Why did organisations such as Cerebral Palsy Midlands start?
Posted on 8th February 2017 at 15:36
Towards the end of the Second World War there was significant social change which led to reforms in legislation relating to health and education. The 1944 Education Act was at the heart of this change and was seen by many as a turning point in the delivery of education. The Act provided a structure for free education for children from nursery level upwards and introduced the tripartite system of education consisting of grammar schools, secondary modern and secondary technical schools. Local authorities became responsible for providing education and one of the aims of this new system was to give more equality of opportunity to children.
At the time the changes appeared to have been generally well received and reported on positively in the press. For example, the Times newspaper on 2nd January 1945 heralded it as the ‘outstanding event of the year’ as can be seen from the extract above.
Source: ‘Educational Reform The New ACT’, The Times, 2 January 1945, issue 50030, p.14.
However, the opportunity to participate in some form of education at this time almost passed by many children with disabilities. Among these were children who had cerebral palsy or a related condition. Why was this? Unfortunately, such children were judged by their physical impairments and their intellect was generally not explored. Many of these children were deemed to be ‘ineducable’ and were commonly labelled as ‘spastic children’. Parents of these children began to question the lack of opportunity for education which they saw as a shortcoming of the 1944 Education Act.
Through their hard work parents raised the profile of their children and drew public attention to the perceived injustices they faced. They promoted their cause through lobbying local and national government; challenging medical opinion; winning community support; securing widespread celebrity backing and patronage; and campaigning prominently in local and national media.
Cerebral Palsy Midlands was one of the first organisations in the UK at this time and was known at its inception as ‘Midland Spastic Association’ (MSA). Within a few years, a like-minded network of organisations were formed and strength in numbers meant that their voices were heard. Not only did parents campaign for their own children but their actions had a wider impact on disability rights. Parent Roy Hull, in the 1972 Year Book of MSA, recalled a meeting he had attended in 1946. The meeting was made up of parents whose children had been said to be ‘unsuitable for school’.
The parents discussed how they could support each other and set up groups in various parts of the city.
Roy Hull remembered how this had been a tremendously liberating experience for many of us and for many of our children who until then had been housebound. Many parents felt embarrassed and even angry at the curiosity shown by passers-by at the contortions and grimaces of our children and we realised the need to educate the general public to recognize ‘spastics’ and accept them in society. This we did by addressing meetings and by arranging outings to public places.
Image above Source: Roy Hull, ‘A Parent’s Experiences in the Early Days’ in Midland Spastic Association 1972 Year Book p.17.
The creation of these groups and organisations was for many, unknown territory and a huge undertaking which must have been challenging at times. It was with determination and hard work these parents achieved far more than they initially set out to do. Many of these organisations, formed during the 1940s and 1950s, are still in existence today. They may have undergone several changes but still have the same underlying principle, to provide a level of service to individuals with cerebral palsy and related disabilities. These organisations have become part of the fabric of modern society and the wider voluntary sector.
By Phd student Teresa Hillier
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