19 SEPTEMBER 1925, Page 24


IT is difficult to realize that less than a century ago children were liable to death or transportation for petty offences, and

that there is, for instance, a case on record of a boy of eight who was convicted of arson " with malice, revenge, craft and cunning" (such were the psychological attributes of the day,

as Professor Burt remarks) and duly hanged. Yet until the Children Act of 1908, several thousand children under the

age of sixteen were annually consigned to prison, and if later views of child-psychology are accepted, the present statutory definition of " moral imbecility " is inadequate. In this com- prehensive study, based on lectures delivered at University College, London, Dr. Burt has considered teachers, social workers, probation officers and all who are interested in child welfare rather than the lawyer or medical specialist, and is concerned not so much with present penal measures as with the problem of early prevention and reform.

If delinquency is regarded as a conspicuous example, extreme or dangerous, but none the less typical, of the common childish naughtiness, the psychology of the juvenile criminal will throw light on the daily disciplinary problems of the class-room and the difficult child, as, in fact, the study of the mentally deficient has advanced our knowledge of the average boy or girl. Dr. Burt modifies very much the theories of the Maudsley school which have influenced the legal conception of the question and led to the discredited views of Lombroso . The tendency to seize on a salient feature of heredity, such as epilepsy, or on a characteristic of city life has been excessive. A study of the hereditary, physical, mental and environmental conditions of special cases, and their response to treatment, reveal the extraordinary complexity and multiplicity of causes and the danger of common rules.

Cases such as that of Tommy B., an emaciated child whose petty vexatious thefts were always of edibles, and obviously due to mal-nutrition, are simple. The extraordinary case of a young girl, of excellent conduct, who was nevertheless the secret writer of an amazing series of obscene letters, almost suggests dual personality ; the tracing of this instinctive mystification, to inhibition and loyalty to her divorced mother is a curious exercise in psycho-analysis. " Jeremiah Jones," seven years old, " a scared and tattered' bundle of grubbiness and grief," as the author met him, who bad to his discredit, theft, truancy and child murder, might seem a " born criminal," yet his reaction to treatment shows the rashness of strongest theory.

Dr. Burt criticizes the Borstal system, and also emphasizes the need of institutions for the dull, unstable, or neurotic child who cannot be classed as defective or insane. Treatment should fit the delinquent rather than the crime, and each case should be, as much as possible, regarded as individual and unique. Apart from legal prevention, all questions of child welfare obviously involve those of housing, continued education, medical treatment and wide social issues.