Dickens was deeply concerned with the appalling plight of children in Victorian England. He himself had experienced poverty as a boy, when he had to toil away at a blacking factory to help pay off some of his father's debts. Dickens began work at the factory not long after his twelfth birthday. For ten hours a day, six days a week, poor young Charles had to labor, sticking labels onto bottles of blacking (a mixture used for polishing boots). As you can imagine, it was mind-numbing, soul-destroying, tedious work—all for the princely sum of six shillings a week (about $16 in today's money).
Dickens's sympathy for children is extensively reflected in his work. The most obvious example would be Oliver Twist. Young Oliver is a poor, unwanted orphan brought up in a workhouse, a truly horrible place set up to keep poor people from begging in the streets. Like all the other children in the workhouse, Oliver's forced to perform back-breaking, dangerous toil all day, constantly hungry due to the meager rations handed out. Even when he eventually leaves the workhouse—after scandalizing everyone by asking for more gruel—he finds himself being exploited and abused by adults wherever he goes.
Here, as elsewhere in his novels, Dickens presents a savage indictment of the way that adults in Victorian England treated children. At that time, children were regarded almost as miniature adults. Widespread poverty ensured that youngsters had to grow up quickly, going out to work for a living as soon as they were able to, like Dickens himself. Throughout his works and his many acts of private philanthropy, Dickens promoted what was then the novel idea that children should be treated as children: that is to say, loved, respected, and protected from the harshness and misery of everyday life.