‘Changing Times, Changing Needs : A History of the Catholic Children’s Society in Westminster’ by Jim HylandMonday, March 1st, 2010 Book Review by David Lane
The subtitle of this book describes exactly what the book contains, and the title gives the main message. If you are interested in the way that children’s services have had to adapt over time to reflect shifts in the country’s economy, employment patterns, social life, culture and approach to religion, this book will offer a clear example in its 108 pages.
Jim Hyland was given access to a considerable volume of archives which the Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) has amassed over the last couple of centuries, and he has provided us with a thorough, factual and workmanlike history of the ways in which services were set up, developed, maintained and then run down or replaced.
One of the interesting threads which runs through the book is the battle which the Roman Catholic Church has had to assert its rights and implement its mission to care for Catholic children. There were anti-Catholic riots in the early days, major political battles in the nineteenth century, and professional skirmishes - for example within the Curtis working party in 1948. This theme is, of course, still alive, as in the Pope’s recent comments on the question of Roman Catholic adoption agencies being required to enable gay people to adopt children.
Another impression obtained from seeing the sweep of history in a short space is the number of people who dedicated their lives to the work of the Society. A remarkable number of the clergy died at a relatively young age - the effect of overwork? proximity to disease among the poor underclasses? or just co-incidence? There has been much in the news in recent years about the abuse of children in Catholic homes and schools, but the overwhelming message in this book is that children being brought up in dire poverty and squalor were offered a chance of reasonable living conditions and education, and that this was only achieved through charitable giving and the dedication of the clergy and other workers involved.
Jim Hyland approaches the issue of emigration in a level-headed way, acknowledging both the good intentions of those who arranged for children to be shipped to Canada and Australia and the acceptance now that the policy caused a lot of suffering and hardship. Interestingly, even when the policy was being introduced there were people who were sceptical about its value and fearful about the vulnerability of the children. Again, this theme is still live, and Jim’s account gives some of the background to the recent apologies offered by Kevin Rudd for the Australian Government in November 2009 and Gordon Brown for the UK in February 2010.
The format of the book is slightly disappointing. On the plus side, it has plenty of well-chosen illustrations, many being from the Society’s magazine, The Net. In other respects, it feels like an economy version - which it may be. Every page is tightly packed with print, including the Contents on the inside front cover. The strange exception is that the first page of each chapter has a space so large that it looks as if a photo has been omitted. The book is published by the Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) but intriguingly it contains no other details - no ISBN, no contact address for purchasing copies, no price (is it free?), no warning about copyright. Not even a Nihil obstat.
If the lesson is that the Society had to hunt for funding to publish the book, we should of course be grateful that they did. Despite the criticisms of the format above, it is nonetheless readable and fulfils its purpose. It is not intended as a coffee-table book, and readers should not be deterred by my sniping.
Hyland, Jim (2010) Changing Times, Changing Needs
Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster)