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Manitoba History: The Politics of Child Welfare in Manitoba, 1922-1924

by Lorna Hurl
School of Social Work, University of Toronto

Manitoba History, Number 7, Spring 1984

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The current tensions within the Manitoba child welfare system, though lamentable, are hardly new. Indeed, one is greatly tempted to utter the maxim “plus ca change ...,” for harmony amongst the various children’s institutions and agreement upon public-private roles and responsibilities have eluded the system almost since its inception. Although the formal advent of the child welfare system in 1898 was relatively uneventful, by the end of World War One the various roles, responsibilities and relationships of member organizations were sufficiently confused and contentious that a major overhaul of the system was necessary. This overhaul was attempted in 1922-24 in a new Child Welfare Act. However, the forces which surrounded the drafting, enactment and direction of the 1922-24 legislation combined to limit the extent and nature of possible changes.

Children of All Peoples’ Mission, Winnipeg, 1910.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

The first child protection act in Manitoba dates from 1898. Its passing did not mark the culmination of a long struggle for reform. In fact, there was surprisingly little public debate about the intrusion of government into the private lives of Manitoban families. With popular support, the government of Thomas Greenway merely “borrowed” from earlier Ontario legislation and established a child protection system based upon the Ontario model. The new system was founded upon the beliefs that many children required protection from callous or inept parents, that society required protection from juvenile delinquents and future criminal or dependent adults, and that the salvation of unfortunate children and of society depended upon the private efforts of righteous and religious individuals. It also recognized that government authority was necessary to permit intervention with uncooperative families, and that government support was needed to facilitate and encourage the efforts of public-spirited citizens. In an innocent blend of private “doing” and public “enabling,” the 1898 Child Protection Act added two new types of organizations to the private orphanages and child-caring institutions already in the field—the ostensibly private Children’s Aid Societies (C.A.S.’s) which were imbued with public authority, and the purely public or government office of the Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children (S.N.C.).

With social welfare work in its infancy and enough work for the activities of all three types of organizations, it might have been expected that the organizations would exist in relative harmony. Children’s Aid Societies performed protective services in the organized municipalities, placing apprehended children in shelters, foster homes, or work situations; private child-caring institutions accepted orphaned or otherwise dependent children for placement; the office of the S.N.C. performed the functions of a C.A.S. in the unorganized territories, provided public education, and encouraged private citizen groups to form more C.A.S.’s.

However, peaceful co-existence within the system was not to be. Within a very short time serious rifts were apparent in all sectors. C.A.S.’s and private orphanages disputed each other’s authority over neglected children and argued about their respective roles. They were also divided by major philosophical differences. The C.A.S.’s espoused (verbally if not in practice) the views of the developing social work, psychology, and psychiatry professions which favoured foster home placements over institutional care. Private child-caring institutions, reflecting self-interest and the interests of philanthropic lay citizens, favoured institutional care. Since neither type of organization could survive upon voluntary donations alone, the private agencies and the C.A.S.’s vied with each other for government grants and favours.

Conflicts were not restricted to those between private and quasi-private agencies; quarrels developed within each category of organization. With few restrictions governing their establishment and administration, private child-caring agencies proliferated under the government of R.P. Roblin. They actively competed for children to fill their beds and for funds (public and private) to fill their coffers. The C.A.S.’s experienced similar struggles. The competition for funds paralleled that of the private organizations; the competition for children was even more vigorous. The religious differences which characterized early Manitoban society were carried into the child welfare field, resulting in the formation of separate Catholic and Jewish C.A.S.’s. Disputes between the Winnipeg C.A.S. (nominally non-sectarian) and the Catholic C.A.S. in St. Boniface (St. Adelard C.A.S.) were particularly bitter.

Disputes also flourished between the C.A.S.’s and the government authorities. The C.A.S.’s, hesitant to fully embrace the concept of public responsibility and fearful of alienating municipal authorities, rarely asked the courts for maintenance orders against municipalities, as provided for in the Child Protection Act. They relied instead on grants or philanthropic donations by municipalities. Predictably, the grants were always insufficient to meet the costs of children in care. The C.A.S.’s, therefore, were constantly be-rating the municipalities to give larger grants.

The provincial government too, was embroiled in disputes with the C.A.S.’s. Maintenance payments owing to C.A.S.’s by the provincial government department were also paid in grant form. These grants rarely covered the actual costs of the children in care. In addition, the S.N.C., as the agent of the province, was in the unenviable position of settling disputes which arose between the various children’s institutions (especially between the Winnipeg C.A.S. and the St. Adelard C.A.S. or the prestigious Children’s Home) and enforcing truancy legislation on behalf of a reluctant government over a deeply divided populace. Mindful of the need for Protestant and Catholic political support, and reluctant to open the ever volatile religious and school issues, the S.N.C. performed a delicate (though rarely satisfactory) balancing act among the many ethnic, religious and charitable groups in the province.

In 1916, a new programme, the Mothers’ Allowance scheme, was added to Manitoba’s child welfare system. Like the C.A.S.’s it was a curious blend of public and private responsibility. Viewed from its inception as a child welfare measure, the Mothers’ Allowance was intended to help certain categories of women (widowed or with incapacitated husbands) remain at home to care for their children, thereby lessening the possibility of total family breakdown or the removal of children from their homes. Reflecting the ambiguous division of public and private responsibilities, the Mothers’ Allowance Commission, a voluntary board of government-appointed citizens, established public policy and dispensed large amounts of public funds. A chief administrative officer and investigative staff, all government employees, reported to and received directions from this appointed body.

With the addition of Mothers’ Allowance legislation, the Manitoba child welfare system contained its core elements—prevention, protection and child care. There was, however, no balance between the elements. Further, there was considerable confusion regarding public and private responsibilities, and serious disharmony amongst the many institutions comprising the system. Mindful of the prophetic warning of J. J. Kelso, “dean” of Canadian child savers, “Let us not have too many organizations and too little organization,” [1] Manitoba’s social welfare reformers, who were particularly influential under the provincial administration of T. C. Norris, added child welfare to the fields of social service requiring major reform. Acquiescing to the wishes of the reformers, in 1917 the Norris administration established the Public Welfare Commission to undertake a study and to report to the provincial legislature on all phases of charitable welfare work, public and private, within the province. A principal area selected for detailed study and recommendation was the child welfare system. From this study came the 1922-24 Child Welfare Act.

The individuals appointed to the Public Welfare Commission were typical and influential representatives of the progressive Social-Gospel reform movement. [2] In order to give careful consideration to the many areas to be studied, the Commission subdivided its members into committees; the Child Welfare Committee was lead by D. B. Harkness. Although Harkness tended to express sentiments associated with the radical Social Gospel, he did not appear to see the child welfare system as being a tool to challenge or alter social and economic relationships. He sought instead to create a child welfare system which would no longer provide for “salvaging failures and losses” [3] but would rather provide supportive and preventive services to those in need.

Under Harkness’ leadership, the Child Welfare Committee initiated public hearings to which organizations were invited to present their concerns. Investigations of and visits to organizations were made to assess facilities and programmes; information was gathered on funding and policies. The resulting recommendations coincided with those which Harkness personally expressed and for which he sought support in his capacity as Secretary of the Manitoba Social Service Council:

That an immense amount of effort and money is being expended in this field we are well aware. It is, however, well known that there is no proper correlation of effort, and no adequate unifying supervision being done ... Your executive, therefore ... would earnestly advocate this Council add its support to the request that the Government of Manitoba take early steps to establish and adequately support a Child Welfare Department for the province, shaped on modern lines and provided with facilities which will make possible proper classification of the children cared for, efficient supervision of them all, and a comprehensive survey of the needs of the province in this most important of all fields. [4]

Specifically, the committee, supported by the Commission as a whole, recommended the following principles:

1. the government accept responsibility to ensure that “primary needs of all children are provided for from sources, and that the reasonable needs of the handicapped and less fortunate of its citizens shall be adequately supplied

2. that all existing legislation pertaining to children be unified under one act

3. that the government create a Board of Welfare Supervision to co-ordinate and direct public and private expenditure on public welfare, to supervise and inspect all welfare activities, to endorse for licence all private institutions and agencies, to recommend appropriate amounts for government grants to all organizations, to make recommendations regarding rules governing institutions and activities, and to conduct independent research

4. that a single government portfolio, the Department of Public Welfare, be established to incorporate and oversee child welfare and health activities—including all charitable institutions, relief and correction services, and Mothers’ Allowances, protection services and health services

5. that a Director of Child Welfare be appointed within the Department of Public Welfare, and that he be given all the powers of a Children’s Aid Society to organize child placing, transfers, wardship, investigation etc.

6. that all children removed from normal control of parents or guardians be enrolled as wards of the province

7. that every child of unmarried parents should be a ward of the province

8. that all children in care of institutions be classified as dependent, neglected, delinquent, mentally defective, physically handicapped or children of parents not legally married to each other; and that appropriate facilities and services be provided for each. [5]

Although there were inconsistencies in the recommendations (such as trying to secure equal treatment for illegitimate children yet automatically making them wards of the province) the most curious aspect of the recommendations concerned the need for two official bodies—the Welfare Supervision Board and the Department of Public Welfare. The numerous duties and powers assigned to the appointed Welfare Supervision Board would seem to have been more suitably accorded the government department. The appropriateness of placing so much responsibility and power with what was essentially a volunteer body is certainly questionable. Undoubtedly, conflict and confusion could result from the interrelated yet vaguely defined roles of each entity. Reasons for the existence of two such closely related bodies were not outlined. Possibly assigning so much work to a volunteer body was a measure of economy, although Premier Norris was not noted for his tendencies to economize. A more likely explanation is that the creation of the Welfare Supervision Board would continue to allow input into public policy-making by the professional and charitable communities. Thus, although the Commission advocated more government control and regulation in child welfare activities, it envisioned a central role for private interests.

In spite of the committee’s apparent desire to preserve some measure of private input into the new system, its sweeping recommendations were destined to conflict with the vested interests of private children’s organizations and institutions. In anticipation of problems, the committee emphasized that the interests of all charitable organizations should be “carefully and zealously conserved and correlated.” Somewhat inconsistently, it explained:

The committee is of the opinion that there is no reason why under the proposed system there should be any curtailment of the activities or usefulness of such organizations, which should rather through increased co-operation with the department realize more fully their hopes of service. They believe further that it is so essential to an adequate and consistent child welfare system that the primary responsibility of the province should be recognized, that even at the risk of some difficulties in the readjustment, this principle should be faithfully applied. Within such a system there will be found a place for every citizen and organization whose natural sympathies and desires for services, prompt activity on behalf of the children of the Province. [6]

In accordance with the Public Welfare Commission recommendations, two activities were immediately undertaken; a Welfare Supervision Board was provided for in legislation and appointed, [7] and a new Child Welfare Bill was drafted.

The Welfare Supervision Board was formed in early 1921. Board members were appointed on a three year rotational basis though reappointments were possible. Among its first membership were two former members of the Public Welfare Commission, J. M. Thompson and D. B. Harkness; new members possessed Protestant, middle-class backgrounds similar to theirs. [8]

Under the terms of the governing legislation, the children’s sub-committee of the Board had been given the responsibility of “inspecting and supervising all phases of charitable and welfare work, both public and private, within the province.” [9] The authority and control provided in granting and withholding licences, however, had not been included—an apparent move to quell dissatisfaction amongst private institutions. After visiting the children’s institutions the committee, noting the existence of greatly varying powers, supported the Public Welfare Commission’s original recommendation to regulate institutions’ powers and provide more supervision in drafting the Acts governing them. Although the committee members had, as a rule, been cordially received there were instances in which admittance was refused, prompting the Board to recommend amending legislation to conform with the original intention of authority and control over the institutions. The Board also advised the government of the merits of the various organizations and made recommendations regarding grants. As no significant change in the granting system was evident in the two years the Board functioned under the Norris government, it appears the Board did not attempt to standardize the treatment accorded the institutions, thereby perpetuating existing inequalities.

Before the three year term of the Public Welfare Commission expired, the Children’s Committee had drafted a Child Welfare Bill which incorporated most of the recommendations cited earlier. [10] The Bill consolidated children’s legislation which, Charlotte Whitton was later to write, had been “scattered promiscuously throughout the statutes of the province” [11]—the Children’s Protection Act, Illegitimate Children’s Act, Infants’ Act, Public Health Act, the Humane Societies Act and the Factory Act.

An amalgamation then of several Acts and programmes, the proposed Act [12] was an extensive and somewhat unwieldy piece of legislation. Each of its eleven sections dealt with one particular area of concern: Department of Public Welfare, Juvenile Court, Neglected Children, Mentally Defective Children, Handicapped Children, Immigrant Children, Child Welfare Organizations, Adoption, Guardianship, and General Provisions. The overall purpose was to establish government responsibility for the care and well-being of all neglected, dependent and defective children. In doing so, it intended to create a strong central government authority in the office of the Department of Public Welfare. The role of this department was to reinforce parental and municipal responsibilities, to clarify confusion around issues of custody, adoption, and legal guardianship, to decrease institutional control over children, to establish standards of care in children’s institutions, to provide segregated facilities for defective children, and to reinforce the principles of natural home settings and the maintenance of the normal child in its own community. The provisions of the Bill reflected the Social Gospel philosophy of social responsibility, the “natural home” philosophy of the emerging Social Sciences, the religious emphasis on morality, and the professional and medical influence regarding care of certain types of atypical children.

The Bill was submitted to the legislature in early 1921 and met with immediate opposition. The most vocal criticisms came from the existing children’s institutions which claimed they had not adequately been consulted during the Public Welfare Commission hearings. [13] The Bill vested too much power in the office of the Director of Child Welfare, they insisted, and it left their own status “vague” and “indefinite” in addition to requiring too much “red tape”. [14] The Public Health Board objected to the use of the term “Child Welfare,” as this term was commonly used in association with its own work. Other objections, primarily from municipalities, were made about the anticipated costs of the proposed system. The Commission countered that costs would be kept to a minimum because the nucleus of the new system (the office of the S.N.C.) was already in place. In support of the Commission’s position the Free Press [15] argued that it was not the government’s intention to institute a new portfolio but rather to place the Child Welfare Department under one of the current Ministries. [16] Since over $10,000,000 [17] from taxes and private donations was spent annually on welfare institutions and activities, the Free Press emphasized that “The new Act recognizes the right of the people to get the utmost returns for that money.” The final criticism appeared to stem from more radical opinions that the legislation dealt with the effects, not the causes, of the problems. Again the Free Press defended the Act:

In social welfare work what are effects today are causes tomorrow. Moreover, taking care of the effect in no way obstructs the removal of the cause. Indeed, it hastens such by directing public attention and educating public opinion. Again, the bill is dealing directly with human lives and no amount of theorizing will excuse the neglect of the immediate suffering of even one child. [18]

Opposition or indifference to the Bill, however, came not only from organized pressure groups, but from the increasingly conservative attitude of the general public. Imbued with the passion of the Social Gospel throughout the War, people sincerely believed the War’s end would bring “the coming of the Kingdom on Earth.” When the anticipated changes failed to materialize, exuberance faded and disillusionment set in. The events of the Winnipeg Strike in 1919 hastened the conservative mood for it brought an element of fear of state control and “communist takeover” by radicals. The post-war depression created even more hesitancy. Thus, faced with a measure they might have at one time supported, the general public had become more cautious.

In spite of the efforts of the Commission members and the Free Press, opposition to the Bill could not be overcome; it was held over for further consideration before being resubmitted in 1922. The results of the defeated motion to hear the Bill in the 1921 session revealed an interesting voting pattern. Six Liberal, nine Labour and three United Farm representatives favoured proceeding; eight Conservative, twelve Liberal, six United Farm and two Independent members opposed. [19] While the Liberal and United Farm votes split, with slightly more against proceeding, the Labour and Conservative members appeared to vote in opposing blocs. [20] The “laissez faire” philosophy of the Conservatives, combined with their support of the private institutions, was the basis of their decision against considering the Bill. Labour support for the Bill indicated that the philosophy of central government control and public responsibility took priority over fears expressed by Labour MLA M. J. Stanbridge that the province was being run by a “bunch of professional reformers.” [21] In spite of the opposing views, the closeness of the vote (eighteen in favour, twenty opposed) suggested the existence of room for compromise.

Immigrant Women and Children, Winnipeg, 1911.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

Following a year of negotiations the Bill was resubmitted—largely intact but with some of the more objectionable or controversial features withdrawn. Maternity and nursing homes were exempt from government licensing; illegitimate children were no longer to be automatically enrolled as provincial wards, thus enabling the orphanages to maintain guardianship over the largest proportion of their residents; institutions caring for wards of the Director no longer required his approval for agreements entered into on the children’s behalf (excluding adoption placements); the authority of the Welfare Supervision Board was reduced to inspecting and advising. However although external authority over the care of many children in institutions was lessened, government authority over uncooperative institutions was clarified. The Director was granted the authority on second offenses to revoke the charters of organizations which failed to comply with reporting and inspecting regulations. After the Bill was resubmitted, the “promiscuity clause” (requiring more than one putative father to pay maintenance when paternity was in doubt) was also withdrawn due to controversy, no doubt over the costs and technicalities involved in securing support as well as the question of whether the mother’s behavior justified support. Thus an amended, slightly “watered-down” Child Welfare Act was passed by the legislature in 1922, requiring only proclamation to become effective.

Before the Act was proclaimed, however, the Norris government, a minority administration after the 1920 election, was defeated and an election called. The fate of the new Child Welfare Act depended upon the attitudes of the new party in power, the United Farmers.

Philosophically the United Farmers did not oppose the reform measures pursued by the Norris administration. The reforms had been expensive, however, and this provided the Farmers with their chief complaint—the Norris government had overspent and sunk the province deeply into debt. What was needed, they were convinced, was a government which practiced a sober, non-partisan, efficient, business-like administration. For their leader, they selected John Bracken, an Ontario-born Methodist with a conservative personal philosophy and a strong belief in the individualism of capitalism. With suggestions and direction from the U.F.M., Bracken formulated his platform:

to give to the province an honest, efficient and businesslike administration; to eliminate waste and cut down expenses to the lowest possible minimum consistent with efficient service; to develop all our natural resources as rapidly as our finances will permit; to endeavour to establish the faith of the people in public life and public officials. [22]

Although based on the Social Gospel ethics of honesty, purity and responsiveness, the Bracken administration reflected the conservative shift that was occurring within the general populace. The previous emphasis on reform was turned into emphasis on business and efficiency, resulting in what has since been termed a “remorselessly frugal husbanding of the province’s revenues.” [23]

In the drive to reduce government spending, Bracken initiated cutbacks in funding of government departments with resulting reductions in staff and, if not the curtailment, at least the postponement of programmes. Child welfare services were amongst those social services to feel the impact of “Brackenism.”

The new Attorney General, R. W. Haig, noted that the Act had not been proclaimed as “changes in it were advisable.” [24] The major problem, he explained, was that the creation of the proposed Department of Public Welfare was too expensive and thus, the Act was to be shelved for the duration of 1922 and 1923 while changes were undertaken to bring its costs into line with the government’s financial policies.

Bracken appointed a commission under the leadership of Robert Fletcher, Deputy Minister of Education, to investigate and make recommendations. Fletcher’s advice paralleled that of the Public Welfare Commission. He recommended a separate Department of Public Welfare which would be responsible for facilities and services such as Mothers’ Allowances, supervision of neglected children, and the Portage Industrial Training School, previously administered by several departments. These and other services, Fletcher advised, should be incorporated into the Department of Public Welfare and designated as either health or child welfare services, with a trained expert in charge of each. [25] Fletcher’s recommendations were not accepted, undoubtedly because of the costs of administration and problems of reorganization.

The search for a solution continued, however, and was found in an earlier suggestion of the WSB to fuse the child welfare system and the Mothers’ Allowances Commission. Although the Public Welfare Commission had suggested incorporation of Mothers’ Allowance into the envisioned Department of Public Welfare, the Commission had not incorporated Mothers’ Allowance legislation into the Child Welfare Act. It appeared that, although the Commission considered the two pieces of legislation to be closely related, they believed each should be administered separately from the other. The Commission did not elaborate on its reasons for excluding Mothers’ Allowance from the Child Welfare Act. It may have foreseen the power which could accumulate in the hands of social workers who had both legal recourse and control of family finances, or it may have felt the responsibilities of the Commission were too extensive to incorporate without changing the emphasis of the new Act.

Whatever the reason for the P.W.C.’s recommendations, its successor, the Welfare Supervision Board, had offered a different opinion in its Second Annual Report (1922). Ever mindful of effectiveness and economy, the W.S.B. had suggested that both ends might be served if the Child Welfare Act and the Mothers’ Allowances Act were placed under the same administration. Ideally, the W.S.B. suggested, since Mothers’ Allowance legislation was truly a child welfare measure, it should be incorporated into the Child Welfare Act; however, if the government preferred, a simple union of administrative units would produce the same results. The most promising format, advised the W.S.B., would be to place the chief administrator of Mothers’ Allowances in charge of the new administrative unit, with special responsibility for the Mothers’ Allowance programme, and to give him an assistant who would oversee work done under the Child Welfare Act and assist with the Mothers’ Allowance programme if necessary.

It could not have been surprising when, recommended for the leading position in this new unit, the Mothers’ Allowance Commission, under the direction of A.P. Paget (a former Secretary of the Public Welfare Commission) endorsed the suggested amalgamation of the two pieces of legislation. In its Annual Report for 1922-23 the Commission remarked:

The time may now have arrived when such a humane measure as Mothers’ Allowances should become a well-established part of a properly organized Child Welfare Movement ...

The Manitoba Mothers’ Allowance Act takes cognizance primarily of the needs of bereaved and dependent children rather than the needs of the women who happen to be the mothers of these children. Mothers will benefit, and rightly so, but it is fundamentally Child Welfare legislation and as such should be properly designated. Legislation in this field has now been so far accepted that it may well be embodied in the Provincial Child Welfare Codes in which it might have place as legislation in behalf of “Bereaved and Dependent Children.” The largest possible use of maternal care is naturally basic in any scheme of Child Welfare whether supported by the State or otherwise ... [26]

Accepting this advice, the Bracken government amended the 1922 Child Welfare Act to incorporate the Mothers’ Allowance Act, and added a new section entitled “Bereaved and Dependent Children.” The terms of amendment did not assign full responsibility over Bereaved and Dependent Children to the Director of Child Welfare, but rather to the Board of Selection (actually the members of the M.A. Commission, but renamed the Child Welfare Board). While the Director was to investigate all reported cases of bereaved and dependent children, he was to report his findings to the Child Welfare Board—a process similar to that previously followed by the M.A. Commission and its chief administrative officer. The Board would then decide which children would be enrolled as “Bereaved or Dependent.” In addition, the Board retained its former responsibility for drafting the allowance schedules, supervising recipients, and drawing up rules and regulations governing administration of allowances. The numerous responsibilities and activities involved in administration of the allowances may have explained the central role given the Child Welfare Board. It may have been anticipated that, with all his other duties, the Director would not be able to fulfill those entailed in administering the allowances. But a second and perhaps more likely explanation would be that the government sought to keep the administration of allowances in the hands of an appointed body as had been the practice under the Mothers’ Allowance Commission. The Child Welfare Board, like the Commission, was made up of businessmen, philanthropists, and welfare workers who received no remuneration for their services. [27] The authority which the amendment gave the Child Welfare Board, therefore, assured even greater influence for private interests in the administration of the Child Welfare Act.

In addition to the inclusion of Mothers’ Allowance legislation, several minor amendments [28] were made to the Act before it was proclaimed in 1924. Penalties for the ill-treatment of children were increased—the option of a fine was removed and maximum jail sentences were increased from two years to five years with hard labour. A further change, an obvious concession to the municipalities, reduced the maximum amount of maintenance orders from $5 per week to $3, resulting in a predictably negative response from Children’s Aid Societies. [29]

The proclamation of the Child Welfare Act, dubbed the “Magna Charta of child life,” [30] was greeted by professional welfare workers with the same high optimism which had met the passage of the 1922 Act:

The comprehensive Child Welfare Act of Manitoba ... is easily the most comprehensive and constructive piece of social legislation on the statute books of the Dominion, or of any of its provinces, and will undoubtedly remain for some time as the model statute of reference for the provincial Child Welfare workers of Canada. [31]

The establishment of the machinery to administer the newly proclaimed Act reflected limitations arising from both the Act’s structure and the Bracken government’s economy measures. In its reports the Public Welfare Commission had envisioned the creation of a new portfolio for the Department of Public Welfare. Within the proposed Department there were to have been several divisions of which Child Welfare would be only one. However, in “operationalizing” the Act, the Bracken government sought to avoid the costs of establishing a new portfolio, [32] and the newly created Department of Public Welfare was made a responsibility of the already heavily burdened Minister of Education, the Hon. C. Cannon. Only one division was created within the new department—the Division of Child Welfare; other activities remained under their respective departments. Thus, for largely parsimonious reasons, Bracken failed to create the strong central authority capable of coordinating all social welfare work in the province.

The structure of the Child Welfare Division revealed weaknesses resulting from the new amendments to the Act. Although the intention had been to blend the Mothers’ Allowance legislation into the Child Welfare Act, the effect of the amendment had been to append the Child Welfare legislation onto the Mothers’ Allowance Act. The budgets of the two departments in 1923-24 support this conclusion, for although the Mothers’ Allowance expenditure also declined under the Bracken government (from $438,800 in 1921-22 to $406,000 in 1923-24) [33] it remained substantially greater than the combined expenditures of the Superintendent of Neglected Children and the Juvenile Court system ($29,400 in 1923-24). In addition, the staff of the Mothers’ Allowance Commission was larger, and its rural services more fully developed. Moreover, following the suggestions of the W.S.B. when the Child Welfare Division was created, A. P. Paget, former Secretary of the Mothers’ Allowance Commission, was appointed the Director of Child Welfare while D. S. Hamilton, S.N.C., was given the subordinate position of Chief Inspector. Hence the new child welfare programs envisioned by the original creators of the Act were delegated to a secondary position.

Further problems could be anticipated from the number of staff employed to administer the provisions of the Act. Although many new responsibilities and duties had been incorporated (e.g., services for illegitimate children, services for mentally and physically handicapped children, adoption) no new staff were added. It was assumed that the staff of the Mothers’ Allowance Commission, in conjunction with the small staff of the S.N.C., could perform all new duties in addition to those they had previously performed. However, as each body had presumably been fully occupied with its former tasks, this was an unrealistic expectation.

A final, less serious potential problem existed in the creation of two independent advisory boards—the Welfare Supervision Board and the Child Welfare Board. As each was to advise the Minister on separate but related issues, the possibility of confusion and discord arising from overlapping roles and conflicting advice was always present and indeed intensified by the lack of a clearly defined relationship between the Boards, and between the Boards and the Director of Child Welfare.

Thus both internal and external limitations existed to hamper the functioning of the new Child Welfare system. Interest group pressures, a conservative public mood, and Bracken’s stringent financial measures combined with the Act’s own weaknesses (particularly its focus on allowances for Bereaved and Neglected Children) to give the 1924 Child Welfare Act what was subsequently referred to as “little more than an ugly duckling’s chance.” [34]


1. J. J. Kelso, The Union of the Forces, pamphlet c. 1918. Copy in the Public Welfare Commission Papers, PAM.

2. For a thorough discussion of the phenomenon of the Social Gospel, see R. Allen, The Social Passion: Religion and Social Reform in Canada 1914-1928, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 1971.

3. D. B. Harkness, “Recent Developments in Child Welfare,” Social Welfare Journal, 6 (July 1924).

4. D. B. Harkness, “General Report of the Executive of the Social Service Council of Manitoba,” Social Welfare Journal, 2 (March, 1920).

5. Second and Third Interim Reports of the Public Welfare Commission 1919, 1920, files of the Public Welfare Commission, PAM.

6. Third Interim Report of the Public Welfare Commission.

7. An Act Respecting Welfare Supervision, Statutes of Manitoba, 9 Geo. V, 1919, ch. 112.

8. Mrs. M. McWilliams—Ontario born, Presbyterian, president Local Council of Women, leader of University Womens Club and numerous other societies, wife of the future Lt. Governor of Manitoba. G. F. Chipman—Nova Scotia-born Baptist, editor Grain Growers’ Guide. Major D. M. Duncan—American-born Presbyterian, assistant superintendent of Winnipeg schools. Dr. J. Halpenny—Ontario born Methodist, on faculty of University of Manitoba Department of Medicine. E. A. McPherson K.C.,—American born Methodist, MLA 1913-1920, City Solicitor. T. J. Murray, K.C., Ontario born Protestant, police magistrate.

9. Board of Welfare Supervision, 1st Annual Report, Nov. 30121, Public Welfare Commission files, PAM.

10. Third Interim Report of the Public Welfare Commission, Public Welfare Commission files, PAM.

11. C. Whitton, Child Welfare Legislation, a report written under the auspices of the Canadian Child Welfare Council, a branch of the Canadian Council of Social Services, on file at the Department of Health Library.

12. An Act Respecting the Welfare of Children, Manitoba Blue Bills, 1921.

13. Winnipeg Tribune, 8 March 1921.

14. Manitoba Free Press, 8 March 1921.

15. Ibid.

16. This statement was contrary to the intentions of both the P.W.C. recommendations and the terms of the Act itself. Concerns for the cost of Norris’s reforms had been expressed by 1921—the apparent cause of this newly revealed economy measure.

17. The Free Press did not indicate the source of this figure nor did it state what costs were included. As the figures are exorbitantly high for Manitoba it is likely that they refer to expenditures for welfare in the whole of Canada.

18. Manitoba Free Press, 8 March 1921.

19. Journals of Manitoba, 1921, p. 331-333.

20. A. E. Smith, in his biography, All My Life (Toronto: Progress Publishing Co. 1949) p. 66, indicates Labor’s full support of the Bill.

21. Winnipeg Free Press, 27 March 1922.

22. J. Kendle, John Bracken: A Political Biography, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), p. 35.

23. Ibid, p. 39.

24. Winnipeg Free Press, 1 March 1924.

25. PAM, Bracken Papers, Robert Fletcher to Bracken, 27 January 1923.

26. Seventh Annual Report of the Manitoba Mothers’ Allowance Commission, 1924 sessional papers, no. 44.

27. Members appointed to the first Board in 1924-25 included: A.P. Paget—Director of Child Welfare. A. T. Mathers—Provincial Psychiatrist. W. J. Major—Anglican lawyer, future M.L.A. and Attorney General under Bracken. Mrs. T. R. Deacon—former member Mothers’ Allowance Commission. *Mr. F. Coyle—Ontario born Catholic, businessman. *F. Tipping—English born Baptist teacher and trade unionist, active on the General Strike Committee, MLA. Mabel Finch—Representative of the United Farm Women of Manitoba. *The appointments of Coyle, a Catholic, and Tipping, a trade unionist, may appear unusual. However, the Act required that one Catholic be on the Board and Tipping’s appointment appears to reflect the non-partisan approach of the Bracken ad-ministration.

28. An Act to Amend “An Act Respecting the Welfare of Children,” Statutes of Manitoba, 14 Geo. V, 1924, chs. 6, 7.

29. Undated memo in the legal files of the Winnipeg C.A.S.

30. Statements by Hon. C. Cannon, Minister of Education, in the 16 December editions of the Tribune and the Free Press.

31. C. Whitton, Child Welfare Legislation, pamphlet published in 1925 by the Canadian Council on Child Welfare.

32. Winnipeg Free Press, 1 March 1924.

33. The decreases in Mothers’ Allowances did not go unnoticed. On 24 June 1925, the Winnipeg Tribune protested the low rates, noting this was an area which the government could ill-afford to neglect.

34. Royal Commission on Child Welfare (Whitton Report), p. 4.

Page revised: 27 October 2012

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