Recurring themes in child care

Putting together a history of FICE (Shaw, 2008), the organisation set up in 1948 to support those caring for ‘war-handicapped’ children, has thrown up some interesting insights into how much progress we have made in child care in the past sixty years.

Stability of care

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 (Brosse, 1950a; b), a conclusion later reinforced by Wiener and Wiener (1990) who showed that stability of placement was more important for a successful outcome to extra-familial care than the type of placement.

Peggy Volkov (1948), who two years later was to become the first female and the only British President of FICE, warned about the importance of stable placements. Yet in a recent radio interview with young people in England, they were talking about having had a dozen or more placements. No wonder Alan Johnson, in his Foreword to Care Matters painted such a depressing picture of child care in England and Wales (Department for Education and Skills, 2006) .

Decision making

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 – 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 in 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 …’ (Brosse, 1950a, p66). In his summary of twentieth century research into child development, Ladd (2005) 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, including England, 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 from their experiences by the young people of Moulin-Vieux compared with those of many of their visitors ({General Assembly}, 1949).

Variety and similarity

From these small, yet striking, beginnings FICE has grown to become the only international organisation focusing on the needs of children and young people in all forms of extra-familial care. Its members 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, for example, running their country’s version of Childline or a training bakery for care leavers or providing courses for those working with children and young people to undertaking research, publishing textbooks and lobbying at the highest level 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. The Baltic States, a number of Eastern European countries and Israel and Romania have collaborated in a variety of ways over the past fifteen years. Nearly ten years ago, FICE Switzerland and FICE Netherlands, with the support of other members, collaborated in Dialogue in South East Europe, a programme of six annual Friendship Camps for young people from former Yugoslavia and six annual development seminars for staff from former Yugoslavia which culminated in 2006 in the Sarajevo Congress when a Young People’s Congress ran alongside and shared in the Congress for staff.

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.


Brosse, Dr T (1950a) Homeless children: report of the proceedings of the conference of Directors of Children’s Communities, Trogen Switzerland Publication No 573 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris

Brosse, Dr T (1950b) War-handicapped children: Report on the European Situation Publication No 439 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris

Department for Education and Skills (2006) Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care The Stationery Office, London Cm 6932

General Assembly (1949) Summary record of the second meeting, held at the Cité de l’Enfance , Marcinelle-Charleroi, on Wednesday, 12th October 1949, at 3 pm FICE/AG1/SR 2

Ladd, G W (2005) Children’s peer relations and social competence: a century of progress Yale University Press, London

Shaw, R (2008) Children, families and care: reflections on the first sixty years of FICE Forthcoming

Volkov, P (1948) The re-education of war-handicapped children: some questions about re-education in loyalty Paper presented to the UNESCO meeting of Directors of Children’s Villages from 4 to 11 July 1948 at Trogen, Switzerland Paris, 20 July 1948 (UNESCO/ED/Conf.1/5)

Wiener, A and Wiener, E (1990) Expanding the Options in Child Placement University Press of America, Lanham MD

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.