Diane Purvey and Christopher Walmsley, Eds. Child and Family Welfare in British Columbia: A History

Article excerpt

Diane Purvey and Christopher Walmsley, eds. Child and Family Welfare in British Columbia: A History. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 2005.377 pp. $31.95 sc.

The book is a virtual goldmine of information about child and family welfare in British Columbia, covering almost a century of history on a vital subject. The four major sections of the book cover: (i) the caring for children in institutions during the early part of the twentieth century; (ii) policy perspectives as they developed in the following period; (iii) the professionalization of social work practice from 1935 to the 1960s; and (iv) campaigns for welfare reform. Fifteen social work professionals each contributed a chapter to the enterprise, offering a wide variety of perspectives on important aspects of the subject.

Viewing the book's contents from an educator's perspective, three significant themes may be noted, namely, (i) the care and education of children during the period outlined by the writers; (ii) the role of women in our sister profession; and (iii) the formalization of social work education. Most papers in the collection (eight of which are drawn from journal articles and other books) address these issues.

Part 1 of the book outlines the care of children in British Columbia during the early years of the province's history. Diane Purvey documents the history of the Alexandra Orphanage in Vancouver from 1892 to 1938, Robert Adamowski details the origin and function of the Vancouver Children's Aid Society, and Indiana Matters provides a glimpse into the institutional life of girls who, between 1914 and 1937, were sent by the courts to the Provincial Industrial Home for Girls. Patrick A. Duane rounds out the first part of the book with a look at child immigrants and their treatment by the Fairbridge Society of British Columbia between 1931 and 1951. The general opinion of these writers is that children's voices were faint in these institutions and their educational welfare was sadly neglected. In fact, of the some eighty thousand destitute and disadvantaged child immigrants Canada received from Britain between the 1860s and the 1920s, the majority never did become farmers or nannies as promised. The majority of boys ended up in forest industries or in manufacturing and the building trades and the girls became "domestics, cooks, waitresses, or hospital maids" (115).

The second part of the book deals with policy-making in regard to three specific groups of children--Doukhobor children, adopted children, and "mentally deficient" children. Mentally deficient children were seen to threaten British Columbia society, morally, biologically, and economically. They were viewed as demonized and relegated to the "cure of incarceration." Then, while over the years since 1912 one segment of the Doukhohor community resisted efforts to enroll its children in public schools, by 1932 provincial authorities "rescued" some 365 Doukhobor children and divided them up among orphanages, foster homes, and other institutions to be educated for three years until their parents were released from prison. …