Sign Coram children’s charity’s 275th anniversary pledge and help stop vulnerable children being invisible
Coram is a leading children’s charity which specialises in adoption. Today Coram is one of the largest Voluntary Adoption Agencies in the country, which places children with loving families and offers lifelong post adoption support to all adopters. It also works closely with Government to help improve national practice and in partnership with local authority adoption services.
We are celebrating our 275th year with an online anniversary pledge wall, which links back to the petition which created our charity in the 1700s and renews our commitment to today’s ‘invisible children’.
Few people know that Coram is the country’s first dedicated children’s charity which began to focus on the nation’s most vulnerable children and pioneer leading practice nearly three centuries ago.
By sharing the Coram story with you, I hope you will be inspired to add your name, just as Annie Lennox and Peter Capaldi and over 1,000 other supporters have done.
The Foundling Hospital
Coram was known as the Foundling Hospital when it was first created and the driving force behind its establishment was a man called Thomas Coram. He returned to London from being away at sea and was appalled by the sight of destitute children being left to perish on London’s streets. For many thousands of mothers, abject poverty and the social norms of the day meant they could not care for their own children, and had little choice but to abandon their babies.
Thomas Coram responded to their plight with an idea; the creation of a charitable home which would feed, clothe and raise these children, giving them a chance of survival and a dignified start in life. The prospect attracted some criticism; would this condone women having children who might be illegitimate and increase the numbers born to families who could not provide for them?
Now well into his 60’s, Thomas Coram remained determined to help these children and gathered the signatures of influential people (often the wives of noblemen and gentry who were moved by the plight of these mothers) in a 19-year campaign.
Eventually, King George II signed a Royal Charter on 17 October 1739 for the creation of the Foundling Hospital, the first UK charity of its kind.
The Foundling Hospital from above.
Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital was built in Bloomsbury, London, on the same site on which Coram stands today. For two centuries, women brought their babies to be cared for, many leaving an identifying token in the hope that should their circumstances change they might be able to return and reclaim their children.
The Hospital attracted the support of very well-known artists and writers including the composer, George Frideric Handel, artist William Hogarth and author Charles Dickens. Hogarth was one of our founding governors and Handel arranged fundraising concerts for the charity.
The Foundling Hospital pioneered the practice of ‘wet nursing’ or foster care, arranging for families, many in the Home Counties, to care for the babies and young children until the age of five.
They were then brought to live and be educated in the Foundling Hospital until around the age of 15, when they were usually trained for a future career in domestic (girls) or military service (boys). The children were also inoculated against diseases and experienced a much better quality of life than children living on the streets or living in the workhouse.
The construction of railways and pollution prompted the Foundling Hospital to relocate to Redhill, Surrey, in 1926, while a new, purpose built school, closely modelled on the original Foundling Hospital, was built in the countryside Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, which opened in 1935.
By 1948, the law was changed and foster care rather than institutional care became the preferred placement for children. The Foundling Hospital like other similar institutions changed with the times. In keeping with the emphasis on family care, children remained with their foster families rather than being admitted to the residential school, and those in the school were placed in foster homes whenever possible. By 1955 the residential school had closed and all the children in Coram’s care were placed in foster homes.
In the following years Coram continued to provide foster care for babies whose single mothers did not want them to be adopted and hoped to be able to care for them in the future. Some of these children did return to their mothers, others were adopted by their foster families, and some remained in foster care till they reached independence. Coram then registered as an Adoption Agency in 1971, providing permanent families for vulnerable children, in line with Thomas Coram’s original vision.
Throughout the time that Coram received children into care, great care was taken to retain their personal information and birth records. Coram still provides support to former Foundling pupils and their descendants.
Coram now is nearly 275 years old, and on October 17th will celebrate its official birthday.
Coram has been helping children find new parents for more than 40 years and has a very high success rate of families staying together after children are placed for adoption. We offer a range of post adoption support to families, including specially adapted parenting skills’ programmes, children and young people’s support groups, Creative Therapies – including music therapy and art therapy, as well as one on one advice and guidance and signposting to clinical services and educational support.
Coram also has partnerships with local authority adoption services including Cambridgeshire, Kent and Redbridge. Its partnership with Harrow was the first of its kind in the country and is nationally acclaimed for its success.
We’ve recently expanded our adoption services supporting prospective adopters in North London and Hertfordshire, South London and North Kent and North Surrey and across the whole of Cambridgeshire.
We are currently piloting an adoption support programme offering a range of post adoption support to non-Coram adopters, which you can find out more about on our website here.
Coram’s work has also expanded to encompass Coram Children’s Legal Centre and Coram Voice into our services, organisations which offer advice and protect the rights and welfare of young people, particularly those who’ve been in care.
Despite it being 275 years since we were founded, we still continue to help today’s ‘invisible’ children who of whom might otherwise be overlooked or ignored.
Children like Billy, who was born to a mother chronically addicted to drugs and needed a foster family from the day he was born to ensure he would grow up safe and well Children like Laura, who endured terrible treatment until her teenage years, when we provided her with a safe place to live and support to go forward into adulthood.
Our pledge wall, which renews our commitment to ‘invisible children’, in tribute to Thomas Coram’s original petition which created the charity, asks for those who believe no child should be invisible to sign their name and help us stand up for children again.
The pledge wall has attracted the signatures of world renowned singer songwriter Annie Lennox, actor Richard E Grant and author Jacqueline Wilson to name a few, as well as hundreds of other members of the public who have been moved to support our work including Philippa, a mother and wife who said: “I am adopted. What if I had been ‘invisible’? My husband would have no wife, my sons no mother and my adoptive parents, no daughter.”
Thomas Coram’s own pledge has been added to the wall; he said: “I believe everyone ought in duty to do any good they can. In 1739, I founded Coram with a vision that every child should have the best possible chance in life. Today, our work is as important as ever.”
Without Coram’s commitment to helping vulnerable children, it is unthinkable to imagine what fate might have befallen the infants he saw perishing on London’s streets.
For the most vulnerable children, not enough has changed, so please, help us continue to fight for vulnerable children and young people by signing our pledge today.
Jeanne Kanuik, Head of Adoption
This piece has been put together by Jeanne Kaniuk the Managing Director of Coram’s Adoption and Permanent Families Service which she has led since 1980 and her team.
She has a long standing interest in the needs of children who cannot remain in their birth families, and was involved in the longitudinal adoption attachment study undertaken by Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Anna Freud Centre and Coram (Kaniuk, J, Steele, M, and Hodges, J, Adoption and Fostering, 2004, 28.2, pp61-67).
Jeanne was also instrumental in developing Coram’s pioneering concurrent planning project, which is now in its thirteenth year. Latterly Jeanne has developed a subscription scheme which offers participating LAs and VAAs who wish to establish local concurrent planning schemes consultation and training.
She is keen to work closely with local authorities to develop appropriate services for children, and was involved in setting up Coram’s adoption partnerships with the London Boroughs of Harrow and Redbridge as well as Cambridgeshire County Council.
Jeanne received an OBE for her services to adoption in 2010.
She regularly speaks at major adoption conferences, having chaired discussions for BAAF and held post-adoption support workshops at the 2011 Community Care Adoption Conference. In July 2013 she presented concurrent planning research at the Fourth International Adoption Conference in Bilbao.
Her expertise is showcased in her book, Ten Top Tips on Supporting Adopters, published in 2009 for BAAF.