Family Support Work was established in 1890 by a group of churchwomen in Chichester.

Like many long-standing charities, FSW has undergone several changes of name and focus, though the aim has always been to help vulnerable children and families in Sussex.

Please see below for a history of the charity, researched and compiled by Former Trustee, Mary McPherson.

The 19th Century was a period of ongoing reform in many areas of society. Charitable activity was often instigated by churches, and motivated by a drive for ‘moral regeneration’.

The Penitentiary Association was formed by the Diocese of Chichester in 1890 with the object of “the protection and strengthening of the weak and the raising of the fallen”. Refuges and shelters were set up for women and their children throughout Sussex.

There was no state funding at this time, so each house was purchased by a small group of people, run by a Committee, with a Matron to deal with the day to day running of the House. They did pioneering work with vulnerable families across Sussex.

In 1908 the name was changed to the Diocesan Purity Association. The Objects were “to promote Purity of life amongst all classes of the community by educational, preventative and remedial efforts, carried out in accordance with the principles of the Church of England”.

Later other aims were added: to protect and help the friendless by giving them a temporary Home until suitable provision could be made for them elsewhere; to provide a friend and adviser to whom young people can come at all times; to give advice and help to parents in cases where innocent lads and girls are exposed to danger, and where young children have been made the victims of immorality; to rescue the fallen, to pass them on to special Homes for a period of training and probation.

Workers were employed who set up clubs for young girls, organised education classes, visit families and give advice and support to people appearing in court or committed to the workhouse (the Police Court Missioners were the embryonic Probation Service) as well as continuing with residential work.

In time there were Committees in all the Deaneries, frequently chaired by the wife of the Archdeacon. The ladies on these Committees were not of a sentimental kind, they were moved by firmly held Christian principles, and although today they might seem narrow and judgemental, it would be wrong to doubt their genuine concern and compassion. They tried to keep themselves informed about the problems facing the women and girls with whom they were dealing. You would have found, for example, accounts
of them attending lectures about sexually transmitted infections (then called VD – venereal disease).

In 1931, The Chichester Diocesan Moral Welfare Association was created. A network of support workers was formed, one in each Deanery across the Diocese, with each Deanery responsible for financially sustaining their Worker.

Following the Second World War the organisation became involved with adoption work. This was largely the result of the vision of Shirley Emerson the then Organising Secretary. She was so concerned that there were no controls over the suitability of people wishing to adopt children, that she went to see the Bishop of Chichester. He, too, was shocked to hear of the laxity and immediately agreed that the Diocese should set up its own Agency with properly trained workers and adoption criteria.

The 1950 Adoption Act regulated adoption procedures and the Association registered as an adoption agency with the local authority. There were several Mother and Baby Homes in the diocese, including Garton House (FSW’s current office building) and the Bell Hostel (named after
a Mrs Bell) in Eastbourne, whilst Fieldwork continued for the more general cases.

“We were not an agency to find babies for childless couples, but our aim and purpose was to help and support girls and women in the decision they made regarding the future of their child – whatever that decision might be…”

This was a very busy time for all the workers who had not only to deal with a baby boom but also to assess prospective adopters and support both sides during the anxious three months after placement. The Agency also became involved in placing older or disabled children. The rush of work continued until the Abortion Act was passed and the contraceptive pill was introduced. These led to a reduction in infant placements so the Association decided to cease to function as an Adoption Agency in 1985.

For many years, the orgaisation ran a Conciliation Service (later known as the Mediation Service) based at Garton House. It was designed to minimise the damage done to children when their parents had conflicts about custody/access after the breakup of the marriage. This work is now undertaken by the National Family Mediation Service.

In 1979 there was a further change of name, this time to The Chichester Diocesan Association for Family Social Work, but later it was considered this could have given the impression of families ‘being worked on’ rather than ’with’ so it was changed to Family Support Work.

In 1974 the Association purchased Knowles Tooth at Hurstpierpoint as an Intermediate Training Centre under the Government’s scheme to provide alternatives to custody for young offenders. When this work was transferred to the Probation Service the emphasis at Knowles Tooth changed to providing breaks and holidays for children and families experiencing stresses and problems in their everyday lives, particularly those living in poverty or bed and breakfast accommodation. A purpose built annex was built to be used by disabled visitors.

However, use of Knowles Tooth declined over the years, partly because Workers found other resources nearer to the families, and the fees charged to other organisations for occasional use became too expensive for them to pay. The building also required considerable maintenance. The facilities were not of an acceptable standard anymore and need updating, but FSW could not afford the high cost of such work. The investment in the building was not compatible with Charity Commission guidance on best use of charitable assets especially when there were other residential facilities in the area which would meet the needs of families.

So, very reluctantly, the organisation decided to sell the property. The sale was completed in 2016 and the proceeds were invested to generate sustainable income.

Mary McPherson
July 2016