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Unseen archive records shows first black foster child

Elizabeth Mouncey (1892)

THE FIRST black child to enter the fostering system in the UK, has been revealed in previously unseen Victorian archive records.

The records, from Barnardo’s, shows what life was like for the first fostered children, when the scheme was originally pioneered in England by the children’s charity in 1887.

The records also include details for the first known black child to enter foster care, Elizabeth Mouncey.

In 1887, Thomas Barnardo sent 320 boys, many from the slums of the East End of London, to live with rural villagers across the south and east of England to experience the fresh air and the countryside. Foster carers were sought who didn’t live close to factories or railway stations, and had space to make sure children never slept more than two to a bed to help children escape from polluted, overcrowded urban slums.

Children placed in Barnardo’s foster care in the Victorian era had often previously experienced abuse or neglect. Archive medical records show a third of the first 457 boys who entered Barnardo’s care had rickets, 21 had ringworm and they often had bad teeth.

Once children moved into foster care they showed marked improvement in health and development at school.

Within two years, the scheme was so successful the number of children in foster care had more than doubled, and took in girls as well as boys. Many of the girls who were fostered had been at risk of child sexual exploitation, or as it was then known “moral danger”.

Thomas Barnardo continued to develop the foster care scheme throughout his life, and by his death in 1905, 4,000 children were looked after in foster care. Today, three in four (75 per cent) of children in care in England are fostered.

Today, in its 150th year, Barnardo’s is appealing for more people to come forward to look after the 52,000 children who live in foster care in England as well as those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan, said: “Much has changed over the past 130 years, but there are still vulnerable children, who simply need someone who can always be there for them.

“Just as in Victorian times, today we’re looking for people, with a genuine desire to make life better for some of the country’s most vulnerable children, to become foster carers."


Elizabeth Mouncey (1902)

CASE STUDY: Elizabeth Mouncey

Born: 16 November 1885

The first known black child to be fostered in England was through Barnardo’s.

In 1891, six-year-old Elizabeth was found by a neighbour in squalid conditions, next to her dying mother. Within a year, her father was also dead.

Her parents were said to have had a difficult relationship. Her docker father was “given to drink” and “constantly misused his wife”. He was said to question Elizabeth’s true paternity as, Barnardo’s records put it somewhat prosaically; she bore “strong evidence of having foreign blood in her veins” but both him and his wife had fair complexions.

After their deaths the neighbour looked after orphaned Elizabeth for a few months, while appealing to relatives to take her in. Tragically, none felt able to give her a home.

Two missionaries from different churches in London’s East End appealed to Barnardo’s. She was boarded out to a couple living in leafy Headcorn, a small village near Maidstone in Kent.

After six years in the countryside, Elizabeth returned to Barnardo’s Girls Village where she undertook training to become a domestic cook. She left to enter service, and was recorded in the 1911 Census as working as a cook in Croydon.

Barnardo’s last contact with Elizabeth was in 1946, when she asked for help in obtaining a birth certificate so she could obtain a pension. At the time she was unmarried and still living in Croydon.

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