Industrial schools, in which poor children, the waifs of the streets, are fed, lodged, and taught some useful employment, have been in existence for more than thirty years, and are on all hands acknowledged to have been successful as a means of preventing—or lessening the amount of—juvenile crime and vagrancy. The weak point in the organisation of these schools is that they rely for support on the voluntary contributions of benevolent individuals, instead of forming part of the poor-law system, and being thereby maintained by the whole taxable community. Some will think there is a more serious drawback in their constitution. By whatever name these schools are known, they are in effect asylums for the grouping of children to the number of several hundreds in a large establishment; and so far are a repetition of the old species of hospitals, which are now generally condemned. On a late occasion we brought under the notice of our readers a method of boarding-out pauper children among the families of rural labourers and small tradesmen in country towns, which has proved eminently successful wherever it has been tried in Scotland. As this method of boarding-out is under the administration of parochial boards relying on rates, it has, with other merits, that of not specially taxing the benevolence of particular individuals.
What we peculiarly admired in the boarding-out system was its conservation of the family-home as a means of juvenile nurture and intellectual and moral culture. We now propose to give some account of a family-home system which has been established in England. It differs materially from that prevalent in Scotland, and further labours under the objection of being a voluntary charity similar to that of the Industrial schools. Though not quite to our mind, it is much better than nothing, and we bespeak for it the kindly attention of the public.
This English 'Village Home' system originated in the efforts of Dr Bernardo, who began with a 'Home' for Arab and gutter boys in London. No sooner was this Home in operation than he set about founding a similar establishment for girls, in which good work he was ably assisted by his wife. 'The Village Home' at Ilford in Essex, for orphan, neglected, and destitute girls is the result.
Little girls up to the age of eleven or twelve are rescued weekly from misery and danger and placed under the care of a Mother. Even babies of only twelve and fifteen months are admitted, in cases where the detective, employed by Dr Bernardo to find out wretched and abandoned children, learns that the child will be brought up by a 'tramp' to a life of infamy. Before a girl thus rescued is permitted to join the family of which she is to become a member, she is carefully tended for several weeks in a Home in London, in order that her freedom from disease and her personal cleanliness may be secure; after which she is sent down to Ilford, and becomes at once a member of a family, with a dozen other girls of varying ages for playmates and sisters. The Mother gives her a kiss, and tells her to be a good girl, and they will all love her dearly; and in a few days the forlorn little one is transformed into something human and child-like. In order to become acquainted with the internal organisation of this 'Home' training of large numbers of destitute children gathered together from all parts of London, we recently visited Dr Bernardo's 'Village Home' at Ilford, the third and most recently founded establishment of the kind. Thither we repair, and find that the pretty red cottages which compose the Village form an oblong square, which surrounds a large open space of ground, intended hereafter to inclose a piece of grass of sufficient size for the grazing of a few sheep. A picturesque gateway admits the visitor to the governor's house, which is built in the same style as the cottages. We were met at the entrance by the governor.
'The children are all in school now,' said he; 'what do you say to going there first, and then you will see them all together?'
During a walk of some five or six minutes, past a dozen cottages and through two or three turnstile gates, we met on our road half-a-dozen happy-faced little children minding babies younger than themselves. The school-rooms occupy a long detached building. We entered one, a large cheerful room furnished with desks and forms, and hung with maps, pictures of animals, and illustrated texts of Scripture and homely proverbs.
The girls regarded us with bright cheerful curiosity. There was no stolid indifference or sullen discontent expressed in any of their faces. They stood up as the governor took off his hat, and each one dropped us a quick little courtesy and smiled pleasantly as we passed by her desk. The ages of the children in this room varied from perhaps ten to fourteen or fifteen; and we observed that their hair was not cropped, that it was braided close to the head, according to the fancy of the owner, where it was long; and that those who had it short wore either a round comb or piece of dark ribbon to keep it from falling over their eyes.
On our remarking to the governor that this in itself was a great improvement on the usual habit of keeping the hair cropped, he replied: 'We do all we can to develop nice womanly habits in the older girls, so we make it a rule never to cut their hair, so long as they keep it clean and tidy; and we find the plan succeeds very well, each girl knowing the penalty she will have to pay for