Hidden Lives Revealed. A virtual archive - children in care 1881-1981 * Image of handwritten text

About the Case files

About 22,500 children were looked after by the Waifs and Strays' Society between its foundation in 1881 and the end of the First World War in 1918. A selection of these children's files are available here, in full - but fully anonymised.

Why are they anonymised?

Case file envelope

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Even though these children were in the care of the Waifs and Strays' Society around a hundred years ago, The Children's Society, as the Waifs and Strays' Society successor organisation, still owes them a duty of care. So to prevent these children being identified, their names and the names of their parents and family have been reduced to the first letter of their forename. You will see when you look through the files where details like this have been blanked out on the images, and on the transcriptions. Addresses have also been reduced so that you can see the road someone may have come from, but not the house name or number.

The Children's Society is an ethical organisation, so many of the other people involved in the children's lives have also been anonymised; these include people who recommended that the child should be taken into care, any named "Responsible Person" on the child's application form, and any doctors or other professionals who may have examined the children. All Society members of staff, and any other members of the public involved with the children's lives have been left as they were.

What's in the case files?

Nearly all files include an application form. This gives details about the child and their family, such as where and when they were born, state of health, education, parent's ages, occupations and wages of family members, etc. A description of the child's circumstances and the reason for seeking a place with the Society is also given.

Poor children's births were not always registered. In some cases these application forms are the only "official" record of a person's birth.

The application forms were filled out and signed by concerned members of the community. This might be a church minister or a member of the local branch of the Waifs and Strays' Society, or other social charity.

The files also contain a wealth of other material. This might include letters from the child's family and from the children themselves, newspaper clippings, letters from prisons and lunatic asylums, photographs, school reports, apprenticeship indenture documents, etc.

How long were the files kept open?

Some case files cover only a brief period and just tell the story of the child's life up to entering the Society's care. Others have documents ranging over a 60 year period, so that we know many details about a person's life. Whenever a document bearing news of a child reached the Society, it was added to the file. This happened even if the person had left care many years before.

How have cases files been selected?

Files have been selected for Hidden Lives Revealed so that you can see a snapshot of the children the Society cared for during this period. So there are cases from all around England and Wales, from small rural villages and the largest cities.

You can also see a cross-section of what the whole Children's Society Archive of case files is like; some of these files only have one or two documents, others nearly 60! A file envelope that is bulging with documents can be an indication that something interesting has happened. Reading through the documents you can trace the stories of these previously hidden lives.

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