department about progress with the drafting, a Children’s Department official replied in January 1953 that the Home Office had ‘just received a tentative first draft from our Legal Adviser which it is clear will need a good deal of tinkering’ and that ‘it may therefore be some little time before we can let you have a copy which will represent anything approaching final form’.Footnote 56 One cause of delay appears to have been the slowness of John Ross in dealing with this issue when it came back to his desk—with Ross only replying in February 1953 to a note from Prestige written more than a year before.Footnote 57 Drafting of the regulations continued through 1953, competing for staff time with the need to draw up regulations for the boarding out of children in England and Wales. In October, the Commonwealth Relations Office eventually added its voice to those asking when the regulations would finally be introduced. In a letter to R.L. Dixon in November, John Ross re-iterated that other demands on the Home Office Advisory Council’s time had prevented the revised regulations being put before them again and that whilst the regulations had nearly been finalised, the Advisory Council’s view would be sought on whether it would be worthwhile introducing these regulations at all in the near future.Footnote 58 With no prospect of time being found on the Advisory Council’s agenda for discussion of the regulations until the following spring, progress was further delayed.

A final draft of the regulations was eventually completed on 16th March 1954.Footnote 59 Consisting of 16 clauses, these regulations specified that a child could not normally be emigrated under the age of seven, without their consent, without having been interviewed by and recommended for emigration by a selection committee or without the consent of their parents or guardian (unless it was not practical to obtain this). Exceptions to this were only to be allowed for individual children with the approval of the relevant Secretary of State. Details were given of how selection committees should operate—and the case reports needed for them to make their decisions. Transfer of relevant information about each individual child to the receiving organisation was made a requirement. Annual welfare and progress reports were to be made on each child after their arrival overseas. A description was given of the information that sending organisations needed to provide about their working methods and standards of care and training overseas to the Secretary of State for approval, with organisations unable to continue their work until such time as the Secretary of State was satisfied with their arrangements. Sending organisations were also required to keep a register of the details of all children they had emigrated, as well as provide annual reports of their migration work to the Secretary of State. Finally, a requirement was introduced that sending organisations should make any records referred to in the regulations available to inspectors acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, thus bringing their work under a comparable system of inspection to other forms of out-of-home care for children undertaken by voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom.

This final draft very much reflected the view that the 1948 Children Act primarily empowered the relevant Secretary of State to make regulations in relation to sending organisation’s ‘arrangements’, rather than any more direct forms of control. Focusing primarily on types of documentation and information required from sending organisations, this final version drew little enthusiasm from the Government legal officer who reviewed it, commenting ‘I have no love or amour proper for this brain child. The enacting provisions are … thin and vague … [I]t appears to me that the main result of the Regulations would be merely to increase the paperwork of the voluntary organisations and the Home Office’.Footnote 60 Uncertainty about the value of the regulations continued to be expressed within the Children’s Department, although Prestige noted that even the limited requirements about the constitution of selection committees would be helpful. As he noted, in his experience some emigration societies tended to operate ‘selection committees’ consisting of a single worker and that it would be helpful to move away from ‘leaving a decision of much moment in relation to the child’s whole future in the hands of a single person’.Footnote 61 Despite this, though, Prestige concurred with the most recent Government legal advice that the value of introducing these regulations was unclear and suggested that it might be better not to bring them again before the Advisory Council for the time being as ‘some members will no doubt press for the Regulations to be made’. It would be better, he suggested, to lay the regulations by until the Children’s Department was pressed further on them. The following day, on 30th June 1954, John Ross noted his agreement with the simple note ‘Lay by, as above’. Five and a half years after the Home Office Advisory Council first considered the issue, the Children’s Department had eventually decided quietly to shelve the draft s.33 regulations and take no further action on them.

The stalled process of producing these regulations—once imagined by Mary Rosling and John Ross as the necessary basis on which future good practice in child migration could be assured—reflected the complex organisational processes operating both within and between the Government and voluntary organisations. In part, the slow pace of progress in producing the regulations reflected limitations in the capacity of the Children’s Department as it adjusted to its new central role in the oversight of children’s out-of-home care in England and Wales. Although the drafting of regulations for child migration had initially been given a high priority by the Children’s Department in the wake of calls for an inter-governmental inquiry, other pressures soon crowded in. The numbers of children affected by the prospect of emigration were a small fraction of those remaining in different forms of out-of-home care in the United Kingdom, for whom the development of children’s reception centres, boarding out regulations and principles for better forms of institutional care were more pressing issues. Whilst these pressures (and the need to put the regulations out for consultation) doubtless contributed to the slow progress in the drafting of the s.33 regulations, there were also inherent problems in this task. The phrasing of s.33 of the 1948 Children had left it unclear as to the precise extent of the powers allowed to the Secretary of State under it, and any attempt to regulate the work of overseas organisations who did not fall under the authority of British courts was clearly problematic. If the problems with Molong, Pinjarra and Northcote since the 1930s had demonstrated the challenges of organisational governance of trans-national welfare initiatives, the process of drafting the s.33 regulations had shown the additional challenges of developing an adequate regulatory system for this by the UK Government. The slow pace of progress in developing these regulations appears to have reflected not simply the pressures of alternative demands, but a waning belief about the viability this project amongst Home Office staff. Yet alongside this growing disillusionment remained a desire to retain control of this process. The use of the Advisory Council on Child Care was carefully managed throughout, with the intention that its work did not generate outcomes that the management of the Children’s Department considered undesirable. Relations with voluntary organisations were also carefully handled, with Prestige assuring members of the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration that regulations would not be introduced in a way that was confrontational or inattentive to their concerns.

If the process of drafting these regulations was a deliberate deferral of the use of power by the Home Office, the prospect of regulations elicited very different responses amongst the voluntary organisations who expected to be affected by them. Although consolidated into a single representative body to express their views to Government, in reality the constituent members of the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration were diverse in their aims, structures and resources and as a consequence perceived the prospect of regulation in quite different ways. For organisations such as Dr Barnardo’s Homes, Fairbridge and the Northcote Trust, who had not always had very satisfactory experiences of their affiliated receiving institutions in Australia, the introduction of s.33 regulations had the potential to be a mechanism through which they could exert greater administrative or moral authority over them. Delays to the introduction of the regulations were also perceived as dampening interest in the option of child migration for local authorities who felt unclear on what basis this work might proceed in the future.Footnote 62 For organisations such the Over-Seas League and the Church of England Advisory Council of Empire Settlement, whose child migration work was largely managed by a single person, the regulations threatened an onerous new administrative burden which they would struggle to meet. For Catholic organisations, tighter regulation risked bringing an end to the more ad hoc culture through which they managed children’s emigration. Despite very different organisational perceptions, these voluntary organisations took care to present a positive face to Government. Sometimes this was because they saw the broad direction of policy as genuinely constructive, or aspired to meet it in principle whilst failing to do so in practice—or because they sought to conceal the gap between espoused policy and actual practice to protect their interest in continuing this work with as minimal regulatory interference as possible.

The episode of the stalled drafting of the s.33 regulations also demonstrated how the exercise of statutory power could be perceived very differently by those inside and outside the machinery of Government. For those within the Home Office, their understanding of their power was framed in terms of its legal and practical constraints. What did the terms of the 1948 Children Act specifically empower them to be able to do and what legal constraints effected the regulation of children’s care and training overseas? Similarly, within these legal constraints, what would be the practical effects of any regulations that were introduced, and would their benefits outweigh the additional administrative burden they would create? In this sense, civil servants within the Home Office understood their statutory power in this situation as much in terms of its limits and costs as its potential for safeguarding children.

By contrast, the voluntary organisations who would be affected by these regulations were far more conscious about the potential of the regulations to restrict their work—particularly in the case of those organisations who, for varying reasons, were unlikely to adhere to expected standards. From this perspective, the regulations were perceived far more in terms of their powers of constraint than their limits.

As a consequence of these different perspectives, the decision within the Children’s Department to hold the draft regulations back was made in the context of very different assessments of their efficacy by civil servants and voluntary organisations. The anxiety of some voluntary organisations about the prospect of the introduction of these regulations was better grounded in reality than the diffidence of the civil servants. The requirement in the regulations for the constitution of formal selection committees drawing on written case reports would have involved significant changes to the emigration practices of the Sisters of Nazareth, the Australian Catholic Immigration Committee, the Catholic Child Welfare Council and the Church of England Advisory Council of Empire Settlement. Systemic failures by these Catholic organisations and the Church of England Advisory Council to send family and medical histories of individual child migrants would also have become a breach of these regulations, as would the failure of these organisations (as well as the Over-Seas League) to provide regular post-emigration reports on children sent overseas. As Flint and Bavin told the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration, the introduction even of these relatively limited regulations would probably have meant that their organisations’ involvement in this work would have ceased. When, as will be discussed further in the next chapter, a more informal regulatory system was finally introduced by the UK Government in 1957, this coincided with Catholic organisations almost entirely ending their child migration activities. The child migration work of the Over-Seas League ended in 1956 following the death of Cyril Bavin—reflecting its reliance on him as a single administrator—but it is difficult to imagine that it could have continued beyond the introduction of the new informal regulations in 1957. The Church of England Advisory Council did try to continue its work after this, only for it to be strongly censured by Home Office inspectors who discovered the poor standards of its administration and record-keeping when undertaking a direct inspection visit to its office in 1958.

Whilst the decision by the Children’s Department not to pursue the introduction of the s.33 regulations might appear to have been grounded in a simple lack of knowledge of cases where voluntary organisations were failing to adhere to these standards, the reality was more complex. This point is illustrated by discussions within the Home Office about the proposed approval of the Over-Seas League as a recognised sending organisation for child migrants. By 1953, there had been on-going problems with the Church of Scotland Committee on Social Service failing to provide sufficient numbers of boys to be sent to Dhurringile. Turning to contacts with Cyril Bavin that had been developed with the emigration of children to the Burnside Homes in the inter-war period, Presbyterian authorities proposed to the Commonwealth Government that the Over-Seas League be allowed to recruit children for Dhurringile from England and Wales.Footnote 63 The Commonwealth Department of Immigration expressed caution about this proposal as it was already aware, from previous correspondence with the UK High Commission in Canberra, that the UK Government did not consider the Over-Seas League to be a suitable sending organisation because it lacked adequate resources both for the appropriate selection of child migrants and their post-emigration monitoring.Footnote 64 Under pressure from Presbyterian authorities, and conscious of the Commonwealth Government funding already spent on enabling Dhurringile to open, Tasman Heyes wrote again to the UK High Commission in July 1953, asking that the current refusal to approve the League as a child migration organisation be reversed.Footnote 65 In making the case for this, Heyes noted both that the League was in no worse a position to manage children’s migration than the Church of England Advisory Council—which had similarly limited administrative resources—and the substantial investment that the Australian authorities had already made in making the ‘fine’ scheme at Dhurringile available for British children.

After receiving notice of Heyes’ request from the Commonwealth Relations Office, an internal debate began within the Home Office Children’s Department about how best to respond. Views ranged from the suggestion that the League might be allowed to advertise the Dhurringile scheme if another approved organisation undertook the selection to a stronger position of simply telling the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and the League that this arrangement was not acceptable because the League would not be able to meet required standards.Footnote 66 Ultimately, Prestige found a compromise which would avoid any overt confrontation. In a note on 9th September 1953 he observed that the League was already well aware of the content of the current draft of the s.33 regulations through Bavin’s involvement in the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration.Footnote 67 On that basis, he recommended that the League be approved as a sending organisation given that Bavin understood the standards for selection and post-migration monitoring that would be required when the s.33 regulations were introduced. Either the League would have to start complying with those standards—in which case the UK Government could have no objections to their involvement in this work—or the League would have to stop its work as soon as the regulations were introduced. Whilst this might have appeared a well-crafted compromise when it was imagined that the regulations were about to be introduced, it fell apart nine months later, when Prestige agreed that, on balance, it was better for the regulations to be held back. By then, the Over-Seas League had already been approved as a sending organisation on the basis of Prestige’s suggestion and had started to send children to Dhurringile without any evidence of it adhering to the standards required if the s.33 regulations had been introduced. In one case, the LEM3 form for a boy in local authority care who was sent to Dhurringile by the League in August 1954 shows that the necessary consent from the Secretary of State to his migration was not obtained under s.17 of the 1948 Children Act.Footnote 68 This individual later provided the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse with a harrowing account of sustained sexual and physical abuse he experienced there.Footnote 69

It seems unlikely that when Prestige agreed the deferral of the s.33 regulations in June 1954 he had entirely forgotten his earlier recommendation about the League based on the view that these regulations were about to be introduced. The fact that he had also referred in an earlier departmental note to more than one organisation operating selection committees consisting of a single individual also indicated that Prestige knew that the League was not an isolated case in terms of failing to adhere to expected standards. Given such knowledge, the decision to withhold the regulations seems to have been made not in the belief that all sending organisations were conducting their work to expected standards but more on the basis of a balancing of costs and risks. The Children’s Department understood that the introduction of these regulations might well stop the child migration work of an organisation like the League. But the scale of the League’s work was small, and the value of bringing it to an end had to be weighed against other factors such as the administrative burden the regulations would cause more generally not only for all voluntary organisations involved in this work but the Children’s Department too.Footnote 70 The judgements made by Prestige in this period exemplified how a civil servant could, at times, regard their powers as too limited to be useful and also, in some contexts, recognise that whilst their powers might have some efficacy, their use would create more difficulties than benefits. The failure to introduce regulations in this case was not simply an exercise in recognising the limits of government but in coming to a view on how much risk and imperfection could be tolerated in children’s care.

Limited Oversight and the Route to the Moss Report

Another factor also played a significant role in shaping views within the Home Office about the balance of these risks in relation to the s.33 regulations. In 1953, an unofficial report was published about standards of care for child migrants in Australia by John Moss, which provided a broadly positive assessment of this work and gave sufficient assurance to the Home Office for John Ross to feel that the need for the introduction of s.33 regulations might be less urgent than first thought.Footnote 71 A later fact-finding mission to Australia, led by John Ross in the spring of 1956, was to return a far more damning view of many receiving institutions and the system of child migration as a whole than that presented by Moss. Until then, however, Moss’s intervention played an important role in allaying some concerns about child migrants’ experiences overseas.

Prior to Moss’s report, the Home Office had little detailed knowledge of conditions at receiving institutions in Australia. Although Mary Rosling and Janette Maxwell had seen copies of inspection reports by State officials of institutions to which child migrants were sent to Western Australia in 1947, the Home Office was not routinely consulted about the approval of receiving institutions by the Commonwealth Relations Office until 1950. This lack of consultation became increasingly clear to the Home Office, and in a private departmental note in 1951, Miss Northover, a Principal Officer in the Children’s Department, commented that several children’s homes on the Commonwealth Relations Office’s approved list for child migrants had received approval without any discussion with them.Footnote 72 On hearing of an informal inspection visit of institutions receiving child migrants to be undertaken by Miss Harrison, an inspector working in the Scottish Home Department, who was undertaking a personal trip to Australia in the spring of 1950, Prestige wrote to the Scottish Home Department asking for a copy of her report when it was completed as the Home Office was ‘very short of first hand information about the arrangements for the reception and welfare of children who emigrate’.Footnote 73

What information the Children’s Department did receive was usually in the form of reports from State officials in Australia submitted in the context of applications for other receiving institutions to be added to those approved by the UK Government. Information in these was often sparse. As one Departmental official noted, information on the standard of child-care was limited and the reports were often written by Australian immigration officials with limited experience of children’s out-of-home care.Footnote 74 The Home Office was invited to give initial approval to a new wing to accommodate 150 female child migrants at Nazareth House, East Camberwell in Victoria in the autumn of 1950 before the construction work on this had been completed.Footnote 75 Earlier that autumn, a similar situation arose in which the Home Office was invited to indicate its approval for the Dhurringile Rural Training Farm, which, like Nazareth House, East Camberwell, had begun to be developed for the reception of child migrants with Australian Commonwealth capital funding before approval had been agreed with UK authorities. Given that no staff had even been appointed when the Home Office’s approval was sought, its approval (and that of the Scottish Home Department) was made on the basis of more general assurances about the standards that would be maintained at Dhurringile in the future.Footnote 76 Similarly, in 1950, conditional approval had been given to the Riverview Training Farm run by the Salvation Army in Queensland on the basis that satisfactory reports would be received about the first party of child migrants to be sent there.Footnote 77 In 1952, despite no detailed information having been provided about conditions at Riverview, the Home Office accepted that unconditional approval for it as a receiving institution be granted.Footnote 78 Despite this limited information, concern remained in the Children’s Department about the sensitivity of pushing for more detailed information if this was perceived by the Australian Commonwealth Government as calling its own judgement and recommendations into question.Footnote 79

Throughout these discussions, it was common for the reservations of staff in the Children’s Department either not to be expressed strongly to the Commonwealth Relations Office (and through them to the UK High Commission and Australian Commonwealth Government) or when expressed, not to be followed through by refusal to give approval to a particular institution. In the case of Nazareth House, East Camberwell, considerable reservations were privately expressed in notes within the Children’s Department about the unsuitability of a large impersonal institution, run by a religious order with at best only a partial openness to current thinking on good child-care practice, in which the accommodation of child migrants in an institution also housing elderly residents appeared to be more about the management of overheads than best practice for the children.Footnote 80 However, whilst the Children’s Department’s initial response to the Commonwealth Relations Office indicated that the institutional accommodation to be provided at East Camberwell ‘does not strike us favourably’, the only issue on which change was initially pressed was that a wider age range of children might be considered to avoid the institutionalised nature of caring for large numbers of younger children of similar ages.Footnote 81 This was subsequently extended to an attempt to ensure that any children sent to East Camberwell would have opportunities to engage with the local community (including attending local schools) and receive adequate after-care.Footnote 82 Despite receiving far from complete assurances on these specific points, the Home Office did not object to final approval of Nazareth House, East Camberwell as a receiving institution in the autumn of 1951.Footnote 83

Between 1949 and 1953 it appears that the Home Office took the view that until the s.33 regulations were introduced it had no formal powers to intervene to prevent the approval of any receiving institutions in Australia and its comments on requests for approvals forwarded to it from the Commonwealth Relations Office could only be regarded as advisory.Footnote 84 Although the passing of the 1948 Children Act gave the Home Office greater moral authority as the lead Government department for children’s out-of-home care, in the absence of s.33 regulations, the Home Office believed it had no formal veto over such approvals. Cautious comments from the Children’s Department on approval requests passed on by the Commonwealth Relations Office also seem to have reflected a wider culture within the Department of often phrasing its criticisms to external stakeholders in very mild ways.Footnote 85

There were a small number of cases in which the Home Office were, at least for a time, willing to press its objections more strongly. When presented with the request for the approval of St John Bosco Boy’s Town in Hobart, Tasmania, the Children’s Department indicated that the institutional character of this home—whilst typical of many other Catholic children’s homes—was exacerbated by an organisational culture in which boys were subject to a policy of continual monitoring for their moral discipline by the Salesian Brothers staffing it. The Children’s Department appears to have accepted that initial placement of child migrants in overseas institutions (with a view to them later being boarded out) might well be preferable to the risks of placing children immediately with individual foster carers.Footnote 86 However, its staff evidently had reservations more generally about whether the institutional character of large, congregate Catholic children’s homes encouraged children’s healthy social development, and the particularly controlling ethos of the Salesians was seen as going beyond what could be accepted for child migrants.Footnote 87 John Ross took the view that it would potentially place the UK Government in a very difficult position if this institution were approved at this stage, given that it would be deemed an unsuitable destination for child migrants as soon as the s.33 regulations were introduced.

The Home Office’s objection faced a number of challenges from Fr Nicol (who complained that it ran contrary to the Government’s acceptance of Salesian institutions in the United Kingdom), the Australian Commonwealth Government (who had already provisionally agreed a capital grant to enable St John Bosco Boys’ Town to receive child migrants) and Walter Garnett (who complained that implied criticism of Catholic teaching methods would be perceived by some in Australia as an attack on the Catholic faith itself). Despite this, the Children’s Department refused to retract its objections.Footnote 88 With this approval delayed, the Labour MP, Robert Mellish, privately contacted the Home Secretary, James Chuter Ede, on behalf of Catholic contacts of his to ask for an explanation for the Home Office’s view. Chuter Ede sent a lengthy reply, noting that during the Parliamentary debates during the passage of the Children Bill, he had given assurances that consent to children’s migration would in future be conditional on them receiving standards of care overseas comparable to those recommended in the Curtis report. Whilst not ruling out the possibility of child migrants being placed in institutional care overseas, or commenting on the suitability of Catholic institutional care in the United Kingdom, Chuter Ede argued that the particularly restrictive ethos of St John Bosco Boys’ Town would make it particularly unsuitable for children trying to adjust to life in a new country and integrate into their local community.Footnote 89

Far from calming matters, Chuter Ede’s response was passed from Mellish on to Fr Nicol who wrote a lengthy rebuttal and requested that no final decision be made until he had been able to consult on this matter with the Catholic Hierarchy of Australia. Evidently anxious about the wider implications for Catholic child migration of Home Office’s intervention, Nicol also asked that any further action in finalising the s.33 regulations be delayed until the views of the Australian Catholic bishops were known. Forwarding Nicol’s letter with a covering letter, Mellish asked Geoffrey de Freitas, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, to meet a small delegation to discuss this matter further, noting that he would doubtless ‘appreciate how Catholics regard this matter’.Footnote 90 This meeting was deferred, with de Freitas informing Mellish that Nicol should receive the views of the Australian Catholic bishops in advance.Footnote 91

Two months later, in July 1951, Nicol replied, saying that the bishops had left these matters ‘in my hands as their official representative and spokesman’. He also complained about delays with the approval of eight Catholic residential institutions, some of whom had been granted Commonwealth Government funding to enable them to receive child migrants and all of whom were struggling with problems of unfilled vacancies.Footnote 92 When de Freitas met with Mellish and Nicol, though, de Frietas explained that in seven of these cases approval had been delayed only because requested information had not been provided from Australia, and no adequate response had still been given to concerns about the other remaining case of St John’s Bosco Boys Town.Footnote 93 A further meeting was arranged between Fr Nicol and Prestige to address those concerns. Nicol argued that any failure to approve of this institution would logically have to be extended to all Catholic receiving institutions in Australia. Furthermore, the Home Office’s concerns were based on a misunderstanding of the ‘preventive system’ of discipline practised by the Salesians which, Nicol claimed, was in practice no different to teachers normally watching over children in their care. Facing this challenge about the consistency of the Home Office’s views, and given reassurances that the ethos of the Boys Town was no worse than many Catholic children’s homes in the United Kingdom, Prestige relented. Indicating that the Home Office would now support the approval of this institution, Prestige added the consolatory note that Fr Nicol would soon be going to Australia and would doubtless ‘convey to the Superior of St John Bosco Boys’ Town the English conception of child care for immigrant children’.Footnote 94 The wider pattern of the Children’s Department withdrawing its concerns about the approval of specific institutions on the basis of limited information or under challenge from other organisations, was once again evident.

The Home Office’s limited knowledge of institutional conditions in Australian institutions accommodating child migrants was compounded by the lack of independent inspections by British visitors. In 1950, Muriel Welsford, a Children’s Welfare officer for the Women’s Voluntary Services sent the Home Office brief notes on her impressions from visiting a small number of institutions in Australia as well as her conversations with contacts in New Zealand about child migration there. Her comments about the Australian institutions were wholly positive, with her only criticisms reserved for the Over-Seas League, whom she believed should open a reception centre in New Zealand for its child migrants. Children’s Department notes on the file containing her report—and Prestige’s response thanking Welsford for it—did not suggest that her observations were regarded as carrying any particular weight.Footnote 95 Although more hope seemed to have been placed in Miss Harrison’s informal inspection visits to 18 institutions in Australia, which also took place during the summer of 1950, her eventual report was only three pages long, mostly containing a very general overview of organisational policies and systems and with no detailed information about individual institutions.Footnote 96

During that same summer, the Home Office was approached by John Moss, the retiring County Welfare officer for Kent County Council and former member of the Curtis Committee, who proposed making informal visits to Australian institutions accommodating child migrants whilst he was on holiday there. John Ross welcomed this as an opportunity for gaining more detailed information from a trusted British source.Footnote 97 Whilst Ross and Moss would have already been aware of each other through their involvement in national child-care policy work, contact between them may also have been further cemented by the fact that both were members of the same club—the Reform Club—in London.Footnote 98 Moss’s proposal appealed not only because of his experience of wider debates on child-care practice in Britain—including his involvement in the Central Training Council in Child Care—but because he had previously undertaken what was seen as a valuable informal inspection of Fairbridge’s Prince of Wales farm school in British Columbia whilst on a lecture tour of Canada.Footnote 99 The Commonwealth Relations Office expressed greater caution, fearing that such a visit by Moss soon after that undertaken by Harrison might elicit a negative reaction from Australian governmental and voluntary bodies who might object to ‘overdoing the frequency of such tours of inspection’.Footnote 100 On this occasion, the Home Office chose to press its point, however, and the Commonwealth Relations Office agreed to contact the UK High Commission in Canberra to ask them to provide Moss with any required assistance for this.Footnote 101 From this point on, what was originally envisaged by the Home Office as a low-key informal information-gathering exercise quickly gained momentum, not least through Moss’s own description to others of having been commissioned by the Government to write a comprehensive report on conditions for child migrants in Australia.Footnote 102 With planning for Moss’s trip during the spring of 1951 coinciding with the Home Office continuing to raise concerns about the approval of St John’s Bosco Boys’ Town, relationships between the Home Office and Catholic authorities continued to be sensitive. When asked to co-operate with Moss’s visit, Fr Nicol responded in a way which implied that his co-operation would be conditional on him being able to see reports by anyone undertaking semi-official inspections of Catholic institutions so that his organisation could offer its comments on them.Footnote 103 The Home Office also noted that they considered it a priority for Moss to visit Catholic institutions in Western Australia. They were, at the same time, conscious that focusing on Catholic institutions—of which their knowledge was particularly ‘scanty’—could create an unfortunate impression that their attention was focused disproportionately on Catholic activities.Footnote 104

Moss’s nine month tour of Australia began in May 1951, and included briefing meetings with the UK High Commission, Commonwealth Department of Immigration and State officials on policy and operational practices, as well as visits to receiving institutions for child migrants in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.Footnote 105 Moss himself described this mix of discussions with officials and institutional visits as comparable to his experience of serving on the Curtis Committee.Footnote 106 Far from being low key, however, Moss’s visit attracted media coverage in both State and national press in Australia, and included him giving both local lectures and a talk on ‘Australian and British Social Services’ broadcast on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio in which he said that he hoped far more children in institutional homes in Britain would be emigrated to Australia.Footnote 107 The growing publicity for Moss’s visit was something not at all intended by the Home Office and was to prove important in creating a context in which the Home Office ultimately had little choice in supporting the publication of his final report.

The Moss Report: Findings and Influence

By October 1951, Moss had prepared a detailed summary of his initial impressions based on conversations with officials, responses to a questionnaire which he had submitted to State bodies and receiving organisations, and notes from visits to institutions in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania.Footnote 108 In general, he concluded, ‘I believe the Homes in Australia are of good standard and that many British children deprived of a normal home life in the United Kingdom would ultimately have a better chance in this country’. Moss did raise areas of concern. Improvements could be made in pre-emigration preparation for children, the transfer of relevant information about individual children from sending to receiving institutions did not take place in many cases, and it was disappointing that more child migrants had not been placed out with foster parents (possibly because of lack of available placements or the prospect of increased costs to State Child Welfare departments). More could also be done to ensure that child migrants were successfully assimilated into local families and communities. However, Moss also declared himself to be ‘very much impressed by the thoroughness in which the interests of migrants are safeguarded under existing procedure’ and (with a small number of exceptions) generally satisfied with standards in receiving institutions some of which were ‘excellent and some very good’.

In contrast to the reports produced by Harrison and Welsford, which were less detailed and painted broad, positive pictures, Moss’s observations seemed more credible to British authorities precisely because they combined endorsements of existing practices along with criticisms and recommendations for improvement. Comments on specific institutions that he had visited by October 1951 included a number of positive observations but also criticisms of institutions which provided too few opportunities for children to build outside contacts or offered poor standards of accommodation. Institutions in Queensland criticised by Moss included St George’s Church of England Home, the Methodist Queen Alexandra Home for Children and Margaret Warr Home, and St Vincent’s Roman Catholic Children’s Home in Nudgee (which he described as ‘the worst Roman Catholic Home I have seen in Australia’Footnote 109). He also criticised St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Orphanage in Hobart, Tasmania, as well as the ‘Dalmar’ Methodist Home for Children in New South Wales. In the case of St Vincent’s, Nudgee and St Joseph’s in Hobart, and two Methodist homes in Brisbane which were about to request child migrants, Moss explicitly recommended that approval for them be withheld. In a separate letter to the UK High Commission, two months later, Moss also commented that he thought that standards of selection of children for Methodist children’s homes in Australia were generally worse than any other organisation he had observed.Footnote 110 Moss was also critical of some of the previous approvals of receiving institutions by the Australian Commonwealth Government and UK High Commission, noting both the speed with which some unsuitable Methodist homes had been approved (whilst approvals for more suitable institutions had taken longer), and also regretting the approval of another Anglican children’s home in Queensland.Footnote 111

As he continued his institutional visits in Western Australia on his way back to Britain, Moss also began to send confidential interim reports to the UK High Commission which were then shared both with the Commonwealth Relations Office and Home Office in London, as well in at least some cases with the Commonwealth Department of Immigration.Footnote 112 Some of these contained specific criticisms which Moss felt needed to be addressed. On visiting the Anglican Swan Homes near Perth, Moss discovered that some boys sent by the Church of England Advisory Council had been transferred to the Padbury Boys’ Training Farm outside the city despite it not having been formally approved as a receiving institution by the UK Government. Noting its basic accommodation, isolated location and reliance on boys resident there for the construction of the site and cultivation of the land, Moss observed that this was not an institution that for which approval would have been likely to have been granted.Footnote 113 The Benmore Children’s Home, run by the Presbyterian Church in Western Australia, which had the previous year received a positive report by Miss Harrison, was seen as unfit for receiving child migrants by Moss on the grounds of its poor management, understaffing and limited facilities.Footnote 114 Whilst not as critical of conditions generally at Castledare, Moss recommended that no further child migrants be sent there until additional classroom space was built (unknowingly repeating concerns about over-crowded teaching space previously noted by State inspectors in their highly critical report on Castledare in July 1948).Footnote 115

After visiting Pinjarra in December 1951, Moss produced a report in which he criticised the lack of fly-wiring to provide protection from mosquitoes in the cottage homes (noting that the Principal’s house had this facility), the apparent institutional policy of boys not wearing shoes despite the obvious discomfort this caused to new arrivals, and the use of single sex cottages which meant that brothers and sisters could not be kept together. Organised activities outside school were limited, too few opportunities were available to enable children to make contacts with outside families and the holiday camp to which children were moved during the long summer vacation was primitive and probably unsanitary. Noting the institution’s difficulty in finding suitable cottage mothers, Moss noted that Pinjarra seemed to have to take whoever it could in these roles and that some of those appointed were not suited to this role. Given these concerns, Moss noted, better supervision of the cottage mothers was needed to mitigate the inadequate attention that some of them gave to children in their care—thus unwittingly repeating the same recommendation that Walter Garnett had made in his report, to little effect, seven years before. Better care also needed to be paid to house mothers’ practices in punishing children. More effective supervision of the cottage mothers was, Moss concluded, a matter requiring urgent attention if children’s interests at Pinjarra were to be safeguarded.Footnote 116

In the event, Moss’s objections had little ultimate effect. The Home Office conceded to pressure from the Commonwealth Department of Immigration to continue to allow boys under school age to go to Padbury and the Christian Brothers failed to honour a commitment to build the additional teaching space at Castledare for another two years, despite receiving more child migrants in the intervening period.Footnote 117 After receiving a dismissive response from the Western Australia Department of Immigration about Moss’s criticisms of Pinjarra—which included an observation that the State Child Welfare Department considered the existing staff perfectly adequate—children continued to be sent there with the hope that conditions might improve under the new Principal.Footnote 118 However, despite the failure to follow through on his criticisms, Moss’s willingness to make them—and in some cases recommend withholding of approval of specific institutions—lent greater credibility to his comments as an independent observer of the child migration system.

Whilst the Home Office welcomed the more detailed insights that Moss provided them on individual institutions, staff in the Children’s Department also had concerns about his work. Before Moss left for Australia, a dispute had arisen between the Fairbridge Society’s London office and the New South Wales committee for Molong over the number of children that it was acceptable to have cared for by a single cottage mother—with the New South Wales committee wanting a higher number than the maximum of ten that the London office wished to implement. Moss had been specifically advised by Fairbridge’s London office not to involve himself in this dispute whilst in Australia, but had reportedly ended up doing so by telling those at Molong that then aim of having only ten children cared for by a cottage mother was ‘quite uneconomical’ and that the UK Government could not expect to impose restrictions of this kind which it could not achieve in its own institutions back home.

Sir Charles Hambro subsequently wrote to John Ross to complain about Moss’s intervention, noting that although Moss did not have any official status as a representative of the UK Government, his visit to Molong had the effect of reinforcing attempts by the local management at Molong to resist directions from London.Footnote 119 A note within the Children’s Department expressed bemusement that Moss could have said this—given it contradicted his previous known views on staff ratios—but also commented that his visit to Molong had certainly caused an unnecessary problem and that little was known by British civil servants about the specific itinerary he planned to take for the rest of his tour.Footnote 120 John Ross formally replied to Hambro, regretting the apparent misunderstanding that had arisen and confirming that the Home Office endorsed the attitude to staff-child ratios held by the Fairbridge Society’s London office.Footnote 121 On hearing about the dispute, though, Walter Garnett made his own contact with the New South Wales committee. The UK High Commission subsequently wrote to the Commonwealth Relations Office complaining that attempts to limit the number of children cared for by cottage mothers by UK authorities wishing to impose ‘ideal conditions’ on overseas institutions failed to appreciate the implications of such requests on these institutions’ running costs or difficulties in recruiting staff. In the margins of a copy of this letter passed on to the Home Office,Footnote 122 Prestige wrote ‘Are the children or the expenses more important? The Australian approach is not encouraging!’. Elsewhere in the same file, Prestige added, ‘the High Commission’s Office seems to adopt automatically an attitude more Australian than that of the Australians’.Footnote 123 By contrast, the Commonwealth Relations Office wrote to Garnett expressing regret that the Home Office was only belatedly passing on copies of Moss’s progress reports to them and that they were aware that Moss was not copying in the UK High Commission in to all of these.Footnote 124 This incident in relation to Molong demonstrated the continued sensitivities of administering trans-national child migration programmes, in which the wider conflicts of interests and concerns between the various governmental and voluntary organisations involved in this work could find themselves played out through anything that Moss said and did in Australia.

Moss’s role as a semi-official rapporteur on conditions in Australia was further blurred by him speaking directly to representatives of some organisations in Australia about his views on whether specific institutions—or requests for particular ages of children—should be approved or not. In doing this, Moss inserted himself into policy discussions in which he had no formal place to be involved.Footnote 125 The Children’s Department was aware of this from Moss’s own periodic reports of his activities and did not discourage him from doing this.Footnote 126 The Commonwealth Relations Office were, however, far less happy about this, noting that any withholding of approvals for specific institutions in Australia could only take place through the usual formal process involving them and the UK High Commission once Moss’s formal report had been submitted.Footnote 127 Tensions between the Home Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office/UK High Commission in Canberra were, once again, being played out.

The ways in which these competing views collided in relation to Moss’s work became clearer as he began the process of finalising his report. Although there was some anxiety within the Commonwealth Department of Immigration about whether Moss’s eventual report might harm child migration work, the Departmental officials who had regular contact with him both during and after his trip felt sufficiently reassured about his views to press for the Department to write to the UK High Commission to encourage the UK Government to publish it.Footnote 128 Reuben Wheeler subsequently wrote directly to Moss to offer any assistance from the Commonwealth Government in expediting its publication, and Moss himself recognised that the Department of Immigration hoped to use his report to push for greater numbers of children to be sent.Footnote 129 Indeed contact between John Moss and Reuben Wheeler appears to have been sufficiently warm for an understanding to develop between them that Moss would actively support the recruitment of child migrants for particular institutions struggling with unfilled vacancies on his return to the United Kingdom.Footnote 130

Moss submitted the draft of his report to Sir Frank Newsam, Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, on 18th July 1952.Footnote 131 Whilst identifying areas for improvement (including better care in selecting child migrants, more integration of children in local Australian communities and families, supervision of cottage mothers and greater sharing of relevant information on individual children by sending organisations), Moss also warmly endorsed child migration and recommended that the programme be extended further with more children recruited from the care of local authorities.Footnote 132 The Commonwealth Relations Office were delighted with this outcome when the draft report was shared with them, with R.L. Dixon writing in return that ‘the conclusion reached by Moss after his extensive tour should be gratifying to the Australian Authorities’ and that he hoped the report would be printed for wider readership.Footnote 133

The position for the Home Office was more complex, however. In a memorandum setting out possible ways of proceeding with Moss’s report,Footnote 134 John Ross noted that although the Home Office had agreed to meet the costs of Moss’s additional travelling and subsistence expenses (which had become more extensive than originally envisaged), his offer to undertake inspections of the child migration system had been accepted explicitly on the basis that it was ‘in no sense an official one’. It was not clear at the point that this agreement was initially made with Moss that he would even be making his comments in a formal report. The publicity given to his tour, however, meant that his review of the child migration system was well-known and his comments to the UK Government on this were much anticipated by governmental and voluntary organisations involved in this work. Whilst Ross recognised that the report would be of interest to organisations involved in child migration and so merited wider circulation, he also argued that it would be highly problematic if it were perceived that the Home Office were actively endorsing a policy of emigration for children in local authority care. Any publication would therefore require a clear disclaimer that it was an entirely independent piece of work and did not in any way represent the official view of the Home Office. Such caution should extend to the Home Office not sending copies of the report to local authorities or voluntary organisations—for fear that this would an imply an endorsement of it—with the Children’s Department merely sending out a circular letter to them drawing their attention to the existence of the report if they wished to purchase their own copies.

The response by Sir Frank Newsam was even more cautious. Newsam suggested that it might be preferable not to publish the report in the United Kingdom at all, but to pass it on to the Australian Commonwealth Government on the basis that they could publish it in Australia and make it available for sale in the United Kingdom if they wished to do so.Footnote 135 The Commonwealth Relations Office rebutted this proposal when it was presented to them, suggesting that neither their department nor the Australian Commonwealth Government would find it appropriate for Australian authorities to be asked to publish ‘a report of ours’.Footnote 136 Prestige noted that their response also seemed to imply that the Commonwealth Relations Office believed that the Home Office wanted to keep the report entirely confidential, which was not the case.Footnote 137 The eventual resolution proposed by John Ross was for the report to be printed by the HMSO as document independent of the UK Government, distributed by the Home Office to a limited number of interested parties and with others able to purchase their own copies. Whilst this provided a means of Moss’s report being brought into the public domain in a way that satisfied the different needs of the various governmental bodies concerned with child migration, it still faced a challenge from the HMSO as to why it was felt necessary for such a specialist report with little wider public interest to be published through them.Footnote 138 Using the Home Secretary’s authority, the Children’s Department insisted that it be published in this way, and the report—with its disclaimer that it was ‘an independent record of Mr Moss’s impressions and is not to be taken as expressing the views of the Home Office or of any Australian authority’—was eventually published in September 1953.Footnote 139 Limited publicity of its launch was sent to national press, and a circular with the same disclaimer posted to local authorities and the constituent members of the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration providing information of its availability for sale.Footnote 140

The publicity that Moss’s work received in the United Kingdom was not as great as he had personally hoped. On his return from Australia, none of the major national newspapers expressed any interest in publishing a letter from his about his tour. The only publications in which he was able to print articles about it were the periodical, British Weekly, in which Moss criticised Protestant churches for being insufficiently committed to supporting child migration, and the County Councils Association Official Gazette, in which Moss sought to encourage local authorities to make more use of child migration schemes.Footnote 141 Two other newspapers picked up his comments encouraging local authorities to make more children in their care available for emigration, and the eventual release of his report in the autumn of 1953 did receive brief coverage in The Times and on national television news.Footnote 142

Its impact, however, was far greater on organisations which already had existing involvement or concerns about child migration programmes. Whilst irritated by his allegations of Protestant churches’ lack of support for this work, the members of the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Emigration were nevertheless very pleased with his broad endorsement of the value of child migration and hoped that this could be used to extend its members’ work.Footnote 143 The fact that John Moss’s tour—which was understood to be an entirely unofficial one when he first contacted members of the Council before leaving for Australia—appeared to have taken on a more official standing was also recognised as being potentially helpful to their cause.

The view of the Association of Social Workers of Great Britain (which had changed to this name from the British Federation of Social Workers in 1951) was far less positive. In a review of the Moss report in its quarterly periodical for spring 1954, the Association’s Care of Children Committee noted the care with which Moss had gathered his information and the level of detail he had provided on policies and conditions in Australia.Footnote 144 However, whilst commending it as ‘important source material for anyone interested in this subject’, the review also observed that social workers reading the report ‘will probably come to other conclusions than those reached by the author himself’. The overall impression gained of conditions in Australian institutions was, it noted, that approaches to child-care were less progressive than in the United Kingdom. In constrast to Australia, there was greater emphasis in Britain on caring for children in home-like environments or small groups within institutions, in maintaining their contacts with relatives with a view to them being able to return to family members’ homes where possible, and on enabling children in institutions to feel part of their local communities. Whilst these standards might not always be achieved in practice by Children’s Officers—particularly in relation to children with disabilities or challenging behaviour—the emphasis placed on them by Officers seemed much stronger than in many of the Australian institutions described by Moss.

Noel Lamidey, the Chief Migration Officer at Australia House in London, was alarmed that views expressed in this review were probably representative of local authority Children’s Officers and forwarded it on to the Commonwealth Department of Immigration back in Canberra. Tasman Heyes replied with a lengthy rebuttal of the Association’s criticisms.Footnote 145 Whilst lacking Moss’s direct experience of visiting these institutions, Heyes argued that the Association’s views were also wrong in important respects. As far as Heyes understood, child migrants were only sent from the United Kingdom in cases where parents no longer had an interest in the care of the child, whether because of illegitimacy or the breakdown of the family home. Whilst there was no doubt that care in a private household was preferable to that in an institution, Heyes noted that there were considerable risks in placing child migrants directly with long-term foster parents with whom they had not been able to have any previous contact at all. Institutions could provide a base from which a child migrants’ relationship with potential foster parents could be tested out, and even if no placement could be found, the institution could compensate for the lack of something resembling a family home.

Arguably the most important effect of Moss’s work, however, was on decision-making in the Home Office. Whilst uneasy about the way in which an unofficial information-gathering exercise had snowballed into a more quasi-official report, and unwilling to be seen to support Moss’s call for an expansion of child migration schemes, the Children’s Department nevertheless treated his comments as the most substantial insights they had yet received on conditions in Australia. In a letter to the Commonwealth Relations Office in November 1953, John Ross noted that the ‘reassuring nature of Moss’s report on what he saw in Australia’ was inclining the Children’s Department to question the need to introduce their s.33 regulations in the near future. Whilst this might appear to have been an entirely passive approach by the Home Office, it is better understood as a judgement made on the basis of how its staff balanced their desired policy outcomes with their perceptions of the limits of their powers through statutory regulation. As noted earlier in this chapter, the Children’s Department had become sceptical as to whether regulations were the most effective mechanism for safeguarding British child migrants in Australia. The limitations imposed by the phrasing of the 1948 Children Act, the limits of the UK Government’s legal control of overseas organisations and the risk of unwanted administrative burdens, all made the introduction of the s.33 regulations a less appealing approach than it had previously appeared when the Children’s Bill was under discussion. By contrast, the Moss report had shown another way in which policies and organisational practices in Australia might be influenced without the limitations or bad feeling associated with regulation. Whilst the public and organisational attention given to Moss’s tour was not what the Home Office had originally wanted, an unintended consequence of this was that it placed a degree of moral pressure on Australian governmental and voluntary organisations to comply with Moss’s recommendations for improvements if they were to continue this work. The fact that the Australian Commonwealth Department of Immigration generally saw Moss’s recommendations as standards which organisations were already aware of and striving to achieve was seen in the Children’s Department as evidence that it might be possible to nudge overseas organisations towards better practice through means other than regulation. On noting correspondence from the Commonwealth Department of Immigration about their response to Moss’s recommendations, one Children’s Department official commented that ‘we are glad to see that many of them have had good results’.Footnote 146 By abandoning direct regulation of child migration in favour of trying to exert pressure for change through more advisory exchanges, the Children’s Department adopted an approach to this field which already characterised its relationship with local authorities and voluntary societies more generally in the United Kingdom.Footnote 147 At home, the Children’s Department sought to exert pressure for change in out-of-home care provided by local authorities and voluntary societies through advice and critiques provided through its inspectorate. Overseas, in relation to child migration, the Children’s Department came to hope that this approach could be replicated through its interactions with Australian authorities and the UK High Commission, mediated through the Commonwealth Relations Office. The flaws in this strategy were, however, to become increasingly clear.

Moss, the Curtis Report and Differing Interpretations of a Common Policy Framework

Given what was subsequently to emerge from the fact-finding mission led by John Ross in the spring of 1956, one of the remarkable aspects of the history of post-war child migration is why John Moss gave such a broadly positive endorsement of child migration in his private notes and public report. Some personal factors were doubtless at play. Moss’s correspondence suggests that his trip to Australia (which was also extended to New Zealand) was an enjoyable experience for him. Accompanied by his wife, his tour enabled them to see much of Australia, and alongside the respect shown to him by organisations keen to impress him as a semi-official representative of the UK Government, Moss’s correspondence in this period also contains regular references to his enjoyment of the Australian climate.Footnote 148 His relationship with officials in the Commonwealth Department of Immigration, particularly Reuben Wheeler, also became very cordial with Wheeler increasingly perceiving him as someone willing to act in ways that would broadly help his Department. Moss’s building up of his role suggests that, for him, this work was of national significance and constituted the culmination of his career. His perceptions of life in Australia therefore seem to have been shaped, at least in part, by his enjoyment of this role in a country that he liked. His work at Kent County Council—a local authority which had tended to make substantial use of voluntary homes for children in its careFootnote 149—also probably inclined him to view sympathetically similar uses of voluntary homes for child migrants in Australia.

More generally, though, Moss’s evaluation of conditions for child migrants in Australia suggests the diverse ways in which people can operate within a broadly shared framework of policy standards. Moss did not contest any of the basic child-care principles underpinning the Curtis report—principles which were also shared by others, like the Association of Social Workers, who took a far more critical view of child migration than him. John Moss was able to make certain accommodations in accepting broad conditions that he observed in Australia whilst still accepting these principles. Conditions in Catholic children’s homes in Australia might be institutionalised, but were generally no worse, he noted, than conditions he had observed in Catholic homes in the United Kingdom for the Curtis report.Footnote 150 If some children would still be growing up in such institutionalised conditions in the United Kingdom, there was no harm, Moss reasoned, in sending them overseas to similar kinds of institutions if their longer-term prospects in Australia would be better.Footnote 151 Residential institutions in Australia might be less adequately staffed, and expect more in terms of children’s labour for the running and maintenance of homes, but this reflected different ‘prevailing conditions’ in Australia rather than any evidence of neglect or ill-will on the part of receiving organisations.Footnote 152 If one took the view, as Moss did, that there were wider benefits for a child growing up in Australia compared to post-war Britain, then such organisational limitations had to be accepted alongside that. Moss did not disagree that care for a child in something resembling a ‘normal family home’ was better than them growing up in an institution, but if institutions were a necessary stepping stone to safeguard child migrants on arrival in Australia before their eventual boarding out, then this again could be tolerated. Where Australian institutions failed in other ways to adhere to Curtis standards—such as children’s lack of integration into local families and communities—Moss argued that these were areas in which improvements needed to be made. Gaps between Curtis standards and conditions for child migrants in Australia could either therefore be accepted, in the context of the wider benefits that emigration might give children, or narrowed through pressure for improved standards which Moss had assumed would be applied through the introduction of s.33 regulations. In contrast to Moss, the Association of Social Workers understood these same Curtis principles as more exacting limits. Regardless of the attractions of future prospects in Australia, if the emigration of a child caused him or her to weaken their bonds with other members of their family, involved placing them in the kind of institution that Curtis had deemed unacceptable or left them with significant challenges in assimilating into local communities, then this was not an acceptable policy—regardless of any imperfections of the care system still operating in the United Kingdom.

Similar complexities in the interpretation of Curtis principles were evident amongst staff in the Children’s Department. There was evident disquiet within the Department about the institutional character of many large, congregate Catholic children’s homes. But whilst it was recognised that such homes did not meet the ideals of the Curtis report, there was equally no enthusiasm at this point for wholesale refusal of approval to Catholic receiving institutions in Australia. The experience of the delayed approval of St John Bosco had demonstrated that even limited withholding of approvals could elicit strong responses from supporters of the Catholic Church. To push for a wider suspension of approval more generally for Catholic children’s homes in Australia would have been even more controversial given the perception that this would have constituted an attack on the basic principle of independent Catholic education. However, the degree of control of children that was understood to be in place with the Salesians’ policy of ‘preventive discipline’ was a threshold beyond which staff in the Home Office felt it was not possible to cross. Within the Children’s Department, Curtis principles therefore operated as ideals to which the failure to adhere could, in some situations, be tolerated as a practical necessity, and in other circumstances, be seen as a breach of fundamental standards which could not be accepted.

Whilst the standards for children’s out-of-home care set out in the Curtis report were very clear in principle, in practice such policy standards did not therefore necessarily operate as a rigid set of proscriptions. Rather they functioned as a framework of values and beliefs—a set of ideals—against which Home Office policy-makers, child-care professionals and many voluntary organisations made sense of their decisions and actions. Not all of those associated with child migration work had a strong affinity for all of the Curtis standards, which some negatively associated with the centralisation of care in the state and others saw as a secular assault on the primary importance of the religious formation of the child. But even amongst those who saw their work as upholding these principles, significant differences could occur in terms of how they were interpreted. The ways in which these principles were used and understood in specific situations could be shaped by an individual’s biography and role, the professional groups and organisations whom they trusted or felt emotionally connected with, and their aims, perceptions of their context and judgements about potential risks that might be faced. The decision within the Home Office Children’s Department to withhold s.33 regulations did not, therefore, imply a lack of commitment to Curtis principles, but a particular set of judgements about how best to deploy them in the context of a trans-national welfare initiative in which there were inevitable imperfections, competing organisational interests and various limits on their statutory powers. As was to become clear, however, the Home Office’s pursuit of a softer exercise of power in this instance was to have significant implications for the conditions in which many British child migrants grew up in Australia.