Child Care: The Need for History

Making History

23 October 2008: a nice autumn morning in the Cotswolds: a good time to make history. The Steering Group reported to the Inaugural General Meeting; the draft Constitution was debated, amended and agreed; the honorary officers were elected; The Child Care History Network, or CCHN (pronounced see-chin) was under way. (The Aims and Objects are appended below.)


For the rest of the day there was a packed programme of 10-minute speeches from every angle relevant to the interests of the Network – an archivist, a museum curator, a librarian, an expert witness in child care cases, a former boarding school pupil, a researcher, a child care consultant and the manager of NCERCC. The speeches were recorded and should be available soon on the CCHN website.

The Conference participants were equally varied – local authority archivists, residential child care workers, early years workers, people who had been in care as children, a representative from the National Archive and so on. Indeed, the variety of viewpoints indicated how widespread the interest in things historical is, and the networking in the coffee breaks showed a very high level of enthusiasm and interest.

The 10-minute speeches raised a lot of issues.

– Sian Roberts from Birmingham Archives and Heritage spoke of the sheer volume of local authority records, both personal (about former children in care or adopted children, for example) and organisational (for instance, Council committees and children’s homes logs and visitors’ books).

– Jim Gledhill from the Foundling Museum spoke of the importance of the four museums of childhood as a way of understanding ordinary people’s experiences – “conduits for narratives”, and he warned against the sentimental nostalgic middle-class Edwardian image of childhood.

– Nicola Hilliard underlined the importance of libraries, and warned that those run by child care organisations are being closed down.

– Tom James gave a fascinating personal account of his time in boarding education, and the way it had moulded his career.

– Sarah Hayes from Exeter University had studied the use of language (maladjustment in particular) and its implications in child care.

Addressing Bad Practice

A key strand in the discussion, triggered by Charles Sharpe in his report of a recent email debate, was the way that poor practice in the past ought to be addressed. Clearly, standards and attitudes have changed, and retrospectively there are some practices and incidents which are now regretted. Should there be an amnesty, so that practitioners and former practitioners can own up, and say sorry? If so, should there be limits? Should there be a truth commission, as in South Africa? Would it be dangerous to open up a Pandora’s box, since we have no Archbishop Tutu or Nelson Mandela to make the process work? Should workers feel guilty for practices which were acceptable in the past? How would a truth commission mesh in with the legal system? Some former children in care might still want damages and sue; some staff might still deserve to be prosecuted for abuse. Would such a process resolve things better than the systems currently available? There was no clear answer.

International Links

A small-scale international survey had been undertaken which suggested that there is nothing quite like CCHN in other countries, but that there were people in every country who had been gathering information or writing about the history of services for children in their own countries. It was the consensus of the Inaugural General Meeting that, while CCHN could not presume to cover more than the UK, interest from people concerned about the history of child care in other countries would be welcomed, and CCHN should be prepared to act as a place where information could be exchanged.

What Next?

Where does CCHN go next? The Conference threw up a dozen possible lines of action.

There was a suggestion that a specialist subgroup of professionals with an interest in this field should be established – archivists, librarians and researchers, for example – under the title of Information and Memory Professionals, or IMPs.

Working links are needed with other organisations working in overlapping or parallel fields, such as CHARM – the CHarity Archivists and Records Managers Group, the National Archive, the Social Work History Network and the new Institute for the History and Work of Therapeutic Environments.

There is also the concern about the state of the country’s child care archives, as they are often managed badly or destroyed. It was argued that a code of practice should be drafted, which might be used by archivists in local authorities and voluntary organisations, to encourage proper storage and to argue for the funding needed to maintain records.

Where are child care archives held? There is no data base, and one needs to be drawn up. Some preparatory work had been begun by the Steering Group. Any repositories prepared to receive archives also need to be identified, as there are both organisations and individuals who may need to dispose of their records.

Clearly, there is plenty for the new Board to do. CCHN is going to be based at the Planned Environmental Therapy Trust at Toddington in Gloucestershire. If you would like to join, the annual membership fee for individuals is a modest £15 and for organisations £35.

If you want to know more, contact CCHN’s newly elected Communications and Information Officer:
Dr Craig Fees 01242 620125 [email protected]

The CCHN website (still under development)

IHWTE website

PETT website

PETT Archive and Study Centre website

Extract from CCHN Constitution


3. The aims of the Network will be :

3.1 to promote interest in the history of services for children and young people and their families;

3.2 to identify and encourage the preservation of evidence and information concerning the history of services for children and young people;

3.3 to initiate, encourage and support research into the history of child care and related disciplines;

3.4 to encourage the application of lessons learnt from historical information and ideas in child and youth care policy development and practice;

all the above being with a view to the attainment of high standards of service for children and young people and their families.


4. The objects for which the Network is established are:

4.1 to identify the whereabouts of archives and other materials of historical interest and to prepare a database of their whereabouts for the use of researchers, students and others, including details of archives known to have been destroyed;

4.2 to further the conservation and preservation of archives and other historical materials, whether held by incorporated or unincorporated organisations or individuals;

4.3 to encourage organisations to retain archival material in appropriate safe conditions, for example in libraries, or to lodge their records in repositories set up to archive such materials;

4.4 to foster discussion concerning the feasibility of the creation of a national child care archive and, if appropriate, to support the creation of such an archive or national archives policy;

4.5 to support, promote and, where necessary, create networks among all those concerned about, or working in any field relating to, the history of child care.

4.6 to initiate, support and encourage research into the history of child care;

4.7 to raise public awareness of the importance of archives and of the need to prevent their destruction;

4.8 to represent the views and experience of members in influencing public policy on matters pertaining to the Network’s aims, such as the preservation of archives and the application of the lessons of child care history;

4.9 to organise seminars, conferences and training in matters concerning child care history;

4.10 to organise special interest groups, working parties and subgroups of members as necessary;

4.11 to use electronic and other media to provide information about the Network and developments in child care history and to enable members to communicate about current issues;

4.12 to publish books and other materials using electronic and/or other media as appropriate;

4.13 to collaborate with local, national and international organisations in the furtherance of the Network’s aims;

4.14 to seek and administer funds to enable the objects of the Network to be achieved.

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