Ancestry UK

The Barnardo Rule Book

In 1944, as an adjunct to its recently established training programme, Barnardo's issued a confidential staff handbook, providing detailed guidance on every aspect of life in its homes. The "Barnardo Book" included sections on such matters as the daily routine, health, maintenance of discipline, and sex education.



For private circulation only.


It is now a commonplace to say that every child has a right to proper education in regard to sex development and hygiene. This places upon the Superintendents of Homes a great responsibility.

The art of sex education depends on the outlook of the teacher. If he has a clean and healthy attitude, free from false shame, and able to think and talk naturally about sex without a sense of guilt, then, with some factual knowledge, he can help children to possess the same healthy mind. If the teacher looks upon sex as a disagreeable and regrettable necessity, no amount of knowledge will serve to help him to educate a child. The attitude of mind of the teacher is, therefore, of paramount importance, but it is by no means an easy matter for those who are embarrassed by talking about these matters to overcome their handicap. The essential step is for them to re-educate themselves so that they may be freed from the influence of a conception of sex that is largely a physical one, and seek to get a vision of sex as a great creative energy that flows throughout life. Then they will, with ease of mind, be able to take a part in guiding boys and girls to a similar conception that will enable them to Harness these vital forces for the enrichment of life.

If sex education is to be successful, the teacher must have a clear idea of what he wants to accomplish. Not until then can he properly decide what should be taught and when the instruction should be given. The aim of sex education should include the following things:

i. The satisfaction of the natural curiosity of children regarding sex.

ii. The presentation of the subject in its relation to the whole of life and the healthiness of sex.

iii. The foundation for moral and social responsibility in the relationship of the sexes.

If the above principles are accepted, it is obvious that instruction must be both positive and constructive. Warnings about bad habits, such as masturbation, should find a very small place in sex education, which should be concerned with the formation of good habits. These will do much more to prevent bad habits than any amount of threats about evil consequences that will probably never mature.

At what age should teaching be given? A common answer is, "Whenever the child asks." This is only partly right. It is right when it means that whenever a question is asked it must be answered (no matter what the question may be), but wrong if it means that we must not give instruction until a specific question is asked. There are many questions that children cannot ask, but to which it is necessary that they should know the answers if they are to grow up with healthy minds and bodies. Some children refrain from asking questions because of doubtful information gained from undesirable sources; in such cases we must give knowledge to correct wrong impressions and create right ones.

Under the first heading we have to deal with such questions as "How was I born?" In the young child's mind this involves the question, "How did I grow before I was born?" but it does not necessarily include the process of birth. Teaching on both these points must be clear and definite. While it may be convenient to use illustrations taken from the lower forms of life, they must illuminate and not obscure the human facts the child is seeking to learn. Evasive replies merely bewilder the child and give it an impression that something is being withheld from it, which may end in it losing all confidence in the teacher.

It is when seeking to achieve the second of our aims that we may have to give children knowledge for which they have not asked, but which it is necessary they should have. So far it has been assumed that children have asked questions about fatherhood and motherhood. If by the time they are about twelve to thirteen years old they have not done so, then we must volunteer the information. It is round about this age, too, that they will need instruction about the physical changes that will soon begin and about the special hygiene necessary for their health. If this education is delayed, it will coincide with the changes and probably lead to emotional stress and psychological difficulties, besides causing physical stimulation.

The old-fashioned practice of threatening boys with T.B., insanity, heart disease, etc., if they indulge in self-stimulation is absolutely wrong. Such results do not follow this undesirable habit though the fears created frequently lead to psychological ill-effects of a serious nature. Work in Child Guidance Clinics shows how serious are the consequences of these threats and their resultant fears. Nothing must be said that may create fears or perpetuate fears already existing. Where, but only where, they are known to exist, one of our aims must be to dispel them by positive teaching.

Every boy and girl must understand the elementary facts of bodily development. A background of general hygiene and a knowledge of the normal functions of the body must be understood if we are to form a basis on which to build a healthy understanding of sex, without which the emotional development of the adolescent child can be very difficult. Growth must be shown to be the result of many factors: food, sunlight, exercise, etc. In particular the influence on growth of various glands must be known by the child and so the idea of the relationship of sex glands and growth becomes a normal one. At puberty these glands start working and take over much of the promotion of growth previously done by other glands.

Boys need special guidance to understand these changes, which are not only physical but affect the whole of their nature. Sex is a form of creative energy which can be turned into wrong channels. It is the task of the teacher to see that this does not happen.

Girls also need special help during this transition period from girlhood to womanhood. They frequently suffer fears through hearing ignorant talk, fears that lead to mental and physical suffering. Where girls have adequate guidance and understand the creative aspects of these changes, they are spared these pains and the foundation is laid for a stable emotional life.

The third aim of sex education relates to the moral and social responsibility of the individual to society. Much of this is taught by implication when giving much of the instruction suggested above, particularly when speaking about parentage. A simple explanation of the effect of individual conduct on society still further makes sex a much wider subject than it is usually thought to be a very important idea to get into the young mind. Also, by giving these lessons to groups of boys or girls, we develop both the social aspects and avoid the unhealthy secrecy that has worked such mischief in the past. It is also necessary to develop a sensible attitude towards boy and girl friendships and this forms a vital part of the sex education of children.