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St. Francis’ Children’s Society has been offering high quality services and support to children and families for almost 150 years. However, the Society today could not be more different from the organisation which opened its doors in 1869.
That year, in response to a general wave of altruism amongst Victorians who felt the need to ‘rescue’ orphans and poor children who would otherwise end up in the workhouse, Father William Collis was chosen to set up a home for Catholic boys in the Northampton Diocese.
The St Francis Home for Boys was established in Shefford, Bedfordshire. The aim of the home was to give local Catholic boys security, expose them to religious teaching and to prepare them for life in the ‘real world’, by equipping them with basic skills in professions such as printing, carpentry and shoe making.
By the end of the 19th century, thanks to Father Collis’s tireless fundraising efforts and dedication to the aims of the home, the St Francis Home for Boys was of national importance, taking in Catholic boys from across the whole of the United Kingdom.
The shape of the St. Francis Home for Boys was altered forever by the appointment of Father Hardwick as parish rector and administrator of the home in 1943. Father Hardwick’s achievements were considerable, despite the fact that he was only in post for two years, and during a time of war.
Father Hardwick set up a mother and baby home at Shefford, which later moved to Sheringham in Norfolk, opened a case office in London, and established a separate limited company called the ‘Northampton Diocesan Catholic Child Protection and Welfare Society’. Not a name which trips easily off the tongue, but this organisation was later to become St. Francis’ Children’s Society as we know it today.
By the 1960s, the children at St Francis Home for Boys spent time living with local families during the school holidays. These ‘temporary fostering’ arrangements were organised by the home – society was beginning to understand that it was important for children to spend time in a proper family home, and experience everyday family life.
The decision was taken to close both the homes in 1970, by which time it was universally understood that children were not best served by being placed in institutionalised care, but instead needed the stability and warmth of a family setting to really thrive. Rather than running residential homes, the diocese wanted to focus on placing children with families, in an effort to give them a real family upbringing, with consistent and personal love and care. This aim is still central to the SFCS ethos today.
It took four years for services at the homes to be gradually wound down, and they finally closed their doors in 1974.
By this time, the Northampton Diocesan Catholic Child Protection and Welfare Society had been family finding for over 30 years, with the London case office finding adoptive homes for the babies at the Sheringham home. Following the closure of the homes, full attention was turned to these services and in 1978, the name of the organisation was changed to the much more manageable ‘St. Francis’ Children’s Society’ (SFCS).
In 1982, SFCS officially registered as an adoption agency, and opened a new office in Northampton, which was staffed by a small team of professional social workers. Eight years later, a second office opened in Luton. In 2000, SFCS moved its entire operation to purpose-built offices in the Milton Keynes area, and began recruiting and supporting adopters in a 50 mile radius of their new office.
After more than a century of affiliation with the Catholic Church, SFCS became independent at the end of 2008; following the implementation of the 2006 Equality Act, the Catholic Church decided to withdraw from providing adoption services.
Today, SFCS offers a wide range of services to support anyone whose life has been touched by adoption. SFCS encourages adoption enquiries from couples and individuals all across the region, regardless of their age, race, cultural background, religion, marital status or sexual orientation. Our priority remains the security, wellbeing and happiness of the many children from the Local Authority care system it places with adoptive families.