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Throughout its 125 year history, I CAN has always sought to help children who would otherwise have been left behind.

The History of I CAN

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the establishment of a number of charities to improve the lives of children. Victorian philanthropy gave rise to such charities as Family Action (founded 1869 as the Charity Organisation Society) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (founded 1884). Many of the children helped by these organisations were able bodied and disabled children often missed out on the benefits provided by them. Survival rates for disabled children would have been low especially for those born into poverty.

Octavia Hill, one of the greatest Victorian philanthropists and one of the founders of the Charity Organisation Society believed that it was the duty of the more affluent members of society to help the poor and the vulnerable. Allen Dowdeswell Graham, a London clergyman, was charged by Octavia Hill and others to establish an organisation that would help disabled children with education and employment issues. This I CAN Charity was founded as the Invalid Children's Aid Association on 26 November 1888.

During this period nowhere was the contrast between children living well and those living in poverty greater than between the East End and the rest of London. Many of the first efforts of the Charity were devoted to children living beyond the Tower of London. I CAN at first relied on volunteers and many of them would pay twice weekly visits to poor homes in the East End to give basic school lessons to children who would otherwise – being housebound through disability – have received no education at all.

Royal patronage began in 1891 and by this time I CAN had sufficient funds to employ paid staff in addition to the volunteers who had helped establish the Charity.

In the first decade of the twentieth century Residential Homes were established for the treatment and support of children with tuberculosis and rheumatic heart disease.

At the outbreak of war in September 1939 it was widely expected that London would be heavily bombed by the enemy and that this would lead to heavy casualties among civilians. Those suffering death and injury were expected to include many children. Accordingly the mass evacuation of children from London began almost as soon as war was declared. The bombing did not start immediately and although many children did return to London the process of evacuation continued for a number of years. Many of us have seen the iconic images of groups of children boarding trains at London mainline stations – each child with a label for identification purposes. These evacuation efforts were instigated by the Government and were extensively supported by The British Red Cross from their offices in Belgrave Square.

The interests of disabled children were not initially provided for, either by the Government or The Red Cross. I CAN stepped in to fill the gap in the needs of disabled children. Working from offices within the headquarters of The Red Cross, I CAN staff eventually managed to arrange the evacuation of the last 800 or so disabled children from London. This proved to be a more challenging task than one might expect within a caring society because it was too easy to file the problems of disabled children under the "too difficult" heading with so many conflicting war time demands on resources.

I CAN had always supported the provision of support for medical care and appliances to disabled children through the work of their paid and volunteer staff. This area of work reduced after the introduction of the National Health Service Act 1948 and led to more short term use of the Charity's facilities.

I CAN began to look for new areas where disabled children were being left behind and it adopted the strapline "To every child a chance" – one that has since been taken up by many other organisations. The efforts of the Charity began to be concentrated on specific disabilities affecting the education of children in general. In 1961 it helped organise the International Conference of Dyslexia at Johns Hopkins University in North America. In 1964 I CAN established the Word Blind Centre at Coram's Fields in London and this led to the consolidation of eight Dyslexia Associations into the British Dyslexia Association.

By the middle of the 1980s I CAN was running five residential schools for children with special educational needs. At the end of the twentieth century I CAN had focussed its attention on the area it operates in today – children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs.

Throughout its 125 year history, I CAN has always sought to help disabled children who would otherwise have been left behind because of impaired educational and employment opportunities. In its history I CAN has changed the areas in which it works to reflect the greatest needs of children which were not being met by other organisations. Today I CAN leads the way in addressing the needs of children with Speech, Language and Communication needs.