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have adopted it, and only a little over one-fourth of the mentally defective children in England and Wales are being dealt with by the Education authorities. These schools are of necessity costly; they involve special tuition, expensive equipment for various kinds of manual work, yet the Imperial Exchequer only bears a quarter of the cost.
These special schools [says Mr. Joseph Hudson, writing in the Municipal Journal for February 1912] have proved beyond a doubt that in the majority of cases the mentally defective can be trained to perform much useful and remunerative work. But they have done something more. They have shown how difficult it is to distinguish at a comparatively early age between true mental defect and retarded development–between mental defect due to want of proper care or nourishment or to accidental circumstances, which may therefore be remediable, and defect which is inherent, and therefore probably irremediable and transmissible. They have shown also, and this is very important, that some 40 per cent. of the pupils, although sufficiently mentally defective to require special school treatment, and in some cases apparently hopeless, brighten so much and develop such technical skill and become so sensible and self-supporting, that it would be nothing short of a crime to deprive them of their liberty.
Altogether, Local Education Committees have provided 150 special schools under the Act. These afford accommodation for about 8000 mentally defective children, and London accounts for eighty-nine schools, providing for 6485 children. In 1897 London Guardians were empowered to hand over the mentally defective children dependent on them to the Metropolitan Asylums Board, and these were provided for in small Homes established within easy reach of special schools. By 1901 some of the children had reached the age of sixteen. It was felt it would be cruel to send them back to the workhouse, and further resolutions empowered the authorities to continue to keep them.
In 1903 an order was made to detain them till twenty-one, and it was considered necessary to provide colonies to which they could be drafted. At the present time some 400 are so detained, of whom about half are children, and many more are awaiting admission.
Guardians of the Poor, all over the country, have power to avail themselves of voluntary Homes, and about sixty Boards have done so, paying 10s, or 12s. a week for a child's keep. The establishment of voluntary institutions dealing with the class in question has developed very remarkably of late years, and the feeble-minded have derived real benefit from the philanthropic effort that goes hand in hand with public help and which ought to hold a position of increasing importance in the future.
As long ago as 1887, the Metropolitan Society for Befriending Young Servants laid the foundation for this sort of help, by starting & special school for troublesome, helpless, and mentally defective
girls. In 1890 the Council of the Charity Organisation Society took into consideration the special needs of these hitherto neg. lected people. The following year saw four Homes opened by private philanthropy, and in 1895 the representatives of these Homes, widely scattered as they were, combined with others interested in the question to found the National Association for the Feeble-minded, which has been incessant in its propagandist and educational efforts, was mainly instrumental in securing the appointment of the Royal Commission, and has continually urged the case of this helpless class on public authorities. The question of permanent care has long been recognised as an essential factor of the many Societies under voluntary management which have gathered round the Association. To all intents and purposes it is carried out in the majority of the Training Homes, when it is proved that the inmates can never do battle with the world ; and wherever the individual is caught in early childhood and his happiness is studied, there is comparatively little knowledge of the outer world to unsettle, and the idea of leaving the Home seldom suggests itself, unless instilled by outside influence.
It is not, however, only the wish to profit by the power of the feeble-minded to earn that leads parents to take out their children. When these are taken charge of by the Poor Law it constitutes the parents paupers, though they may not be in receipt of any other relief, and till this stigma is removed it will be a bar to securing the custody of many of the children. The Education Authority contributes a grant of 41. a head for schooling, and this, of course, does not disfranchise those parents who are able to pay for their children's support. The money paid by Guardians is not sufficient to finance the voluntary Homes, which depend largely on charitable subscriptions, and are also helped by the inmates' labour.
With the wider interest awakened and the proposals for legislation, a tendency at once arises to enlarge institutions and to mass the dependent together, with the idea that it is easier, more thorough, and more economical to deal with them on a large scale. The recommendation that one workhouse in each district should be reserved for all the imbecile, idiot, and feebleminded persons of that district, by a combination of Boards of Guardians in neighbouring counties, seems a popular one, and the Local Government Board has issued an Order by which the small Homes of the Metropolitan Asylums Board are to be broken up, and the feeble-minded now under the control of the Children's Committee are to be transferred to a large asylum.
The main institution for the reception of imbeciles and idiots belonging to the London authorities is Darenth Asylum, in Kent. In a huge aggregation of buildings, standing high upon the hills, in a bleak but healthy situation, upwards of 1900 improvable and unimprovable imbeciles are now confined. About 400 of these are unimprovable--that is to say, are creatures living a death-in-life existence; many of them mere inanimate sacks of flesh, content, like animals, as long as they are warm and well fed. It is proposed to remove the whole of these (who do not now mix in any way with the improvable class) to a lunatic asylum, and to fill their place by the feeble-minded, who, in their turn, are to be shut off from the remaining imbeciles, and to receive the same careful training and supervision as in the small Homes.
Where adults are in question, there is no objection to be made to this arrangement. Their fate is decided ; they are never likely to be any better, and, with all that can be done with them in large colonies, they become not only in some measure self-supporting, but are as happy as it is possible to make them.
Those who have never seen one of these great colonies can hardly form an idea of the busy, cheerful round of life which can be planned even for the imbecile. The visitor passes from one workshop to another-airy, well-arranged buildings, filled with busy, interested workers. The carpenter, the tinman, the basket-maker, the printer, the laundress, the sewing-machinist, all turn out their work excellently well, are proud of it, and healthily tired when it is over. Men who are suited to agricultural employment work upon the farm which lies round the asylum. They feed pigs and chickens, look after sheep, manage the dairy, work in the gardens. There is no question but that they love and enjoy their work, and hang like children on the words of praise or blame of their teachers and overseers, who show boundless tact and patience in developing and encouraging their efforts. Everything that kindness can do is done, and great and beneficent gifts are exerted on their behalf. The life is varied by dances, magic-lanterns, shopping expeditions, cricket and football matches, and, unless they are tempted away by relations who become alive to the good work they can do, there is little difficulty in retaining a hold upon them. The same sort of arrangements will probably come into force in the proposed district asylums, which can be made far happier places than the workhouses.
But it is when we turn to the children, when we learn that from three years of age, onwards, these are also to be massed in large colonies, that we doubt the wisdom of applying the same treatment to them. Defective children of the type in question are not so very unlike other children, except that they are slower in development, and for the most part of weaker physique, more fretful, needing more tender care and coaxing.
While they are small, or even till they are grown up, it is difficult to decide what their mental status will be. Among doctors who have studied them most carefully, there are those who challenge the assertion ‘Once a feeble-minded, always a feeble-minded,' and who contend that it is not rare to find cases in which, after defectivity has been established by the most exhaustive scientific tests, the children have been restored, and the cells developed the absence of which constituted disease.
It is acknowledged that the line which divides the highest grade of the defective from the normal is an exceedingly fine one, and that many cases exist in which privation and cruelty have contributed to make a child appear wanting. The mind recoils from the possibility of placing even one child among the half-witted for the whole of its life, if it is capable of entire recovery; nor would we willingly place little, feeble-minded, frail-bodied children, who need loving care even more than other children, in institutions which can never be quite like a home, and where it is hardly possible that they should be given the individual study which is their best chance. If all these children are to be placed in batches of forty in an enlarged Darenth, to grow larger still as time goes on, even though they are divided from improvable imbeciles, many of them must needs be associated with those much below them in intelligence. The dividing line between the lowest and the imbecile is a very faint one, too, and among the forty there will be many who are not very distinguishable from the imbecile and the idiot of the better class. It is well known that these children benefit in a marked way by mixing with those who are on a higher mental level, and that they deteriorate correspondingly when their companions are of lower grade. It will be almost impossible, even by making large and expensive alterations, to prevent all association-in chapel, in school, in lecture hall-between the two classes of children, and the arrangement by which they come under the care of the same medical man and attendants as imbeciles and idiots, is bound to lower the standard of mentality by which they are judged.
Some disappointment has been expressed as to results obtained by the small Homes of the Metropolitan Asylums Board, which are now about to be suppressed. Very much was expected of these small Homes, and in the reaction they are now spoken of as failures. It is true that, as might have been predicted, they have failed to turn out children up to the normal standard, yet it is difficult to see why shortcomings should not be rectified, and impossible not to prefer them to the institution. The small house looking into the street or the garden, with little rooms and a bright kitchen, where girls or boys can help with the
house-work, and where individuality has a good deal of play, is the best substitute for the little, shabby homes to which the children's thoughts and affections often cling. The shops to which they can run errands, the neighbours who ask them out to tea, offer a much more human environment than long corridors with processions forming up, and vast wards, gaily decorated, but where toys are put away because the children break them and no one has time to teach them not to do so.
A lady Guardian speaks of a little girl of feeble mind, who had been for some months in one of these great caravanserai, saying that she was so changed as to be quite a different child. She used to be a bright, smiling child, and now had a dull, fixed look, and no one could get a smile out of her; and she adds, she had had a favourite toy which had been taken away from her 'because they did not have these little toys.
The Homes of the Metropolitan Asylums Board have suffered from various causes : they have been too tightly tied up with red tape. Their superintendents are not given a free hand. The matron has not sufficient liberty in providing occupations and amusements for her charges. Not a single sixpence may be spent without a form filled up and an order received, and it is astonishing that a scheme carried out on these lines should attract persons of the devotion and resource it has done. Another drawback is want of sufficient classification. There is no doubt that this lies at the root of a great deal of want of success, and that need exists for more thorough winnowing, especially if compulsory detention is to be resorted to. A mistake is made, too, in special schools and Homes, in insisting on brain-work. It is nothing short of cruel to torment these children with learning in the ordinary sense; whereas they are remarkable for manual dexterity, and to this they had better be allowed to devote all their powers.
It is, perhaps, too late to urge the retention of the small Homes, but there remain the voluntary Homes, which might be utilised in preference to large institutions, and which could be encouraged, multiplied, even financed. It will cost enormously to enlarge existing asylums, and the State might very well
support smaller Homes instead, which have been proved to be more economical.
How happily the Education Authorities and those of the Poor Law may work together with voluntary institutions [says a writer to the Spectator] has been shown by the Lancashire and Cheshire Society, which some fourteen years ago was founded with the express purpose of calling public attention to the need for permanent provision for those who could not take care of themselves, and were, by the hereditary nature of their defect, a menace to the stability of the nation and a source of immediate danger to those about them. Its first Home was opened eleven years ago,