Inside a hall of mirrors: Residential care and the shifting constructions of childhood in mid-twentieth-century Britain

Janet Fink

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

11 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on imagery from promotional literature produced between 1930 and 1960 by the National Children's Home, a British child welfare charity, this article focuses upon constructions of childhood and child development in the context of residential care for children. It suggests that photographs and their related captions are rich sources through which to explore the significance of time and space for constructions of childhood and to consider the ways in which childhood constitutes and is constituted by ideas of home and family. The article examines the significance of key pieces of legislation, including the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act and the 1948 Children Act, for the representation of children in residential care and identifies the ways in which portrayals of childcare were shaped by wider social and political change. In turn, continuities in concerns about the physical health, education and employability of children in care are traced together with changes in what were understood to be the "natural" spaces and places of childhood. As a whole, the article examines the excess of meanings that were embedded in the portrayal of children without home or family and, through its readings of the imagery, foregrounds the silences, contradictions and paradoxes in the narratives of residential childcare through this 30-year period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-307
Number of pages21
JournalPaedagogica Historica
Issue number3
Early online date19 May 2008
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


Cite this