Who Do You Think You Are?
Florence Horsbrugh 1889–1969
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”.