New documentary reveals lives of children growing up in care

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Category: Research Centre News

A new documentary has uncovered the lives of 27,000 pupils who grew up at a children’s home, revealing some fascinating details that happened over a span of 200 years.

Titled No Place Like Home: The Story of the Foundling Hospital, shares the daily life, education received and upbringing of children who grew up in the Foundling Hospital, London, between 1741 and 1954, including their lives beyond the hospital, which showcased pupils who had gone on to forge successful careers in music and art, and fought in battles.

Interestingly, one of the characters in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, gleaned inspiration from the rich stories.

Emeritus Professor Harriet Ward CBE, who is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Education’s Rees Centre, was commissioned to provide information for the timeline of the hospital and gave a historical perspective on issues such as the health of children in care, their education and employment, relationships, identity and sense of stability.

“Coram’s film about the history of the Foundling Hospital-No Place Like Home – has the power both to shock and to inspire. It is shocking to hear about the terrible destitution in 18th Century England when the charity was founded, and the appalling stigma faced by the unmarried mother and her child. It is inspiring to hear about the development of the Foundling Hospital and the opportunities it offered to children who might otherwise have died,” Professor Ward said.

She said that the film also shows not only how much has changed, but also how much has stayed the same, particularly the care system in this country that still faces many of the same issues that were evident two centuries ago.

“We cannot make sense of the present unless we can understand the past,” she added.

The film also tells the stories of desperate mothers who came to the Foundling Hospital to seek a better life for their child, and of philanthropist Thomas Coram, who was appalled by the conditions faced by abandoned children on the streets of London.

Through interviews, contemporary images and archival records, the film explores the Hospital’s unique place in the history of social care and the work of its successor, Coram, the national children’s charity that continues to create better chances for children today.

The film screening took place this week which was followed by questions to a panel of speakers, including Harriet, discussing the film’s content and creation.

Coram CEO Dr Carol Homden said that every child deserves a fair chance in life and as Coram is the champion of children, there is a need to treasure the past and change the future.

“Just as Thomas Coram did, we will change the entire system around children. We have to innovate and never give up on creating a society that cares,” Dr Homden said.

The programme was created as part of Coram’s ‘Voices Through Time: The Story of Care’ programme, and was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

A key part of the programme involved working with care-experienced young people who created their own films surrounding the theme of home, which also gave them the opportunity to learn about the Foundling Hospital’s history and gain new skills in idea generation, film shooting and editing.

Watch the documentary on Youtube  and read more about the story.