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Magdalen Stuart (Robison) Mrs. W. P. Reeves Reeves.

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Dinner. Roast beef, ij- ounces; potatoes or
other vegetables, 4 ounces ; fresh fruit-pudding,
6 ounces.

Supper. Seed-cake, 4 ounces; cocoa (half
milk), J pint.

No mother on 2os. a week could secure such
food for her children. It is not supposed that the
Departmental Committee appointed by the Presi-
dent of the Local Government Board would pre-
scribe an extravagant diet, and it seems terrible
that the children of the hard-working honest poor
should be fed on a diet which is about half that
prescribed as the most economical and very least
that a healthy workhouse child should have. In
this report it has been decreed that the workhouse
child needs milk. Half of its evening and morn-
ing meals are to be of bread and milk. Further,
" milk " is specially notified as meaning " new
milk, whole and undiluted." If the workhouse
child needs about a pint of whole and undiluted
new milk a day, as well as other food such as
vegetables, fruit, bread, and cocoa, so does the
child outside the workhouse. No scheme of
porridge and lentils will do for a child without
milk, and milk is expensive. When the mother



222 STANDARD OF COMFORT

has fed the breadwinner in accordance with his
tastes and with some semblance of efficiency, she
has no chance of being able to afford even a half-
ration of milk for her children. When she has
balanced the problem of housing against that of
feeding, and has decided on the wisest course
open to her, she has still to put her children three
and four in a bed. She cannot separate the in-
fectious from the healthy, nor the boys from the
girls. She can never choose a sanitary and
healthful life. She can only choose the less of
two great evils.

No teacher of domestic science, however capable,
can instruct girls scientifically and in detail how
adequately to house, clothe, clean, warm, light,
insure, and feed a family of four or five persons
on 2os. a week in London. The excellent in-
struction given by the L.C.C. teachers is based
on budgets of 3, 353., or of 28s. for a family of
six persons. It was realised that to teach girls how
to manage inadequately would be false teaching.
If the scientific and trained teacher cannot solve
the problem, the untrained, overburdened mother
should not be criticised because she also fails.
The work which she is expected to do is of supreme
importance. It would be enlightened wisdom to
enable her to do it.



CHAPTER XVI

THE STATE AS GUARDIAN

FROM a leading article in The Times, October 7,
1913:

" They (women) are resolved, we may take it,
that laws and customs which do not recognise that
their children are the children of the nation are
behind the times and must be altered. Because
they are the children of the nation, the nation
owes them all the care that a mother owes to her
own child. Because they are the future nation,
the nation can only neglect them to its own hurt
and undoing. That is a law of life which is proved
up to the hilt by the bitter and humiliating ex-
perience of a large proportion of the disease and
mortality and crime in our homes and hospitals
and asylums and prisons. But it is a law of life
which also carries with it this further truth that
the nation's children are the nation's opportunity."

What is needed is the true fulfilment of human
parenthood which is a natural unforced and un-
forceable relation of the spirit as well as of the
flesh. Money, and the efficient, skilled service it
procures, can be provided from any source. But
223



224 THE STATE AS GUARDIAN

that close, personal affection and watchfulness
essential to children which no other guardianship
can replace can only be given by parents. Yet
even parents can be thwarted and embittered by
crushing toil and slavish drudgery until their
natural affection is destroyed. The nation needs
the active and free co-operation of fathers and
mothers in the upbringing of its children, and it
must enable them to do their share of the work.

At the present moment the nation, as super-
guardian of its children, acts, in the case of the
children of the poor, in a manner so baffling, so
harassing, so contradictory, that the only feelings
it induces in the minds of parents whose lives are
passed in incessant toil and incessant want are
exasperation, fear, and resentment.

Some painful cases show the way in which the
State, as guardian of its children, uses its great
power merely to punish the parent and not to
protect the child. Where either father or mother
is convicted and sentenced for cruelty, the child
is often left helpless in the hands of a still more
brutalised parent when he or she comes out of
gaol. Cases exist in which a father, sentenced to
hard labour for criminal assault on his own child,
can again be given custody of that child on his
return to work at the completion of his sentence.
Punishment of the parent may be a terrible
necessity; but the main object of reasoned public
action should be permanently to protect and
deliver the child.



THE STATE AS GUARDIAN 225

A wife may be granted in public court separa-
tion from her husband for cruelty or desertion,
with an order that he should pay her a weekly
allowance for the support of the children of the
marriage. By spending on summonses money
she can ill afford, she may find it possible to get
her husband sent to prison for non-payment of
the allowance. But the court contents itself
with punishing the father, and takes no steps to
ensure the welfare of the children by enforcing
payment.

A mother, the breadwinner for three young
children, earned I2s. a week for work which took
her from home in the early morning and again
in the evening. During two daily absences, which
cost her 2s. weekly in fares, she was obliged to
leave her baby lying in its perambulator. The
illness of an elder child brought an education
officer to investigate his absence from school.
The officer discovered the boy in bed with rheu-
matic fever, and the baby unattended. Meeting
the hurrying mother as she came back from her
morning's work, he indignantly informed her that
it was against the law to leave a baby as hers had
been left. She must in future pay a neighbour
to care for it in her daily absences, or the police
would interfere. She pleaded with him; in her
ignorance of the ideals and methods of our English
law, she explained her circumstances. He was,
of course, sorry about it, but the upshot of their
conversation was that by the direct action of

15



226 THE STATE AS GUARDIAN

Public Authority the mother was forced to pay
a neighbour to care for the baby, and the zos. a
week on which four persons were living was fur-
ther diminished. Such a woman may be poten-
tially a good parent had she any means by which
she could make her good parenthood effective.
But her experience of State guardianship of her
children may be that Public Authority, without
troubling as to whether or not fulfilment be in
her power, forces further duties and responsi-
bilities on to her shoulders in respect of those
children through the threatened medium of the
police, with all the horrors of prison in the back-
ground.

Suppose the State, as co-guardian of the child,
stripped off, when dealing with parents, the uni-
form of a police-constable with a warrant in his
pocket. Suppose it approached them in some
such spirit as that displayed by the Public Trustee
when dealing with testators and executors. He
offers advice, security, a free hand in carrying out
any legal purpose, and he acts with or without
other executors, as the case may require. Why
should not the nation place all the information, all
the security, all the help at its command at the
service of its co-guardians, the fathers and
mothers ? Why should it not act frankly with
them in the national interest, and help them to
see that the needs of the child are supplied ?

The final responsibility for the child's welfare,
the paramount authority in securing it, belong



PUBLIC GUARDIANSHIP 227

to the State. Why not recognise the national
responsibility by the definite appointment of a
public Guardian who would enter upon the rela-
tion of co-guardian with the parents of every
child at the registration of its birth ?

Even now fundamental parental obligations are
supposed to be the same in all classes, but the
well-to-do can fulfil them after a fashion without
the assistance of the State, though often with
much insecurity and strain. Were there a de-
partment of Public Guardianship upon which
every parent might rely for counsel and effective
help, very many whose difficulty is not the actual
housing and feeding of their children would be
only too glad to take advantage of its advice.
And even amongst the well-to-do, fathers and
mothers die or lose their faculties, or are unfit,
and the nation's children are the sufferers.

The appointment of a Public Guardian to co-
operate with parents in all ranks of society is the
only effective method, not only of preventing the
national disgrace of " waste children," but of
doing away with the hardships, the distrusts, the
fears and the resentments caused amongst the
workers by the present harsh and ill-defined
exercise of national Guardianship.

It is to the collective interest of a nation that
its children should flourish. They are the future
nation. To them the State will be entrusted.
To them the work, the duty, the scheme
of things will be handed on. Suppose children



228 MAINTENANCE GRANTS

were recognised to be more important than
wealth suppose they were really put first what
machinery have we which already deals with their
lives, their health, and their comfort ? We have
a national system of education which we propose
to extend and elaborate, and to which we have
recently attached medical inspection, and we
have the time-honoured machinery of the home.
The children of the poor pass their lives within
the limits of these two institutions, and behind
both stands the State, which entirely regulates
one and is constantly modifying the other.

To equip the home for the vital responsibility
committed to its care, the new administrative
agency must have the power to go further than
the offering of advice and information to its fellow-
guardians, the parents. It must endow every
child who needs it with a grant sufficient to secure
it a minimum of health and comfort. Mainte-
nance grants from the State are no new thing.
Inadequate grants are now made to the parents
of free scholars in secondary schools. What is
wanted is the extension and development of the
idea. Based on the need of the child and limited
thereby, the grant would not become a weapon
to keep down wages. Men and women whose
children are secure are free to combine, to strike,
to take risks. Men and women who have the
entire burden of a family on their shoulders are
not really free to do so.

The State's guarantee of the necessaries of life



BABY CLINICS 229

to every child could be fulfilled through various
channels some of them, as the feeding of school-
children, already in existence. This is no sug-
gestion for class differentiation. The scholars on
the foundation of many of the great public schools,
such as Eton and Winchester, are fed, as well as
housed and educated, from the funds of old en-
dowments. National school feeding, endowed
from national wealth, would be an enlargement
and amalgamation of systems already in being.
There should be no such thing as an underfed
school child : an underfed child is a disgrace and a
danger to the State.

The medical inspection of school-children, ex-
tended to children of all classes, should lead to a
universal system of school clinics, where the
children would not only be examined, but treated.
Baby clinics should be within the reach of every
mother, and should be centres where doctors and
nurses, at intervals to be dictated by them, would
weigh and examine every child born within their
district. At this moment any weighing centre,
school for mothers, or baby clinic which does
exist is fighting the results of bad housing, in-
sufficient food, and miserable clothing evils
which no medical treatment can cure. Such
evils would be put an end to by the State grant.

Nor would an intolerable system of inspection
be necessary in order to see that the co-trustees
of the State the parents should faithfully per-
form their part of the great work they are under-



230 CLINICS AND THE HOME

taking. At every baby clinic the compulsory
attendances of a well-dressed, well-nourished,
well-cared-for child would be marked as satis-
factory. No inspection needed. An unsatis-
factory child would perhaps be obliged to attend
more often, or its condition might require the help
and guidance of a health visitor in the home. In
this way a merely less efficient home would easily
be distinguished from one which was impossible.
The somewhat inefficient home might be helped,
improved, and kept together, while, if the home
conditions were hopelessly bad, the public guar-
dian would in the last resort exercise its power of
making fresh provision for the ward of the nation
in some better home.

As things now are, we have machinery by which
the State in its capacity of co-guardian coerces
the parents and urges on them duties which,
unaided, they cannot perform. Parents are to
feed, clothe, and house their children decently,
or they can be dealt with by law. But when, as
a matter of fact, it is publicly demonstrated that
millions of parents cannot do this, and that the
children are neither fed, clothed, nor housed
decently, the State, which is guardian-in-chief,
finds it convenient to look the other way, shirking
its own responsibility, but falling foul, in special
instances, of parents who have failed to comply
with the law.

The law which is supposed to exist for the pur-
pose of protecting children, seems to exist for the



THE CHILDREN FIRST 231

purpose of punishing parents, while doing nothing,
or next to nothing, for the children. The idea
still prevails among some care committees and
school authorities that a " bad " parent must not
be " encouraged " by feeding his children at
school, and cases are known to exist where, in
order to punish the parent, a hungry child is not
fed. The one mistake an authority which con-
sidered the children first would not make would
be that of punishing the child to spite the parent.
Between Boards of Guardians, Care Committees,
School Authorities, and Police, parents who are.
poor are bafHed and puzzled and disheartened.
It would be well for them to have a central
authority whose first thought was the real wel-
fare of the children of the State, and who blamed
and punished parents only when it was clear that
they deserved blame and punishment. That
would be real, not false, " relief " of the poor.



THE END



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Online LibraryMagdalen Stuart (Robison) Mrs. W. P. Reeves ReevesRound about a pound a week → online text (page 13 of 13)