The Children's Society was founded in 1881 by Edward De Mountjoie Rudolf, a young Sunday school teacher and civil servant. Two of his Sunday School pupils were found begging on the streets after their father had died. Their plight highlighted the fact that there were no Church of England Homes capable of taking children at short notice and without payment.
Rudolf gained support from within the Church of England (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) and the Church of England Central Home for Waifs and Strays was founded in 1881. The original intention was to provide Receiving Homes for boys and girls in each diocese, prior to finding them suitable permanent homes. The Society intended to board out (foster) the children "under guarantees for their proper maintenance and education in the principles of the Church of England." However, this quickly evolved into providing longer term Homes and in November 1883 the new name was adopted: Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays.
The Society underwent two further name changes. In 1893, it became the Church of England Incorporated Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays (commonly known as the Waifs and Strays Society). Then, in 1946, the name was changed to The Church of England Children's Society (commonly known as The Children's Society). In 1982, while its legal title remained the same, the name The Children's Society was formally adopted by the organisation.
By the last quarter of the twentieth century social attitudes had changed considerably from those which were prevalent when Edward Rudolf set up The Children's Society. Because of this, The Children's Society made major changes to the way it worked: it closed many children's homes, moving away from adoption and fostering and instead focusing on helping young people solve their own problems.
In 1969 The Children's Society opened its first day-care centre, Foulkes House in south London. The centre was successful and The Children's Society opened more across the country, often on the sites of its former residential nurseries.
In the 1990s, The Children's Society also began focusing working for social justice. This included new projects, lobbying to change legislation and welfare provision, and allowing young people to speak and act for themselves so they could shape their own lives.