Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future – Session 3 – Children’s Experiences of Domestic Abuse

More like a football than a human being’: the plight of children between neglect and welfare in early 20th Century Scotland

Lynn Abrams, University of Glasgow

Lynn Abrams


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–          Policy towards the family

  • Up to WWII organisations pursued a policy of removing the child from the family

–          Children in foster care should be treated with respect rather than victimized

–          Oral history interviews of adults who had as children been boarded out by the parish

–          One interview as an example of how this treatment of children impacts them as an adult and their life changes and perceptions of what constitutes a family

–          Peter, born 1934 in Glasgow, in a family of 6 with a single mother who died in 1938

  • Sent the 3 youngest to the Black Isle
  • Then moved to stay with a widow in a tiny town on the east coast
  • Her death made them the custody of her domestic help as the boys guardians
    • Peter described this time as purgatory
  • At 15 removed again to live with two spinster sisters
  • From there he ran away to Glasgow with the help of his older brother

–          3 things needed for children to have a normal childhood

  • 1) parental affection
  • 2) intimate personal interest
  • 3) preparations and graduate introduction into an independent life

–          Peter described his experience as a lost childhood

  • families

–          Freudian notion of a fantasy family

  • For Peter the fantasy family was his blood family
    • Found out at 40  that he was illegitimate
      • Meant he was separated emotionally from the rest of his brothers and sisters

–          Peters case what not unusual

  • Many people turned a blind eye to children in foster care
  • Until 1945 Scottish childcare system rocked by the case of Walton, a couple viciously abusing two foster children

–          WWII, big shift in policy

  • Agency workers have to walk a tight rope between the family good and the protection of the children
    • Peter was aware of this, but said he and his brother were directly affected by their poor treatment in foster care