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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

2.3 The Children’s Society

1. The Children’s Society (CS), initially called the Church of England Incorporated Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays, was founded in 1881 as a charity to help destitute and orphaned children. Until the 21st century, their work primarily involved running residential care homes in England and Wales, and placing children in foster and adoptive care, whereas they now provide frontline services to children aged 10-18, and campaign on various issues affecting disadvantaged children and young people. The CS became involved in child migration as early as 1883. The Inquiry heard from the CS’s Chief Executive Officer, Matthew Reed.

2.3.1 What was the CS’s role in child migration?

2. The CS migrated:

a. 2,250 children to Canada from 1883-1915;

b. 876 children to Canada from 1920-1939;

c. 4 children to New Zealand and 1 child to South Africa from 1925-1930;

d. 29 children to Australia from 1925-1938 (via the Fairbridge Society); and

e. 136 children to Australia and 17 children to Southern Rhodesia, post-War, mainly from 1948-1950.[1] 

3. As with other organisations, the CS’s rationale for migration was “a desire to want to do the best for children and young people”.[2]

4. Post-War, the CS did not migrate children directly itself, but was solely a provider of children to other migrating agencies, similar to local authorities. The CS’s Executive Committee decided whether the CS would participate in a particular migration scheme, and its children’s homes (administered by a House Committee of local volunteers) would then nominate suitable candidates for emigration, in response to a request from the Executive Committee.[3]

5. Pre-War, most children migrated to Canada by the CS went to their own reception homes and then on to private farms, although some went to Fairbridge BC; and children migrated to Australia went to Fairbridge Pinjarra.[4] Post-War, children were emigrated by the CS as follows:

a. 53 children through the Church of England Advisory Council of Empire Settlement (CEACES), to 4 different homes;

b. 48 children through the Fairbridge Society to Molong and Pinjarra;

c. 34 to Northcote; 

d. 17 to the RFMC; and

e. 1 through the Big Brother Movement, to employment in Australia.[5] 

6. During the Part 1 hearings we heard allegations of sexual abuse from one witness who had been migrated by the CS;[6] in addition the CS has been informed of several allegations as set out below.

2.3.2 What did the CS know about alleged sexual abuse of its child migrants?

7. The Inquiry accepts Mr Reed’s evidence that the CS had no actual knowledge of allegations or evidence of sexual abuse of its child migrants during the migration period.[7] 

Had the Children’s Society operated a more robust process for monitoring the welfare of those children it provided for migration, it might have known more about specific allegations of sexual abuse and about the risk of sexual abuse more generally.

Children were exposed to a risk of sexual abuse, which ought to have been appreciated by the Children’s Society.

However the responsibility for effective post-migration monitoring of the child migrants primarily lay with those institutions directly involved in migrating the children (not the Children’s Society, who provided the children for migration by others).

2.3.3 Did the CS take sufficient care to protect its child migrants from sexual abuse?


8. The CS set out selection criteria which it asked its local committees to have specific regard to, and the local committees’ proposals for migration were then reviewed by the CS’s Central Committee. Even when, post-War, the CS was migrating children via third party organisations, Mr Reed told us that it was keen to ensure that the right children were being selected, rather than simply satisfying a certain quantity requested by a third party. In November 1947, the CS’s Executive Committee noted that their selection procedures would remove the vast majority of children put forward for migration, that they preferred to seek orphans because of the difficulty in securing consent from parents. Professor Constantine agreed that the CS did not appear to consider itself under pressure to migrate children, in comparison to some of the other sending organisations, perhaps because the CS was not only a child migration society but had other options for the children in its care. Generally he considered that the CS’s approach to selection seemed to conform to what would have been expected by the Home Office.[8] 

9. Although some gaps in the material mean that the CS cannot be satisfied that consent was obtained in every case, we accept the evidence of Mr Reed and Professor Constantine that, on the basis of the documents from that period, proper consent was generally an important factor for the CS.[9] 

10. A 1948 Children’s Society Handbook for Workers sets out the expected conduct of the CS’s homes in England and Wales. Relevant extracts included that:

a. each home would have a system of local volunteers to supervise and secure the welfare of the children;

b. each branch would be visited at least once a week by a member of the House Committee and be inspected unannounced by headquarters;

c. the Executive Committee would be responsible for the appointment and dismissal of Masters and Matrons;

d. all staff would be vetted by headquarters and the House Committee;

e. general watchfulness was required for children who might be difficult because of tragic or abnormal backgrounds;

f. the Masters and Matrons should be “ready to answer any questions on matters of sex and should ensure that every child has an adequate knowledge of the subject well in advance of going out into the world”;

g. excessive punishment rendered the master or matron liable to dismissal, and corporal punishment was forbidden for girls; and

h. the CS would keep in close contact with children who had left.[10]

The experts said that they “had not expected anything as thorough and detailed” as the handbook.[11]


11. It appears that when the CS migrated children to farms in Canada, the employers were vetted beforehand.[12]


12. From 1911, until after the War, the CS had specific staff based at the receiving homes in Canada who would visit the children periodically to monitor their progress once they had been placed in employment, and generally act as a link with England.[13]

13. Post-War, the CS did not have its own staff in the receiving countries, and were therefore dependent on the quality of reporting provided by other organisations.[14] 

14. There is evidence that the CS was concerned that without “evidence in black and white” about aftercare facilities at Swan Homes, run by the Church of England Advisory Council for Empire Settlement (CEACES), it may be “that the risks, if children proved to be failures, would be much too great”. Ultimately, however, the CS did migrate children through CEACES and there is no evidence available now of reports being sent back to the CS via CEACES.[15] Professor Constantine said that these dispersed responsibilities likely had a negative effect on regular reporting to all those who at some stage had had responsibility for a child.[16] 

15. Mr Reed noted that, although inconsistent, reports from Fairbridge were generally provided every six months for children in education and some updates were provided for those who had left.[17] Professor Constantine thought that evidence of aftercare reports being passed from Fairbridge to the CS (as well as liaison about whether a particular child was ready to be migrated), indicated a sort of intimacy between the two organisations.[18] 

16. Professor Constantine noted that he had seen no evidence of reports from the Australian authorities being sent back to the CS. He thought that it was unlikely that the CS had consciously delegated responsibility to those child welfare professionals.[19] 

17. The Inquiry concludes that although the CS had a good idea of the type of care which it expected child migrants to receive, based on its experience in England and Wales, and although it had operated its own supervision and aftercare regime pre-War, post-War it effectively delegated responsibility to other organisations for inspections and reports. This led to issues, in particular with those children migrated through CEACES, over the regularity and quality of the follow-up information received.

In light of these defects in its post-migration monitoring regime, the Children’s Society could not be properly satisfied about the welfare of the children. The Inquiry recognises, however, that the Children’s Society was “one step removed” from the primary obligation to monitor, which lay with those who actually migrated the children provided by the Children’s Society.

2.3.4 What has the CS done in the post-migration period?

18. During the 1990s, the CS received allegations of sexual abuse from three former child migrants. In 1994, a former child migrant disclosed that he had been sexually abused at Pinjarra. The CS responded by trying to help him to understand his case files, providing him with papers relating to his emigration, including a social work report, and seeing what support they could provide going forward. In 1998, a relative reported that a former child migrant had been sexually abused in Australia.[20] He told the CS that there was insufficient evidence to support a prosecution, but the CS made a full recording of his allegations and tried to support him in tracing his relatives. He was met personally, counselling was provided, and his case papers were shared with the appropriate Australian agencies.

19. In 1999, a former child migrant disclosed that he had been sexually abused by older boys within the RFMC. He was keen to find out about available financial support. The CS suggested that he speak to Fairbridge regarding compensation, but also provided assistance with access to his case file and other support.[21] 

20. During our Part 1 hearings, CM-A2 alleged that he had been sexually abused at CS homes in England prior to migration. Mr Reed said that the CS had not been previously aware of the allegations but has since offered an apology and written to offer further support. The CS provided CM-A2 with his case files and having examined them, found evidence suggesting a concerning relationship between CM-A2 and a female member of staff against whom he later made allegations, that this member of staff was dismissed after others became uncomfortable, and that it was quite soon after this that CM-A2 expressed a wish to migrate. Mr Reed noted that “Whilst [the CS] took some steps to stop her access to [him], it did not, from the case file records, appear to have taken any further steps to investigate the nature of their interactions, to support him in relation to this or to question his apparent wish to migrate” and he expressed regret that those did not appear to have been taken. A wider enquiry of other children resident there at the same time as CM-A2 had not revealed any further concerns.[22] 

21. Professors Constantine and Lynch identified a potential further case of sexual abuse of a child from St Budoc’s home who had been migrated through CEACES to Padbury. Since becoming aware of this point, the CS has looked back through its records, but has not been able to identify this young person, or any other sexual abuse allegations within that children’s home.

The Children’s Society’s response to these individual allegations has been adequate: it offered support as appropriate and took relevant action, such as looking at the case files of other children formerly resident at an institution in which there had been allegations of sexual abuse.

22. In June 2017, Mr Reed made a public apology on behalf of the CS, which he reiterated at the outset of his evidence to us. This apology was for everyone hurt or damaged through being migrated by the CS, was unconditional, and specifically referred to those emotionally, physically and sexually abused. Mr Reed accepted that it was overdue, saying that he did not know why it was not made at the time of the UK government’s apology in 2010.[23] The CS has not provided any compensation or other redress to former child migrants or other abuse related to child migration.[24] However, Mr Reed gave evidence to the Inquiry about an external independent review commissioned by the CS to address historical child sexual abuse, and about a specialist team established within CS to support those who want to discuss historical abuse.[25]

The Children’s Society offered support to former child migrants alleging sexual abuse where appropriate, in relation to the evidence presented; but its public apology, although welcome, was overdue by many years and it has not paid compensation.




  1. Reed 14 July 2017 11-14.
  2. Reed 14 July 2017 33. A 1920s CS document also referred to the opportunity emigration provided “to place beyond the reach of their undesirable relatives children who have been rescued from evil surroundings”, and that the CS was also “willing to consider any case where a child is anxious to go to Canada”: CSY000073.
  3. CSY000105_005-006; EWM000449_011-012.
  4. Reed 14 July 2017 13-14.
  5. Reed 14 July 2017 15/18-22 and CSY000105_004. In evidence, Mr Reed clarified that although there was (and is) a close working partnership between CS and parts of the Church of England, they have and always have had completely independent governance structures: Reed 14 July 2017 64-65.
  6. CM-A2 28 February 2017 65-82.
  7. Reed 14 July 2017 44-45.
  8. Reed 14 July 2017 8; 20; 23-24; 28; Professor Constantine 11 July 2017 120/2-24; CSY000073.
  9. Reed 14 July 2017 42-43; Professor Constantine 11 July 2017 125-127.
  10. Reed 14 July 2017 33-40; CSY000003_001-026.
  11. EWM000449_010.
  12. Reed 14 July 2017 9-10.
  13. Reed 14 July 2017 13/4-18; CSY000105_003.
  14. Reed 14 July 2017 42/5-18.
  15. Reed 14 July 2017 21; 2; Professor Constantine 11 July 2017 138/10-24.
  16. Professor Constantine 11 July 2017 138/10-24.
  17. Reed 14 July 2017 41/18-25.
  18. Professor Constantine 11 July 2017 132-133.
  19. Professor Constantine 11 July 2017 135/16-24.
  20. Reed 14 July 2017 46-47.
  21. Reed 14 July 2017 6/21-25; 46-50.
  22. Reed 14 July 2017 53-54.
  23. Reed 14 July 2017 3-4; 63.
  24. Reed 14 July 2017 56/16-20.
  25. Reed 14 July 2017 58-63.
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