Returning the Gaze

This paper was given at a conference on 7 November 2011 in Glasgow, hosted jointly by CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland) and CCHN (the Child Care History Network). The full papers from the conference are to be placed on the websites of the host organisations.


Forty years ago I did a comparative study of children’s homes in Edinburgh and Kingston upon Hull. It was set in historical context.[i] The fact that it has not been published is a great advantage today: because you haven’t read it, what I share will be coming fresh to you! For the record, I undertook the research as part of my preparation for living at Mill Grove and caring for children: so it was intended as a very practical resource for one who has spent the rest of his life, and continues to do so, in what is called in the UK residential child care.

In preparation for this presentation I re-read the thesis (surprised to see its length and detail), and noted things that struck me as interesting or remarkable in 2011. Forty years on I find that I now bring to the material a whole range of new perspectives: in philosophy, social work, sociology, social theory, politics and child care. Legislation, systems and structures, even patterns and ways of thinking and communicating, have changed. The critical reflection of the thesis itself, together with the data it contains, combine to provide historical material upon which we can all reflect.

Of course with a 500-page thesis (how did it get through, I wonder, without my examiner Professor Bob Holman, querying its length?!) I must be selective.

It was, unlikely as it may sound, Malcolm Muggeridge who taught us undergraduates to ask what future historians might make of our contemporary scene. Of course we cannot know, but the endeavour at least helps us to escape from rigid or slave-like adherence to the zeitgeist, fashions and assumptions of our day and age. You will see how I have tried to go about this challenging and rather daunting but nonetheless creative task.

This paper is in two parts. In the first I will reflect on seven aspects of the thesis that struck me on re-reading. In the second I will allow some child care pioneers to return the gaze by using the findings as categories they may use to reflect critically on our contemporary scene. It’s an act of imagination, but as I hope we shall see, without imagination we will serve our children and our society very poorly.


Seven Reflections on the History of Child Care in Scotland and England

In the very varied history spread over centuries, and from urban areas in the lowlands to the highlands and islands, here are seven things that stood out for me. One of the benefits of the way I did my research was that I used primary sources, historical and contemporary, wherever possible.[ii] For the record, I was able to consult a good number of primary sources in Scotland and England,[iii] to study in some detail the era of the Children’s Departments (1948-1968 roughly speaking), and then to be a participant observer in twenty residential homes or units, including nurseries, small group homes, large homes and hostels. Please bear in mind that this is not an attempt to summarise the history, but rather to select and reflect on a few examples and themes from it. I have left out far more than I have included, and leave you to guess what has been omitted!

(1) The Marginalisation of Children

My primary reaction has been an overwhelming sense that whatever was going on, whatever was done for children, their welfare and well-being were not paramount.[iv] It is clear that they were part of political, social, religious and economic systems in which they were effectively nobodies. If they were boarded out, it was because something had to be done with them, not least get them out of a particular locality. They died in huge numbers and no one seemed to ask questions as to why. 93% of babies who came into workhouses in England as babies in 1763 had died within two years. In one workhouse not one of 53 babies lived to see adolescence. The death rate of infants in workhouses was put at 82%.[v]

Half a century later in Edinburgh, in St Cuthbert’s in 1834, of 73 children who left the poorhouse, 8 died.[vi] The statistics are recorded with no explanation or remorse. Had there been Serious Case Reviews at the time, the bureaucracy would have imploded under their weight!

All through the records there are stirring examples of people who see children as real human beings with names and feelings, fears and gifts, and they have left their traces, but they are operating in conditions and structures that are not of their own making.[vii]

Where the children lived, the nature and size of the places in which they lived, who cared for them, and what happened to them when they left: all these were determined by representatives of systems that did not have children in the centre of their vision.

The Poor Law was not devised with children in mind, for example, but poor children were affected by it in every way and every stage of their lives. The voice of the child is mostly silent: they are often not seen, but in those cases where they do, they are certainly not heard. It simply does not seem to occur to boards and organisations to ask their views.

One of the concepts commonly used in the discourses of the 19th and 20th centuries is that of ‘institutionalisation’. It has come to mean batch living as typified by poorhouses, hospitals, prisons and schools. What this meaning misses is the way in which they institutionalise or embody the values and beliefs of a society towards certain groups – in this case, poor children. Anyone who knows the work of Michel Foucault (and I did not when I did my research) knows what I mean.[viii]

Residential nurseries are a case in point. They still existed when I did my research and who knows whether the material may one day be used by a budding Foucault of the future? Many of the staff had in mind the idea that they were providing normal family life and were being mothers to the children, while the places were organised contrary to what we now see as in the best interests of the little children. For example, there were different shifts putting them to bed at night, and waking them up in the morning.[ix] Such places are better explained by, and therefore reveal, the way society was organised and its prevailing values.

The dominant colours of the places where children lived are significant: grey, brown and dark green. They share a common DNA with schools, hospitals and workhouses.

And in all of them play is undervalued, while work, discipline and cleanliness are exalted. What sort of society is it that fails to see the centrality of play in the lives of children?[x]

(2) The Meaning of Childhood

This leads us on to ponder what people had in mind when they thought about or interacted with children. I did my research at a time when the sociology of childhood was ‘pre-paradigmatic’. Childhood was a sub-set of education, family, adulthood. This means that the data drawn from centuries indicates how rarely there was any critical analysis or thinking about what might be going on, and why. They continue with their routines and structures without seeming to ask what was best for children. And if there is little critical reflection on the nature of childhood, it follows that there is little need to question what you are doing to and for children, and why.

There is no development of the philosophy of child care, and holistic thinking and policies are therefore not possible. Health, education, care, religion, and family life are either dealt with as it were along tramlines, or coalesce without notice. When one becomes dominant in the organisation of child care, the others immediately take a back seat. Joined up thinking is for the most part not even a dream. There is nothing resembling social work or family therapy, and child development theory is rudimentary. Many individuals, whether carers or policy makers, clearly had what they saw as the needs of children in the forefront of their minds, but this did not dent the perceived and prevailing wisdom.

If you had to find a way of describing this you might turn to Peter Moss and his felicitous contrast between ‘children’s services’ and ‘children’s spaces’. All through the history that I re-read were descriptions of what was being done for, or to, the child. The essential nature of such a child is a “poor child, not in the sense of a child who is economically disadvantaged…but in the sense of the child who is lacking, deficient, dependent, passive, incomplete, malleable, without agency: the child needing…surveillance, regulation and control”.[xi]

Peter Moss is describing children in general, but child care is primarily about poor children, poor in terms of health, wealth and social capital. Read in this light the children that were written about and cared for in my study are very poor children indeed. The data are a revelation of the prevailing ideologies of childhood.

My re-reading of the data left me feeling constricted: I longed for any evidence that the children are, as it were, allowed to breathe, to laugh, to play, to sing, and to flourish.

(3) Cost and the Logic of Economics

Some may wonder why I have taken so long to get to what historians like Eric Hobsbawm would see as the nub of the issue! Whatever may be written, and however enlightened the theories, there is, as Karl Marx would not have been shy to point out, an underlying economic logic or structure. In this context it is not irrelevant to point out that the European and indeed world political discourse has for some time been virtually monopolised by economics!

The children looked after by the kirk sessions, the Poor Law authorities, local authorities and voluntary organisations were predominantly poor.

The systems, and the people who administered them, whatever their motives, were wrestling with the inexorable pressures of poverty.

And they were responding in ways that were as cost effective as possible: that is the bottom line, sometimes stated, but always held in mind.

This is a truth that should be universally acknowledged: no organisation or system sets out to help children irrespective of cost. But it has not always been given due weight in the histories that have been written. Horrible and offensive though it is to say it, the high rate of baby deaths in workhouses and poorhouses had a positive effect on the balance sheet.

Let me give one or two rather less emotive illustrations of the role of economics in child care provision.

In 1851 the Managers of the Poor, St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, compared the respective merits of three types of child care: boarding out (foster care), residential care and Industrial Schools.

They used five categories in their analysis: social status (stigma), moral and religious principles, education, industrial habits, bodily situation/hygiene.

Industrial schools came out as the best option on all scores. But guess what: all the children were then boarded out! Why? Was it cheaper, I wonder? It cost in the region of 2s/4d a week, compared to 4s/6p in poorhouses, and more in Industrial Schools. (25 p as against 50p!)

A detailed study done in Edinburgh in 1904 compared two different types of provision for children in Glasgow and Govan. It concluded that, though more expensive, the provision in Stobhill Hospital for children should be followed with these words:

“Your sub-committee consider that the well-being of the children outweighs the interest of capital expenditure, as there is even financially the ultimate gain of accruing in lives ever so little towards a higher plane.”

The foundation stone was laid on 11 March 1913, but the plans never came to fruition.[xii]

The Poor Law is one of the most pervasive influences on child care in the UK, and has, of course, to do with much more than economics and poverty. Yet think of the brute economics of the system. In some workhouses in England in the 19th century children made up 30% of the population. Yet what were the principles guiding the operation of these institutions? Less eligibility and the workhouse test: everything was done to make life uncomfortable in order to deter people from entering the places! What sort of setting is that for children? And who even asked about them. We have the simple triumph of economics. And when children are boarded out in families or voluntary homes, the economic case for both is transparently obvious.

(4) The Motif of Separation (thanks to Foucault)

Those familiar with the work of Foucault, especially on madness, know of his argument that there is a deep-seated imperative that leads to the separation and classification of people into types. It is not possible to read the data in my research today without seeing the underlying desire of a society to separate its poor children from the rest of society. This happened by boarding out (into far-flung parts of Scotland), by placement in poorhouses and later by placement in children’s homes. Let me try to identify some of the elements of this thinking and ideology.

(4.1) The fear of contagion

Rarely did things get spelt out as clearly as the St Cuthbert’s Parish Managers’ Report of 1852:

“It has to be kept in mind that the children to whom this question relates, are pauper children. They are the offspring generally of the most debased class of society. Their hereditary and acquired dispositions and principles are in consequence of the worst and most pernicious kind. Now to disseminate such children over the country is in some measure to sow it with the seeds of moral evil. Their vicious principles and example are calculated to contaminate all they meet with their presence, and will, in consequence tend to spread demoralization wherever they reside.”[xiii]

The location and organisation of all child care, including children’s homes and children’s villages, cannot be understood unless and until one realises this perspective. Whatever is done must be considered not only in terms of the perceived effects on the children, but also on the rest of society. Think of uniforms, of crocodile formations, of regulated visits.

(4.2) The attraction of “clean new starts”

Another side of this fear of contagion is the desirability of clean air, and well-run institutions. This is well known and we do not need to detain ourselves here. Think of reports on George Muller’s Homes, or the Bridge of Weir.[xiv]

Thus it was that children of a very young age were placed in care (of various sorts). Residential nurseries were established in Edinburgh in 1936. And I observed how they ran during my research in the late 1960s. They were run by nursery nurses, and the staff told me how different the conditions were from those from which the children had come. It was deemed that children of an early age (under fives) are not prejudicially affected by institutional life! [xv]

Residential schools for the poor, usually called hospitals, were a feature of Scottish welfare from the 17th and 18th centuries. These offered the boys and girls who gained places new starts in life.[xvi]

Voluntary children’s homes began in large measure as an alternative to the poorhouses: separating children from other paupers; but they also separated them from neighbourhoods and communities as well as families.

(4.3) Emigration

This has received much attention since I completed my research, but this very dramatic form of separation was practised throughout the child care system in Scotland and England. So in 1834, 6 boys, and 5 girls leaving St Cuthbert’s poorhouse went to the USA. That was 15% of the total.[xvii]

(4.4) Gender separation and life chances

One form of separation that is taken for granted is that between the genders. All children, male and female, tended to be from poor families and communities, but their life chances differed depending on whether they were male or female. The care system, whether in Scotland or England, was in effect training girls to be domestic servants.[xviii] There is a lively concern with education and apprenticeships especially in Scotland, but all girls were destined to be servants, so the quality and level for them was basic.

(4.5) Separation between residential and field staff

At the time of my research, the era of the Children’s Departments was coming to a close, and social work was about to dawn, hence the terminology. What is clear to me now, but was not at the time, is that the very deep perceived status and professional gap between the two groups reflected, among other things, the substantial nature of the separation of the children from their families and communities.[xix] There was a similar sense of isolation or separation of the residential staff from their organisations and headquarters. This mirrored, and possibly increased, the sense of separation that the children felt.[xx]

(4.6) Separation of staff from rest of the world/life

Staff who lived in children’s homes told me that they felt cut off from everyday normal life. And this was obviously a reflection of the reality of the nature of the life of the home and children.[xxi] In 1852 a Board of Supervision Report set out sound principles that should undergird boarding out: yet hundreds of children for over 100 years found themselves in settings that separated them from what it described as “domestic intercourse”, companionship of peers, and everyday life in a household.[xxii]

(4.7) Separation of child and staff in homes from the life story

It may surprise us to know that there was a very lively debate in the 1950s over whether staff in children’s homes should be told about the life stories or backgrounds of the children for whom they cared. The reason? The fear that this might prejudice them against the children. One member of staff told me that she had not known when she worked for Barnardo’s whether children had parents or not. So entry into a children’s home for a child meant that the separation from home and community might be reinforced by a loss of a shared personal story.[xxiii]

(5) The Place of Formal Religion in Residential Child Care

The pattern of life in all types of care stressed the importance of religious training and observance. At Daniel Stewarts, Edinburgh for example, on a Sunday, you would have one hour of religious teaching and attend two services, lasting 2 hours and 1 ¾ hours respectively. Red House Home Report confirms that this is common.[xxiv]

But the very existence and size of children’s homes cannot be understood without reference to formal religion. The influx of Irish Roman Catholic immigrants from the 1846 famine onwards helps to explain the growth of Roman Catholic orphanages such as Smyllum. By 1910 Smyllum in Lanarkshire had 700 children in it. Why so big? Because there were so many Roman Catholic children needing care, and not enough suitable boarding out[xxv] places in R.C. families.

When I interviewed staff in 1970 the place of Christian faith was assured: children went to church, and children were encouraged in the Christian faith.

None of this seemed anything other than normal or reasonable at the time. I found little or no trace of anyone questioning such assumptions.

(6) The Influence of Training and Theory on Practice

Come to think of it, this was an underlying theme of my research! And what did I find? That it was only in one or two cases in 1970 that I saw the effect of healthy theory in practice. There was a Barnardo’s home, Blackford Brae in Edinburgh, where the house-parents assisted by the headquarters staff, tried to work out, and through, a form of therapeutic child care. It was the outstanding example in the whole of my work.[xxvi]

And the residential nurseries were closed very soon after I studied them: Bowlby would have been mightily relieved. All the evidence I gathered in, and from them, confirmed his research: however well-run, and however good the staff, they had prevented bonding between biological parents and their children, and also between others who might have become significant in the children’s lives. Video clips would have revealed all the tell-tale signs of separation-anxiety.

(7) Forgotten Housefathers

And now what may come to some as a complete surprise: a chapter of my thesis was on housefathers in children’s homes.[xxvii] And I realise that this section is likely to be of considerable historical interest. They are liminal figures all round, and in many ways keep the whole thing going. In the ideological contrast between institutional care and family foster care, they are invisible. They are not paid; they are not line managed.

They are the forerunners of fathers in foster homes, of course: in the system, but not of it. They represent the cooks, the handymen and the gardeners in therapeutic communities and large homes: without formal roles in relation to the children, and therefore tending to be much more attractive and less-threatening to relate to.

Perhaps they could be said to be representatives of the great traditional truth that we neglect at the peril of our children and our societies, that it takes a whole village to raise a child. They are the hidden villagers; the unsung heroes (and, in some cases, no doubt, villains). Once we move from services to spaces, we open up the possibilities of an untold number of roles and variations.

This reminds me that the Children’s Officers in Hull and Edinburgh used to go on holiday with some of the children in their care, and that I found an early example of what has been called ‘corporate parenting’ in Hull in 1593. It was originally called Cloth Hall, and later Charity Hall. This is a fine example of a ‘village’ seeing how different people could combine their resources to help raise poor children.[xxviii]


Returning the Gaze through the Eyes of Korczak and Ramabai

So these are just seven selected and necessarily sketchy reflections on the research. What does one do about it? How do you learn from it so that you are wiser, and your understanding and relationships with children are more sensitive and insightful?

Looking back on my study reminded me that although I have long been interested in the pivotal roles of vision and leadership in residential child care, my data did not lead me to people or places (with the one notable exception I have mentioned) where I could develop my thinking.

So I am led to pose the question about where and how some of the great pioneers in the field of residential child care and education might have related to the narrative that I have been drawing from. For the benefit of children now and in the future we must have those who will be prepared to swim against the tide, to pioneer new forms of child-friendly spaces in what is always a changing social and cultural context. Where and who are the pioneers today: not the lecturers and writers, but those engaged in daily practice and reflecting on it?

Some of you know that I listed and described many of the giants on whose shoulders we stand in a paper delivered at a SIRCC Conference in Glasgow in June 2007.[xxix]

With them in mind I find myself with a host of unresolved questions:

Could any of my heroes and heroines have survived in the places and systems I have described?

Is a children’s home that is part of a bigger department or organisation already compromised?

How can a state or profession create a coherent vision of care which does not stifle individual gifts, and contradict local conditions?

Where would these people be today and what would they be doing?

How are their practice models, examples and inspiration being transmitted today?

What is happening to training today?

It takes a whole village to raise a child: has this got anything to do with corporate parenting?

Two of these pioneers have been of particular importance to me for different reasons:

Janus Korczak, from Poland

Pandita Ramabai, from India.

I guess that you will have your own: it might be worth listing them and comparing notes, but use your favourites for this final exercise.

Let me close by looping back on history, and imagining today’s scene through the eyes of two of these pioneers. What would the pioneers have made of today’s scene, I wonder? This is an exercise in imagination, and what I say is intended to open up the process, not define it.

(1) The Marginalisation of Children

It might be argued that post the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and extensive work on Safeguarding Children, the Voice of the Child in Care and so on, we have learned from history and got this one right at least. In the spirit of our times we are poised to tick that box! But that would be to lack both the necessary understanding of our contemporary world, and also the appropriate humility.

UNICEF reports on the well-being of children in the UK are not encouraging. Were these pioneers around today how would they operate in the outcome-driven, tick-box culture which we have allowed to develop? What is the lot of poor children in their own homes and neighbourhoods? How central are they to the main economic and political discourses? How much attention is being paid as we focus on the Euro crisis, on the legacy we may be leaving to future generations? Is the commissioning of children’s services a model appropriate to the creation and support of the village that it takes to raise a child?[xxx] When will we listen to what children and young people say about the positives of residential care, for example?

I hear the voices of Korczak and Ramabai leading a chorus of UK pioneers asking: where are the living practice examples and models of places where children are in the midst? Where are the radical challenges to the whole system and systems, that are lived out alongside children and young people? I hear Korczak on the railway station platform with the oppressive totalitarian Nazi regime seemingly fully triumphant and squeezing everything and everyone into its vicious mould challenging the system. And then stepping forward, so that, in the ultimate marginalisation that was to take them to the gas chambers, he was with them.

(2) The Meaning of Childhood

What of the risk-averse culture that surrounds childhood? How child-friendly would these pioneers find our ways of life? With possibly the major effort and energy going into child protection (Is that all we now have to offer? I have been asked), are we not in danger of restricting children’s spaces? How are they to enjoy learning from mistakes as well as achievements? We now have notices warning the children that nettles sting, and brambles prick. Where will it end, I wonder? What do these signs tell us about our view of childhood, I wonder? At a period in history when the development of electronic communication draws children and young people to screens of varying shapes and sizes, how well are we doing when it comes to spontaneous, active outdoor play? What and who are prepared to confront the consumer-driven exploitation of children, young people?

I see Ramabai playing with children in the garden of her sadan, I see them on the roof under the canopy of the night sky wondering at the constellations, I hear them splashing in the river and the sea. Whatever the meaning of childhood it is a precious gift to the whole of a society, and we are to be alongside children and young people wondering with them, laughing and playing with them, as together we explore the meaning of life, death, the micro-worlds of insects, and the macro-worlds of outer space.

(3) Cost and the logic of economics

We find ourselves wrestling with the imperative and logic of poverty and economics, however we try to massage the figures and the reality.

We like to think that we have left Poor Law thinking and categories behind. But that is far easier said than done. The shadow of the principle of less eligibility hangs over all that we do. This is where we need and welcome the observations of those from other nations and cultures on the British scene. The pioneers knew all about economic realities, and they found ways to create the spaces they needed to operate in what they saw to be people-friendly ways.

I see the smile on the faces of Korczak and Ramabai as they hear us talk of the economic pressures of our societies past and present. They knew better than us the harsh, grinding realities of poverty and wealth: the inescapable links between the two. And yet they found ways of realising their visions, by generating wealth financial and social. Is it possible, I imagine them thinking, to realise a children’s republic in a state system? Or is it necessary to operate outside the formal machinery of state to live with complete integrity among, with and for children?

(4) The Motif of Separation (thanks to Foucault)

We would like to think that we have moved on from a fear of contagion, but this is not so obvious when we consider the juvenile justice system.

We have realised the impossibility of clean starts thanks in the main to attachment theory. But have we been overly attracted to behaviour therapy and management, as distinct from psychotherapy?

We are probably happiest when we think of the progress we have made with gender, but have found the prevalence of teen-age pregnancy adversely affects the life-chances of many females in the care system.

Why has parenting become seen as that which can only be done by biological or substitute parents? Where is the whole village in contemporary British child care?

I think I trace a smile on the faces of Ramabai and Korczak: yes, this analysis is sound, they seem to imply. And everything we tried to do can be seen as an attempt to combat such separations. Korczak is remembered as the carer whose memorial in Jerusalem is in the form of a single piece of wood in which he is united with the children with whom he lived. Ramabai’s whole vision was of an inclusive community where human relationships were restored in a space that she had so carefully, patiently and lovingly created near the great city of Pune.

(5) The Place of Formal Religion in Residential Child Care

We do not give formal religion anything like the prominence it had, beyond trying to match children and carers in the most basic of ways. This raises the question of what we might venerate and sacralise in its place. The sacred in any group or society is often invisible to the insiders, but palpably obvious to the visitors and strangers. Are contracts and individual packages of care, independence and autonomy worshipped at the expense of social and communal interdependence? Has a visit to the shopping mall replaced the attendance at church services? What is the routine today?

I have pondered how Korczak and Ramabai would have responded to such thinking and questions. What is clear to me is the piercing awareness each had of the manifestations of the sacred in all societies and social groups, and their determination to allow space for each child to explore everything from the recesses of their hearts and to the infinity of life beyond death, without fear. They saw beyond the confining orthodoxies that so beset the human species.

(6) The Influence of Training and Theory on Practice

How coherent is our philosophy of childhood, education and care? Attachment theory: relationships; the use of self in therapy; therapeutic communities.

There is a wealth of wisdom and experience: why do we find it so hard to use it?

There is a corporate lack of memory, and inability to learn lessons from history: short-termism. Where has our corporate memory gone? It seems as if social work as some of us understood it is a relic of history.

Our failure to embrace social pedagogy and the continuing separation of care from education suggest that we have still not learnt from the residential schools. Why does education and learning suffer so much when children are looked after?

Like all the great pioneers Ramabai and Korczak had an insatiable appetite for learning, especially with and through children. They searched libraries and academic disciplines for working models, and then sought to put them into practice, always ready to modify them in the light of critical reflection, and with the active engagement of children and young people. But they saw that there is no single discipline that does justice to the nature of childhood: properly speaking it must in some way embrace all disciplines.

(7) Forgotten Housefathers

How well do we connect what we are trying to do with other areas of civic and social life? We have units dotted around towns and cities, but are they actually isolated? Do they actively engage in the life of their communities? And vice-versa? One person, one vote. Individual packages of care. How vibrant is our life together? Communities? Peer groups? We are strong on human rights, but what effect does this have on civic and social life?

I wonder if it is in this sort of role that the pioneers would have chosen for themselves! Both Ramabai and Korczak sought to create villages: social spaces in which there was a role and place for everyone, all aspects of social life. And their lives are testimonies to the creative ways in which they welcomed the contributions of those that other systems might have excluded. What they had in mind was more like a compost heap than a bee-hive!


This paper has been an essay on the subject of learning from history. Looking back to see what others did and, more importantly, assumed about child care. And then allowing two representatives from the giants on whose shoulders we stand to return the gaze on our own time, our assumptions, values and practice.

As you have no doubt gathered, it has been a rather personal journey of discovery about what I took for granted just forty years ago!

You have allowed me to indulge in this way, and I welcome your constructive critical reflection. It is never easy to look at ourselves with sufficient distance to enable critical reflection. But I hope you see how valuable the exercise might be, even if I have not demonstrated it adequately.

I have spent a goodly part of the past ten years trying to set out a coherent philosophy of child care, at the same time as trying to practise it. (I think you can work out which is the more challenging task!) It can be found in the book The Growth of Love and its companion Reflections on Living with Children. It occurs to me that I am still trying to distil and set out not only what I have learned from daily interactions with children, but also from history. And in time The Growth of Love will become history. But its purpose was to learn more so that what we think and how we live is better suited to the gifts and needs of the children and young people with whom we live.

We owe it to children today as well as future generations at the very least to record our thoughts and our dreams. Who knows if and when it will be read: but at least we tried. The conditions may not have been of our own making, but we have attempted to do our best.

Most of you will know the poem History Lesson by Steve Turner:

History repeats itself.

Has to.

No one listens.

Perhaps we are bucking that universal and vicious circle today. Thank you for listening!


[i] Keith J. White, “Residential Child Care Past and Present” University of Edinburgh, M. Phil. 1973

[ii] No doubt much has been written since I did my research at Edinburgh University from 1969-1973, and I deliberately tried to work directly from my limited data in order to reflect on them directly: without the mediation as it were of other research.

[iii] My focus was on Scotland, but I drew from England too, and what I say here will encompass data from both countries.

[iv] It was probably not until 1925 that the idea that the welfare of the child was paramount was first articulated. 1925 Guardianship of Infants Act (15 & 16 Geo V c 45)

[v] Jonas Hanway, An Earnest Appeal for Mercy to the Children of the Poor, London 1766; also Parliamentary Report 1767, PP Vol XXXI (Nov 11th 1766-March 10th 1768, pages 248/9

[vi] 1835 St Cuthbert’s Minutes, page 64

[vii] There are some excellent and moving reports including those by Lady Davenport-Hill, London 1889, Hannah Archer

[viii] The most obvious example to illustrate this point would be Histoire de la Folie, 1961. There are uncanny parallels between the history of how society treated lepers and those then deemed mad, and the treatment of orphans and poor children, including sending them abroad on ships.

[ix] Keith J. White, pages 401-404

[x] Keith J. White, page 445

[xi] Peter Moss, From Children’s Services to Children’s Spaces in Keith J. White (ed) The Changing Face of Child Care, NCVCCO 2000, page 21.

[xii] 1904 Edinburgh Minutes, Appendix, page 3. See Keith J. White 80-84.

[xiii] Keith J. White, page 52

[xiv] Report on Mullers, Keith J. White page 121

[xv] Keith J. White page 82

[xvi] Keith J. White pages 26/7

[xvii] 1835 St Cuthbert’s Minutes, page 64 See Keith J. White page 62.

[xviii] Keith J. White pages 62-63

[xix] Keith J. White page 165

[xx] Keith J. White page 253

[xxi] Keith J. White page 442

[xxii] Keith J. White pages 57/8

[xxiii] Keith J. White page 185

[xxiv] 1874 Report of the Red House Home (page 8) See Keith J. White, page 77.

[xxv] Boarding out (local or distant) included placement in voluntary homes (notably Roman Catholic orphanages) 20% in later 19th century…Keith J. White page 56

[xxvi] Keith J. White pages 459/60

[xxvii] Keith J. White pages 427- 439

[xxviii] Keith J. White pages 98/9

[xxix] Parts of the paper were published in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care (2007 and 2008), and the whole paper is available on Issue 91/July 2007, and in Reflections on Living with Children, pages 163-174.

[xxx] I still find the Barnardo’s project in Somerset compelling: a whole community needs to be involved, but that requires a non-contract model of operation. A. Newman et al “Removing Disabling Barriers and Promoting Inclusion” in Children and Social Exclusion, Keith J. White (ed) NCVCCO 1999 pages 109-123

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