Training for the feeble-minded
If the Conference on Mental Deficiency, which is to be held at Central Hall Westminster next Wednesday and Thursday, is successful in directing a greater measure of public attention to the needs of the feeble-minded child, it will have performed an unusual public service.
For, with the exception of London and one or two other counties and a few of the greater county boroughs, the provision made for training the mentally defective is lamentably inadequate.
The extent to which existing provision falls short of what is necessary may be gathered from the last annual report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education and from statistics published by the board.
"The report of the school medical officers for 1922," said Sir George Newman, "record 29,250 mentally deficient children of school age. In London, where the system of diagnostic examination is particularly good, there are two educable mentally defective children in every 1,000 in average attendance.
"If this percentage be applied over the country we get upwards of 50,000 mentally defective children. Hence there is either inadequate or unequal ascertainment or there are wide differences of incidence...In any case, there are not fewer than 30,000 feeble-minded children of school age, and the accommodation in special schools for such children does not exceed 16,200."
There is therefore much reason for the view put forward by Sir George last year that, in spite of the statutory obligations laid upon local educational authorities by Parliament, many of them are not discharging their duties. And he points out that the question is both far-reaching and urgent, "because the whole fabric of legislation which deals with the mental deficiency is founded upon the idea that it is in childhood that the problem must be grappled with".
The Central Association for Mental Welfare, which has organised next week's conference, has been well advised in asking for a group of papers to suggest "the best method of dealing administratively and educationally with the mentally defective (feeble-minded) child".