The Key Texts: What Did Not Get In

Inspired perhaps by Keith White (2007), in spring 2008 David Lane raised with me the possibility of a sponsored series on child care classics for Children Webmag and, in response to my first offering, proposed the format of citation, key themes, content, discussion and references which became the standard format.

The idea was to make available summaries of texts from the past of which child care policy makers, managers, practitioners and researchers should be, but were very often not, aware. It was eventually agreed that the cut-off year would be 1990 on the grounds that it was reasonable to expect anything significant published thereafter to be readily available.

The series began in November 2008 with sponsorship from the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care and 52 articles were published. Only Bruno Bettelheim and Clare Winnicott appeared twice in the series, on the grounds that the issues he addressed in Love is not enough and A home for the heart and those she addressed with her husband in Residential treatment as management for difficult children and on her own in The training and recruitment of staff for residential work are significant and significantly different.

Among the early casualties from the many ideas for the series were Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones on the grounds that, though it addresses child care issues, in particular illegitimacy which was only abolished in England and Wales in 1989, it could not be regarded as having been significant for child care workers and Ellen Key’s The century of the child, on the grounds that eugenics, notwithstanding the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act and the influence of Sir Cyril Burt, did not have a significant influence on child care in general. Felix Biestek’s The casework relationship was omitted on the grounds that, though influential among fieldworkers, it did not appear to have had a significant effect on child care practice. Another early departure was Janusz Korczak who, though his ideas have influenced people, is not represented by an English text which could form the basis for an article; the same applies to Hermann Gmeiner, the founder of SOS Children’s Villages.

As the series progressed other people’s views were canvassed and some key texts prompted new ideas for the series. Two people who did not make the final cut were Christopher Beedell with Residential life with children and Henry Maier, in spite of their influence on child care workers in the 1960s and 1970s. Like Robert Tod’s two collections on Children in care and Disturbed children and Maurice Bridgeland’s Pioneer work with maladjusted children, their contributions were more in synthesising ideas and in passing them on than in striking out in new directions. So, however, useful their texts at the time, it appeared more useful to focus on those who had been the sources of the ideas.

Another possibly surprising omission, given his prominence in therapeutic child care, is Richard Balbernie’s Residential work with children. Though this text describes the foundations for his work, it seemed better represented by David Wills’s Spare the child than by Balbernie’s own book.

However, the ideas people came up with rarely ended fruitlessly; researching Henry Maier’s texts, I was reminded of and revisited Gisela Konopka’s The adolescent girl in conflict – a book I had read in the 1960s without any real idea of its significance. Re-reading it was mind-blowing because here in a single book were encapsulated virtually all the issues that later writers had identified in relation to girls in care. Unlike many of the other texts where key ideas remain significant but the context has changed, much of the context for and the issues that affect girls in care have changed little.

Similarly, reading the books published by Mia Kellmer-Pringle, none of which stood out individually, prompted the mini-series on the National Child Development Study and, of course, she was responsible for initiating the Who cares? study (Page and Clark, 1977). Two other names from that period, Barbara Dockar-Drysdale and Jean Packman are not represented, the first because her ideas are scattered across papers and, unlike for example Lennhoff (1960), never pulled them together into a comprehensive account of her approach, and the second because her work was superseded by, for example, Rowe et al. (1989) who were included in the series.

A number of texts published after 1990 were suggested but not considered in order to preserve the integrity of the original rationale for the series.

Though the bulk of the research for the series was done in two major periods, before the launch of the series and after the wider canvassing of ideas, so that it was possible to compare and contrast most of the ideas before final decisions about inclusion, other people would almost certainly have made some different decisions and on another occasion I might make different recommendations.

But I hope that the selection has been comprehensive enough to cover all the ideas of which anyone in child care needs to be aware in order to make informed decisions about their work, whatever their actual involvement.

See the News Views comment on the series.


Lennhoff, F G (1960) Exceptional children: residential treatment of emotionally disturbed boys at Shotton Hall London: George Allen & Unwin See also Children Webmag August 2010.

Page, R and Clark, G A (Eds) (1977) Who cares? Young people in care speak out London: National Children’s Bureau See also Children Webmag December 2008.

Rowe, J, Hundleby, M and Garnett, L (1989) Child care now: a survey of placement patterns Research Series 6 London: BAAF Publications See also Children Webmag April 2010.

White, K J (2007, July) On the shoulders of giants: inspiring leaders of residential child care Children Webmag the-shoulders-of-giants-inspiring-leaders-of-residential-child-care

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