Prior to 1955, when children were admitted the parents signed an agreement to leave them there until they were fifteen. Withdrawals before this age were exceptional and were not viewed with approval. After 1955 the policy changed and an increasing number of children were admitted on a temporary basis; some for only a few weeks while mother was in hospital, others for a much longer period when perhaps one parent was serving a prison sentence.

Between 1955 and 1964 nearly 500 children passed through St Christopher’s for temporary periods.

When the “temporary” children eventually outnumbered the “permanent”, we felt that the latter suffered because there had not been a corresponding increase in the number of staff. The temporary children were, of necessity, so time consuming that the permanent residents tended to get a decreasing amount of attention from the staff. A homesick child needs the undivided attention of an adult on the first, and possibly several succeeding, nights; it is the other well-established children in the group who inevitably suffer. There is no perfect solution but the situation would have been eased by having more staff for the existing groups and also for the formation of one or more groups exclusively for the temporary residents.

Many children were admitted several times, sometimes for quite different reasons. Occasionally they became permanent residents.

One family came originally because the mother had been admitted to a sanatorium. They returned five years later because she had deserted them. Then, later, father was convicted of a crime so they returned and, having nowhere else to go, remained until they left school.

Another family came on three different occasions while the mother served three different prison sentences.

It was certainly beneficial for these children to return to a familiar place with familiar people in these recurring crises. They felt that we understood their position. In some cases we became more involved with these changing home situations than with the more stable conditions of the others. A surprisingly large number of these temporary residents maintained contact with us. Many came to rely on us for help and advice.

This is one of the respects in which a large institution can offer greater security than any other system of temporary boarding-out. It can take the whole family at any one time and, for repeat visits, there are always familiar people. There is a better relationship with the parents and this affects the children. In addition to the grown-ups, the temporary children make and renew friendships with some of the permanent residents.

For young children, when mother goes into hospital perhaps for successive confinements, a good residential nursery can fill the same need. It has not the uncertainty of boarding-out with different people and the possibility of a family being divided.