Juvenile Delinquency: the growing problem

Robert continues his series of blogs on the theme of juvenile delinquency during the First World War.

Searching the Birmingham Archive for information on a child’s experience before, during and post the Great War has been and is a fascinating and rewarding experience. In terms of Juvenile Delinquency and Crime this has uncovered a wealth of material concerning the latter and also in other connected areas such as education, employment, family life, housing and policing for example.

An initial find in the archive was a report by the Howard Association (Today known as the Howard league) by the then secretary Mr Cecil Leeson, dated in the preface – November 1916 and Published in 1917 as The Child and The War Report (Birmingham Library Reference Political A320.8 D44. Acc No. 301163)

There was nationally and locally a serious concern about the rise in juvenile delinquency during the early part of the war compared to the years prior to war. The fact finding and analysis in the Howard Association report was based on an in-depth study of The Birmingham Children’s Court for the three years, (Aug to July for the years:- 1913-14; 1914-15; 1915-16)

 Extract from report (Page 16)The Howard Association has been privileged to analyse the records of the Birmingham Children’s Court for the past three years and the subjoined table gives the result of this analysis …… for punishable offences”

The Child and the War (p.16) 


The most disquieting features of all these juvenile-court returns are not merely that the increase exists, but that it is so much larger in the second year of war than the first and that a far greater proportion of increase consists of larcenies and felonies i.e. the increase represents an actual increase of wrong doing and not an increase of prosecutions only.

By comparison a Table showing the total number of Birmingham cases for each calender year is illustrated below.

Prison Visting Reports 1906-1957 L43.46

The report suggest that these official figures (all above) are the “tip of an iceberg” as many cases went undetected and many first offenders were let off with a police warning (not officially recorded). Also being war time there may be some errors in data collection however the overall results show significant increases between the peace and war years and were taken seriously.

On a personal view/judgement level, having read a large number of documents and reports relating to Juvenile Delinquency and the war years I feel that an important strategic point is being made. Although not specifically detailed, the worry and concern of politicians, judiciary and interested public figures was that as the actual and predicted death toll rose dramatically on the War front the importance of children and their upbringing became acute. The future of the country post war and beyond would be looking to these children as the fathers and mothers of the next generation and the labour supply for economic and social recovery. The welfare of children by way of the Factory Acts of 1830’s to the 1908 Children’s act demonstrate this was being addressed, albeit slowly, however the consequences of war and a decimated (mainly male) population focused the attention on looking after children (Juvenile Delinquency) and the future of the country.

Robert Gould



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