60th Anniversary : Launching the History of FICE

It is an honour to be invited to speak on this occasion, to celebrate FICE’s sixty-year history of distinguished service as probably the largest international professional association in its field. My task is to say something about the history of FICE, and to illustrate it by telling you about the book we are launching today – Children, Families and Care: Reflections on the First Sixty Years of FICE.

A History Book

But why buy a history book about an organisation like FICE? Certainly, it is a history book. The idea for the history came in the first place from Martti Kemppainen, in order to mark our sixtieth anniversary. We already had a six-page account of FICE’s early development by Arthur Bill from Switzerland to mark the twentieth anniversary. Then we had the much fuller history written by Irene Knopfel Nobs, also Swiss, for the fortieth anniversary in 1988, and much of the information in her book has been incorporated in our new history. So it made sense to bring that history up to date.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is that the world has changed massively in FICE’s sixty years, though some of the issues concerning children are still the same. When FICE was founded, Europe was still recovering from the Second World War, which had had a devastating impact on millions of children. Now, thankfully, there are millions of adults in Europe who have not known war in their lifetime, and we are in an age of travel and electronic communication. Nigel Cantwell’s introduction gives a masterly description of the changes in the context within which FICE has developed.

FICE was founded with the support of UNESCO. People working in the children’s communities scattered across Europe found that they were having to help children and young people who had been seriously disturbed by the War, and their communities were places of therapy and healing. It was difficult work, and there was a desperate need to share ideas and offer each other support. In the early days each children’s community had its representative in FICE, which is why initially it was called the Federation Internationale des Communautes d’Enfants – changed in 1982 to Federation Internationale des Communautes Educatives after much debate.

The book records the way in which FICE developed, where the Congresses took place, the publications it has produced, the ways in which it has developed and changed. It has been carefully researched and everything but the first and last chapters is based directly on documentary evidence that has been checked out. It is, therefore, a history – a record for the organisation of its heritage and achievements.

But it is much more than a simple record.

A Detective Story

For a start, it is also a detective story. That may not be apparent to readers, but we are fortunate to have had Robert Shaw as the author, and he has been checking records in libraries across Europe. He even found that UNESCO has recently published the very first sets of FICE Federal Council minutes on their website.

We contacted National Sections, and we are indebted to them for providing their histories. We contacted former Presidents and Secretaries General, who contributed their accounts of their periods in office. Together with archives covering the past twenty years, we gathered quite a large quantity of recent material. Robert Shaw absorbed and analysed the material, wrote the book and incorporated corrections within a very short timescale, and we are very indebted to him for his work.

In detective stories, the hero finds all the answers, and explains everything at the end. As far as this book is concerned, we have not reached the end. Further information is still coming to light, and Robert Shaw would be the first to point out that the book is not perfect, and does not have all the answers.

Some periods in the history of FICE are better documented than others, and some of the archives could not be accessed in the time available to him. If the work of any FICE officer or National Section is inadequately recognised, then Robert would wish me to apologise on his behalf. Perhaps we shall be able to make good when we rewrite the book to celebrate FICE’s eightieth anniversary. But, despite any shortcomings, the number of clues that Robert Shaw has followed up and the picture of the past that he has uncovered are remarkable.

A Family History

The book in some ways reads like a family history. If you have been a member of FICE for any length of time, you will find the names of people whom you know in it. And then perhaps the names of people whom you have heard of, who were the great names of child care in your country a generation ago. And then there are the accounts of the people whom they looked up to, who had gone before them, until you get back to the founders of FICE back in 1948, such as Bernard Drzewieski, Robert Preaut, Elisabeth Rotten and Walter Corti. It is like tracing one’s family tree, except that these people are the professionals who went before us. The genes which they passed down are their professional values and ideas.

It is very much a book about people. FICE is made up entirely of people; it owns no buildings or land. It only exists because people want to meet, to share, to network, to exchange ideas, to learn, to support each other, and to promote shared values. The book itself offers a good example. It includes information from a large number of people, with substantial contributions from two former Presidents, Steen Lasson and Robert Soisson, and it has a cast of hundreds.

Over the sixty years of FICE, there have been ten Presidents, twelve Secretaries General, ten Treasurers, hundreds of Federal Council members and thousands of delegates to Congresses like this one. There was one President, Rene de Cooman, who remained in office for twenty years. To our shame, although there are many women in our profession, the last woman President before Monika Niederle was Peggy Volkov in 1950.

National Sections have been founded, grown and died away again. There have been times when certain countries have dominated for a period, and for some strange reason, five of the ten of the Treasurers have been from Switzerland. We obviously trust them.

We are seriously indebted to all those professionals who came before us, who were concerned to raise standards of care and education for children. Sixty years ago there was a group of professionals – very like ourselves – who saw the need to come together and share ideas. Any vision which we have today of what we can achieve for children is because we are standing on their shoulders, and the organisation would not have the size of network which exists at present if it had not been for the work of our predecessors in encouraging interest in their own and other countries, in keeping the organisation going, in finding sources of funding, and in identifying the key professional issues which needed to be addressed.

A Text Book

In some ways the history is a text book about organisational growth, change and leadership. The book gives a fascinating picture of the way that organisations are set up, grow, become more formal, change, run into difficulties, are re-organised and grow again. There have been times of success when FICE has been influential and its work has been recognised, such as the award of the title of Peace Messenger by the United Nations.

This was to mark FICE’s role in having members for many years on both sides of the Iron Curtain, continuing to meet and share professional thinking in a divided Europe. And I am sure that the United Nations officers who decided to make the award would have been delighted to see the Peace Camps and Friendship Camps over recent years in former Yugoslavia, continuing the tradition of bridging divides and encouraging understanding.

There have been times when FICE has faced serious differences of opinion which could have destroyed it. This history does not avoid the difficult times, and Robert Shaw has recorded some of the problems and disagreements, as well as the successes and high points. Some of these differences were professional, reflecting opposing points of view. Others were personal, because our profession has its share people who have strong views and are not easily persuaded to change them.

I think that the book should also be compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to change FICE’s Statutes, as the same issues come round for debate in the Federal Council time and time again in a cycle, as if they were governed by solar radiation or El Nino.

When FICE was founded, it was supported by UNESCO, but when UNESCO itself ran short of funds, FICE’s grant was cut. In common with other international organisations in this field, FICE has occasionally had severe financial difficulties and it could have come to an end, but individual benefactors and organisations such as Pestalozzi in Switzerland have helped out at crucial times. FICE is not rich now, but we are still here.

Despite all the difficulties, FICE has not fallen apart or died. It has kept going, and you will see in the book that the motivation of the early founders of FICE was in many ways like the commitment of members today, to achieve high standards of service, to respect and listen to children and young people, to offer them opportunities to overcome the problems they face, and to seek out new ways of doing so.

A Book about Child Care

Which leads me to a key aspect of the history. It is a book about child care. Let me give you some examples of recurrent child care issues from FICE’s past.

Residential and Foster Care, and Stable Placements

People are still arguing about the merits of foster care and residential care, and about how much responsibility you can give to children, in much the same terms as they were doing in 1948. One of the clearest conclusions reached at the time was that children need stable adults in their lives, a conclusion later reinforced by research in 1990 which has shown that stability of placement is more important for a successful outcome to extra-familial care than the type of placement.

Peggy Volkov warned about the importance of stable placements in England in 1948. Yet in a recent radio interview with young people in England, they were talking about having had a dozen or more placements. Indeed, I met a young man the other day who had had thirty-four different placements. What stronger argument can there be for learning lessons from history?


Several of the communities set up to care for children in the aftermath of the Second World War had adopted self-government and there were fierce arguments between those who supported children being able to make their own decisions, such as the communist Juliens and the Catholic Don Antonio Rivolta, and the secularists who preferred a more paternalistic approach.

Interestingly, the secularists won that round, and it took the Eastern European members of FICE to re-introduce the idea of children taking decisions about their lives into FICE discussions in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, the successor organisations in those countries are among the FICE members most actively involved in children’s rights and participation in decision-making by children in care.

Active participation and family life

At FICE’s founding conference in Trogen, Switzerland, those present stressed the importance of “… the active participation of children or young people in the life of the community and … family life …”. In his summary of twentieth century research into child development, Ladd shows that children need a secure relationship with adult carers who can facilitate their introduction into peer groups and that those who lack these in their lives will remain at a disadvantage.

The Juliens exemplified these principles. They shepherded a group of up to 200 children through the last two years of the Second World War, mostly on the run from the Germans, and, when it was all over, they set up the Children’s Republic at Moulin-Vieux in the Isère District of France for the sixty children who had no families to return to.

When the children at Moulin-Vieux hosted the first international camp for war victims, one of the problems was that the children who came from other countries, such as England, were at a disadvantage, as they had had no experience of being asked their views and found it very difficult to fit into an environment where they were expected to make their own decisions. As Bernard Drzewieski, the Head of the Reconstruction Department at UNESCO, observed, the camp had exposed the advantages gained by the young people of Moulin-Vieux from their experiences, compared with those of many of their visitors.

Variety and similarity

From these small, yet striking, beginnings FICE has grown to become the only international organisation whose main aim is to focus on the needs of children and young people in all forms of extra-familial care. Its National Sections vary from those with fewer than a hundred members to those with thousands and its members’ activities vary from direct support for children and young people through activities such as :

– running their country’s version of Childline,

– a training bakery for care leavers,

– organising major social events for children and young people such as those in Hungary,

– providing courses for those working with children and young people,

– undertaking research,

– publishing textbooks and

– lobbying at the highest level with governments for greater protection and resources for children and young people in extra-familial care.

But perhaps the most significant contributions FICE has made in recent years have been the collaborations between members. There have been spin-off organisations such as CERFFICE and the Alps-Rhine Group, both of which organised conferences. There have been exchange visits and invitations to national seminars, such as those organised in Romania. There have been the Friendship Camps which I mentioned earlier. There have been publications such as the readers put together by Meir Gottesmann or the Bulletin which Robert Soisson edited.

The sheer volume of achievements and dedicated hard work over the years is impressive. What started as a way of enabling children’s establishments in different countries to collaborate has become a way in which countries can collaborate for the benefit of children and young people, and some of the ways in which this can be done – bringing young people and those caring for them together to discuss the issues that concern them – have not changed.

A Book with Lessons for the Future

Finally, it is a book with lessons for the future, though I am not suggesting that Robert Shaw makes predictions about what will happen to us as a sort of FICE Nostradamus. History books do not simply analyse the past. They give us messages for the future, in part, perhaps, through learning from the failures and successes of the past. In particular, they pose the question about the sort of legacy we wish to pass on to our successors.

Robert Shaw pointed out to me that, in having to work under pressure, he had had to take in the whole sweep of FICE’s sixty years in a very short space of time, and this had given him a sense of the unity of FICE’s history – its recurrent themes, the values and aims which we share with our predecessors. This understanding may help us to see what still needs to be achieved.

In the last chapter Robert Shaw shares a few thoughts of his own on the ways in which FICE may develop. I hope that they lead to debate. Having been on the Federal Council for twenty years I am aware of FICE’s limitations as well as its strengths, but I have no doubt about its potential, and I believe that FICE is well placed now to develop and to have a wider international impact.

Up to now, FICE has been strong in Europe but weak elsewhere. With electronic communications, it has the scope to create networks in every continent. At times in the past it has seen other organisations working in this field as rivals; I believe that the work over the last few years to have dialogue and collaboration with other associations is beginning to bear fruit, as in Quality 4 Children, for example. The child care profession will be stronger and more influential if we speak with one voice. When FICE was set up, it had close links with UNESCO; maybe it is time to invest more energy in becoming influential at international level again.

I look forward to buying my copy of the eightieth anniversary history, to read about all the great things which FICE will have achieved over the next twenty years. But for the present, I hope that you will find that Children, Families and Care: Reflections on the First Sixty Years of FICE has plenty of ideas to stimulate and challenge you.


Finally, a word about the dedication of the book. We decided to dedicate it to two people who have each worked with FICE longer than any of the members of the Federal Council – in fact for over half the life of FICE.

Interpreting is a creative art, not just the finding of equivalent words. If you have good interpreters they help you to share ideas, to bridge cultural gaps – to understand each other, as well as each others’ words.

Christine Karner is not with us at this Congress, but Helga Stefanov is. Their contribution to international child care has been considerable, yet we have often taken it too easily for granted. We therefore felt that this 60th Anniversary Congress is a suitable occasion to recognise what they have done for FICE. So, thankyou, Christina and Helga.

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