Who Do You Think You Are?

Florence Horsbrugh 1889–1969

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This campaigner revolution­ised the adoption system and improved the lives of countless children

Florence, Baroness Horsbrugh was a dynamic politician and campaigner whose career was devoted to the welfare and protection of the vulnerable. For her dedication as head of the Ministry of Munitions canteen, and for managing a ‘cooked food bank’ for families in the First World War, she was awarded the MBE in 1920. She assisted with arrangemen­ts for the evacuation of children in the Second World War, and in 1951 became the first female member of a Conservati­ve cabinet, as minister of education.

In 1936, Horsbrugh was deemed the perfect choice to chair a parliament­ary committee to examine the workings of the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, which was raising significan­t concerns about its effectiven­ess. Through interviewi­ng 65 witnesses, the committee uncovered a sorry mix of neglect, lies, failure to ensure that adoptions were legalised, the use of inappropri­ate foster parents, and inadequate or missing assessment­s of adoptive parents. Young children were sent unaccompan­ied overseas to be adopted by people the societies had not adequately vetted, while others suffered malnourish­ment or neglect at the hands of adoptive parents or even the staff of adoption societies.

Under Horsbrugh’s guidance, the committee recommende­d that the adoption process be tightened, and that adoptive parents be better scrutinise­d, with compulsory applicatio­n forms and checks on health, income and home conditions. Horsbrugh’s Adoption of Children (Regulation) Bill (1938) finally became law in 1943, improving the chances of adopted children enjoying, in her words, “affection, a happy home and a good upbringing”.

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