I like using threads and thread queues You can give each child thread its own instruction queue to assign it tasks or have children picking tasks up off a common jobs to be done queue (depends how specialist your children are). The parent can be signalled results back through a common queue for all children. Children can also post heartbeat messages to this queue so you know if one is hanging/dead.
POE may be worth a look. I had a similar job to do a couple of years ago and POE looked ideal but management refused installation of any (non-core)modules, yawn, so I never got to really use it. Management actualy refused any open source but had tons coded in Perl, go figure.
Pereant, qui ante nos nostra dixerunt!
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