‘Troubled and Troublesome’ by Masud Hoghughi

Masud Hoghughi (1978) Troubled and troublesome: coping with severely disordered children London: Burnett/Deutsch 0 233 97040 1

Masud Hoghughi was head of psychology at Aycliffe approved school before being appointed Principal of the school in 1970 in succession to John Gittins, who in 1942 had moved from the Home Office Inspectorate to open the first approved school classifying unit at the school. Hoghughi remained Principal for 22 years.

John Gittins had refused to establish a secure unit at Aycliffe Classifying School in the 1960s when the other secure units had been established (Cawson and Martell, 1979) but a decade later the increase in admissions to residential care which had, unexpectedly, followed the implementation of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 and the difficulties some residential establishments had encountered in dealing with difficult behaviour led to the decision to convert Royston House, one of the existing houses at Aycliffe, into a secure unit.

As Hoghughi points out, there was almost nothing to guide him in this enterprise, as Cawson and Martell’s research was unfinished at the time that Royston House opened. So Troubled and troublesome was one of the first attempts to describe the reality of running a secure unit, which was also the first one in a former approved school to be designed to accommodate girls (Red Bank had been adapted to accommodate Mary Bell).

In the first six chapters he considers the unit and the children and in the last four the wider issues relating to their management.

Key Points

  • Children who exhaust the toleration of those caring for them end up going from facility to facility.
  • A cycle of ignorance and the restatement of problems in new terminology characterise responses to the small number of severely disordered children.
  • Children become severely disordered because they are dealt with inadequately and haphazardly.
  • The existing training is inadequate for staff dealing with disordered children.
  • While children in open conditions were overwhelmingly referred for assessment, children in secure conditions were also referred for absconding, behaviour and suicide attempts.
  • Girls in secure conditions were more likely to have problems with their mothers and all children in secure conditions were more likely to have problems with their fathers and to have been sexually assaulted.
  • Girls expressed stronger positive and negative feelings about their families.
  • Girls were less likely to be offenders but were more likely to be shoplifters or serious offenders than the boys.
  • Children in secure conditions were more likely to have personality difficulties, to have had behaviour problems at school and to have been in a school for maladjusted children or a hospital unit.
  • Children in secure conditions had a higher incidence of suspected brain damage, enuresis and encopresis.
  • Girls were more likely to have unpredictable mood swings, which would affect the other girls, and to be explosive and aggressive.
  • Children in secure conditions were more likely to have fantasies, to smile easily, to be boastful about misdemeanours, to be disliked and to try to manipulate their peers.
  • Though the girls were more rejecting of attempts to manage their behaviour, they were more susceptible to group pressure and less disliked than the boys in secure conditions whose behaviour overall was more ‘odd’.
  • 1 in 7 children in secure conditions have a learning disability.
  • The prognoses for boys in secure conditions were significantly worse than those for the girls, which were worse than those for boys in open conditions.
  • Since staff cannot be saints, staff teams need to have a balance of all the qualities needed to care for children in secure conditions.
  • Qualified staff are no more competent than unqualified in dealing with children.
  • Children need a structured environment and staff autonomy; the questions are: how structured? and how much autonomy?
  • Moving staff periodically to other units gives them the chance to recuperate and creates a pool of staff experienced at working in secure conditions.
  • Is the problem for disordered children not that they cannot observe boundaries but that they fail to see them and are never helped to see them?
  • Interventions in education fail because they rely too much on exclusion.
  • Interventions by the medical profession fail because their diagnoses do not give clear indications for treatment.
  • Interventions by the social services fail because their focus is on disadvantage, relationships and ‘deeper’ problems than on difficult behaviour.
  • There is lack of clarity about the use of secure conditions and their effectiveness but they are always costly and there is no evidence that the more costly facilities are more effective in reducing delinquency.
  • Secure conditions can never adequately meet the needs of children and there is always the risk of abusive procedures being used.
  • Children in secure provision have at the very least a right to ‘due process’, including the creation of a treatment plan for them before they are admitted.


In the Preface Masud Hoghughi notes that he had almost nothing to guide him when he proposed the opening of a secure unit but he did have support from the Department of Health and Social Security, the Managers of the school and Durham County Council.

In Chapter 1 Introduction, he sets out how some children appear to be able to exhaust the toleration and coping ability of those around them and end up going from facility to facility –  something which happens in all western countries. Their number appears to be increasing and the feelings of helplessness and inadequacy that they generate in staff (exacerbated by lack of knowledge of what works) mean that staff often end up operating in survival mode.

While developments in the UK have been characterised by piecemeal innovation and temporary fashions, there have been multifariously confused responses in the US. Policy makers tend to assume that practitioners can implement their ideas while practitioners assume that policy makers know what they are doing and this leads to a ‘mutually reinforcing cycle of ignorance’ (p. 17) in which the ‘restatement of problems in new terminology is confused with solutions’ (pp. 17-18). This goes on because it affects only a small number of children who have no voice and who are socially stigmatised anyway.

He argues that certain children are as they are because of the ‘inadequacy of the interventions in the course of their development’ (p. 18). In particular, they are dealt with haphazardly whereas, to deal with a problem rationally, you need:

  • a description of the problem
  • understanding of the problem which gives you the ability to explain it
  • the ability to manage the problem.

When children are admitted, they have to try to deal with own problems, their peer group, being in a secure unit and staff perceptions of them. Staff need to understand the dynamics of interaction. Unfortunately, the existing training has not made much impact on the quality of their identification of children’s needs or of the processes which lead to children reaching end of line. People need to recognise the problems involved in assessing children and that even children who are locked up have rights.

In Chapter 2 The context of the study, he notes that Aycliffe School is one of six regional assessment facilities and that it has shifted the focus of its work from assessment to treatment, not least because social workers tend to take ‘extreme’ measures only when a crisis has been reached.

The assessment centre accommodates 60 children in four houses, one of which is secure and to which, except for children convicted of grave crimes, admission is at the discretion of Aycliffe. After assessment, children may be moved to more open conditions and it is rare for a child to return to secure conditions.

An existing house had been converted because of financial constraints to provide accommodation for twelve children, including up to six girls, but it often held more. Meals were taken in the general dining room outside the unit and the children also participated in other activities outside the unit. The unit had been given a higher level of furnishings, fittings and equipment and had a higher staffing level of fourteen including the Team Leader. They maintained a balance of the sexes and aimed to have three staff on duty at all times, though that could vary.

An important focus of the study was to compare the responses of the different sexes. The unit had been opened in May 1973 and the first girl admitted in June 1974. So the sample of girls was those placed from then to the end of 1976; sixty one girls had been admitted and one re-admitted, giving a sample of 62. A second sample consisted of the next boy to be admitted after a girl and a third sample consisted of boys admitted to open conditions who were matched to the girls in the sample. The main data sources were data cards and assessment reports and though there were problems in codifying the data because of the ways individual staff interpreted how they should record things, there was consistency in the fact that information on each child was coordinated by one member of staff.

In Chapter 3 Who are the extreme children? he begins by noting that they had 60 emergency requests for placement to every planned placement; 37% of the girls came from their local observation and assessment centre, 26% from other children’s establishments and 21% from home. In contrast 30% of the boys in secure conditions came from other children’s establishments, 22% from a detention or remand centre, 19% from local observation and assessment centres and 19% from home; 32% of the boys in open conditions came from home, 21% from their local observation and assessment centre and 18% from former approved schools.

Girls were most likely to referred for assessment (42%), absconding (26%), behaviour (21%) or because they were suicidal (10%) whereas boys in secure conditions were most likely to be referred for behaviour (40%), absconding (34%), assessment (16%) or because they were suicidal (5%). 87% of boys in open conditions were referred for assessment. Those in secure conditions were more likely to come from council housing or overcrowded conditions; otherwise, their environments were similar, though girls were more likely to have come from materially good homes. However, none of their problems related to material or financial poverty and there were no significant differences in the family situations of the different samples.

The parents of boys in open conditions were slightly less likely to have long-standing marital problems and were half as likely to have experienced a separation from their parents. While half of the girls had a sibling in care and their mothers were more likely to be disabled, mentally ill, rejecting or uncooperative, apart from being more likely to have a disabled mother, boys in secure conditions had fewer problems than boys in open conditions.

The fathers of children in secure conditions were more likely to be drinkers, violent, unemployed or rejecting; the girls’ mothers were more likely to be offenders and the girls’ fathers more likely to have been in prison, but overall the offending of all the boys’ fathers was similar. The siblings of the children in secure conditions were more likely to be in care, on probation or under supervision. Only the children in secure conditions reported having been victims of sexual assaults.

The girls were slightly more likely to have spent time away from their parents than the boys and the girls expressed stronger positive and negative feelings towards their families than did the boys.

The children in secure conditions were more likely to have absconded than those in open conditions but that needed to be seen as a generalised response to their problems.

The children in secure conditions were more likely to have been illegitimate, to have wandered, or to have been fostered. They had fewer leisure activities than those in open conditions except that the girls had more hobbies than the boys but that still involved less than 20% of them anyway. The girls were less likely than the boys to have been offenders but more likely to have been shoplifters or serious offenders. Though 15% of the approved school population were re-committed, 19% of the girls and nearly double that of the boys in both secure and open conditions had been recommitted.

The children in secure conditions were more likely to have been in hospital unit or maladjusted school and to have been involved with the NSPCC, a child guidance clinic, or the school psychological service. They were more likely to have been in residential maladjusted schools, to have behaviour problems, to have been expelled/suspended, to have assaulted a teacher, especially the girls, and also to have been persistent absconders.

The girls were slightly less intelligent overall than the boys but there were more boys with very limited ability in secure conditions and there were more children with superior attainments in closed than in open conditions. Those in secure conditions had a wider range of personality difficulties including with group functioning but the girls had a wider range than the boys. They were more maladjusted and most showed specific clinical conditions which required treatment which had not been available where they had come from. They were more likely to have been referred to a psychiatrist and the girls were more likely to be suffering from a psychiatric disorder than the boys.

Around 15% of all children had suffered at least one serious injury and even more had had an operation, a rate higher than the population as a whole. More girls had tattoos but the girls were more likely to have done them themselves whereas the boys were more likely to have had them done professionally.

The children in secure conditions had a higher incidence of suspected brain damage, enuresis and encopresis and the boys were more likely to be epileptic. The girls received more than double the medical treatment and the prescriptions that the boys did. The question one is left with was how much their poor physical and mental condition had contributed to their poor adjustment.

In Chapter 4 Disordered children in groups, Masud records that on admission the girls were more suspicious and withdrawn and the boys more upset, but that the children in secure conditions generally settled more quickly, perhaps because of the effort made by staff. Children in secure conditions were more talkative but the girls had significantly more mood swings which affected all the other girls and to which there was no pattern. The girls were also more likely to be frustrated and to be explosive or aggressive when frustrated; these explosions could terrify others and contribute to them reaching breaking point.

All the children in secure conditions were more likely to have fantasies and the boys to mention a fantasy life; they were more likely to smile easily or to give mixed reactions but the boys in secure conditions were more likely to be surly. They were also more likely to be boastful about their misdemeanours.

The boys in secure conditions were more likely to be loners and the girls to be leaders or easily led, but children in open conditions were more likely to be leaders than loners or easily led. Those in secure conditions were less likely to be liked and more likely to be disliked while the girls were more likely to be feared than the children in open conditions.

The girls’ social perceptions were less accurate that the boys’ and the girls were more frequently in confrontations than the boys. There were few opportunities for inappropriate sexual behaviour and in any case the girls were generally more mature than the boys, whom they regarded with contempt. The children in secure conditions, particularly the girls, were more likely to engage in peer manipulation than those in open conditions.

The girls were more likely to be resentful and suspicious of staff and the children in secure conditions, especially the boys, were more likely to be attention-seeking than those in open conditions. However, the girls were more likely to make no relationships and to be manipulative but this did not prevent them from being liked by the staff; the boys in secure conditions were more likely to be disliked by staff than the girls or those in open conditions.

The girls were more rejecting of efforts to manage their behaviour but otherwise there were no significant differences in their responses; the girls were more responsive to peer group pressure and the boys in secure conditions were less so than children in open conditions. In other words, the boys in secure conditions are more ‘odd’ than the girls. The girls were less compliant and significantly more defiant than the boys but there was no pattern to this. There were no significant differences in the children’s responses to praise.

The girls were significantly more likely to challenge a sanction but as likely as boys in open conditions to accept it. The girls were more likely to be difficult to manage and the boys to be withdrawn.

A cluster analysis of types of behaviour from very difficult to withdrawn both for girls and for boys in secure conditions revealed that intensity of disorder is not always associated with management problems and even those with severe handling problems had areas of sanity and normality. Moreover, difficulty in managing children is not associated with adverse personal feelings towards staff while conformity and compliance does not mean that problems have been addressed.

Overall, the girls were far more complex and extreme while the conforming boys were often those who had committed the gravest crimes, who suffered from a variety of pathological states, who were not touched by group interaction or the adults around them and who simply slotted in.

In Chapter 5 Problems and needs of disordered children, he notes that children in secure conditions often have very poor physical health, especially, poor eyesight, weight problems, among the girls, and enuresis, among the boys. They are more likely to have intellectual problems with 1 in 7 having a learning disability.

The girls tended to have more problems with social relationships and to be severely aggressive and disruptive. The boys in secure conditions tended to be social misfits but none of those who had committed grave crimes was a bully. The children in secure conditions tended to have more emotional problems, with the girls having a more negative self-image than those in open conditions.

Interestingly, the assessments of the children in secure conditions focused on addressing these problems rather than any delinquency; in the end more girls were placed in children’s homes, foster homes or hostels but the other girls’ placements were like those of children in open conditions while the boys assessed in secure conditions were more likely to go to a former approved school or a maladjusted school than the girls or the boys in open conditions. However, the prognoses for the boys in secure conditions were significantly worse than those for the girls which were worse than for children in open conditions.

In Chapter 6 Coping with extreme children, he stresses the importance of the building and physical environment as aids to the management of difficult behaviour which ultimately relies on the staff about which very little is known. Staff should be physically competent and not afraid of physical contact, intellectually competent, personally stable, compassionate and sensitive but it is unrealistic to expect all staff to have all these qualities; so the deployment of staff needs to balance these qualities among the group.

Knocking residential care discourages the recruitment of high calibre staff, though qualified people are no more competent than unqualified in dealing with children. Moreover, there are no reliable or valid psychometric tests for staff and, because there is a lack of time for training on the job, staff tend to pick things up haphazardly from colleagues.

It is important to deploy staff so that they are not forced into survival mode when dealing with children. That involves creating a structured environment in which the question is not whether to have a structure but the degree of structure. Creative responses can create problems in handling disordered children but there needs to be some autonomy within any structure; the question is only: how much? Staff also need to be able to recuperate; so they are moved periodically from the secure unit to other units. This gives a greater pool of staff experienced in working in the secure facility.

Staff are supported both by enabling them and by monitoring them through frequent visits to the house by senior staff to prevent a build-up of feelings of isolation and to create frequent opportunities for both staff and children to talk informally and formally. There are also daily group meetings for the children. If the number of disordered children is increasing, the number of staff competent to deal with them also needs to be increased. He then goes on to argue that accountability is futile if staff are not given the support and resources to do the job; thankfully staff have not made the same mistakes repeatedly and have not reached the limit of their ability to cope.

He then considers some of the day-to-day issues in running the unit. He notes that a crisis is not the same as a conflict or a confrontation but unresolved confrontations may lead to crises between children, between children and staff (these are more likely to involve the girls) or in which children self-harm. In these cases, staff need to start with low key approaches and beware of the child losing face. A problem can arise where less experienced staff are unwilling to allow another member of staff to take over for fear of losing face. It is important that staff work in teams where they know each other and know how to work together. He notes that the girls were more likely to harbour resentment over something and to see a single criticism as calling into question the whole of themselves.

He advocates taking all self-harming gestures seriously and ensuring children get counselling afterwards; staff must not be so afraid of conflict that they do not stop a suicide.

He notes that any behaviour in a group is likely to affect the other girls more rapidly than the boys and can lead to behavioural epidemics. Sometimes disruptive behaviour includes attempted escapes which illustrate the problems of achieving a balance between care and public safety.

He argues that there are three stages in dealing with a crisis:

  • Curbing: which may involve restraint and where there is always the problem of staff over-reacting to the seriousness of situation; it is important to train staff to protect children and to make recording compulsory;
  • Reducing impact: dealing with the anxiety generated in other children;
  • Resolution: which may involve containing children or using physical touch as communication, which can create problems between men and girls, and providing the opportunity to talk through the crisis in order to prevent a recurrence.

In any crisis, staff need to distinguish short-term and long-term aims and remember that every intervention carries a cost, but there is no way of assessing the costs against the benefits. There is a general principle that one should preserve life at all costs but, beyond that, what?

In Chapter 7 What makes the children extreme? he considers possible answers beginning with heredity which he considers may be an explanation in the absence of other explanations. However, if it is heredity, that doesn’t change things for those seeking to manage the children, apart from alerting them to pay attention to biological factors.

He then notes that the children appear to have displayed these problems early in their lives; so did the families simply lack the resources to deal with them or fail to give the children’s needs a high priority? For example, if children test boundaries and get conflicting or inconsequential results, they may have difficulty seeing boundaries in the future. This is not the case with socialised delinquents who have a different set of boundaries from others.

Perhaps, when a child fails to observe boundaries at school and they are referred on, the problem is not observing boundaries but recognising those that have been set. Unfortunately, the police and the social services rarely make any attempt to establish clear boundaries for the child and so the child carries on to the ‘end of the line.’ Even when they reach the ‘end of the line’ they will continue to test the boundaries; they may vary their responses to external boundaries but it will take time to develop internal boundaries.

The problem often is that interventions are made on the basis of inadequate assessments and the failure of the interventions leads to passing from agency to agency. People intervene to satisfy public feelings about the need for intervention, professional ideologies and legislative demands. But to succeed an organisation needs the resources and competence to intervene.

Among the options for intervention there are particular difficulties in the educational, medical/psychiatric and social services areas. Education tends to rely too much on exclusion; the medical/psychiatric services need to have a reason to treat and frequently create problems for others if they say they cannot treat the child, and the social services are supposed to exercise care and control but are hampered by social workers’:

  • objectives which relate to disadvantage rather than behaviour,
  • practice which is based on relationships,
  • preference for ‘deeper’ social and family problems rather than the presenting problem.

In practice both social workers and the former approved schools create problems, the former by redefining the child’s problems and passing them on and the latter by using their own admission criteria to exclude children. Both lead to children having to wait or being handed round for treatment.

In fairness, however, to treat a child you need a definition of the task and resources and by the time a child reaches a former approved school the problem is often too difficult for them to deal with. The other problem is the concept of minimum intervention which means that often, when a social worker is asked why they didn’t refer earlier, they say that they were not expecting the problem to get as bad as it has. Only by redefining the problem will it be possible to stop buck passing.

In Chapter 8 Classification of disordered children, he notes that children are classified by people from birth and summarises the history of assessment centres. However, he argues that all too frequently they have been assessed in relatively similar situations rather than in a variety of situations.

Generally, social workers expect that an assessment will tell them what to do, give the young person a ‘short, sharp shock’ or allow them to satisfy a juvenile court or other expectation. He rejects the use of assessment as a temporary holding place and the arguments of Norman Tutt (1977) that assessment is impractical and observation and assessment centres are not effective, arguing instead that assessment is essential as it is the only source of evidence about children in need. He also rejects the psychiatric approach based on the International Classification of Diseases (World Health Organisation, 1967) which he describes as arbitrary and lacking any pointers to treatment.

He then presents his own approach, within which a problem is an unacceptable condition about which something should be done, noting that his approach also allows one to determine what is normal. He stresses the importance also of assessing the extent, intensity, duration and urgency of the problem and argues that among the advantages of the problem approach are that everybody can contribute; one does not have to assume a particular cause and one does not need a diagnosis.

In Chapter 9 Who is security for? he notes the amount of secure provision in the UK but adds that similar figures are not available in Germany or the US where its extent is hidden. Secure provision is assumed to be linked to an assessment of risk and may include medical and pharmacological restraint as well as positive environments or shackles and buildings. The last create problems when the time comes to expose children to increasing levels of freedom.

Security is justified for absconding, aggressive behaviour or behaviour which is a danger to oneself or others and when a child is beyond help in open conditions; it has been used for remands, punishment, assessment and treatment. However, the literature on existing facilities is mostly very superficial and people need to distinguish security on a range of variables from, for example, relative openness to high security, short and long-term or high and low resource. However, it is always expensive and there is no evidence that more costly forms are better at reducing delinquency.

Secure conditions always create anxiety and stress alongside a variety of other effects; it is difficult to provide for children’s physical needs in secure provision and security reduces the availability of emotional support. There is also the problem of secure facilities becoming more rigid over time and the need to maintain an open aspect to any secure facility. There is the risk of marginal or extreme forms of treatment in the absence of oversight, one reason for never admitting a child without a treatment plan.

In the end secure provision has to satisfy public demand, meet the needs of children and meet the needs of staff, especially through the training of specialists and the development of research.

In Chapter 10 Do disordered children have rights? he begins with a survey of the legislation and stresses the need for safeguards because even in the US where they have a ‘bill of rights’ it does not safeguard children. So far, all the attempts to define children’s rights have left official authority unchallenged in the case of disordered children.

Starting from the principle that children’s problems should not be worse at the end of an intervention, he notes that juvenile law denies children the protection of ‘due process’ –  something that can be provided in a non-judicial setting such as the children’s hearings in Scotland.

He notes the deficiencies in the six-monthly reviews set up under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 and the difficulties for parents in applying for the revocation of a Care Order as well as professionals’ resistance to reducing their autonomy and how system maintenance can become the most important factor in decision making.

But he argues that ‘due process’ can be shown through records of decisions, grounds for decisions, expected outcomes, inputs, outcomes compared with expectations and reasons for any discrepancy. If every school, child guidance clinic, psychiatrist, etc. had to go through this process before going to magistrates’ court, it would prevent people from passing the buck. It is important that agencies can show that everything has been done that could be done because then society would be much clearer about what it could expect of an agency. In practice, decisions are often taken in the name of treatment without any reference to fairness, justice or proportionality.

He suggests that all secure placements over two months should be subject to judicial review renewable every three months and that those seeking them should have to show ‘demonstrable and proportionately reasonable benefit to the child and the community’ (p. 262). Diligent adherence to due process is the very least that troubled children deserve.

In an Appendix, he reproduces an example assessment.


This book is a tour de force, breaking new ground and anticipating many later findings.  At the same time it was firmly rooted in the 1970s when the establishment of assessment centres under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969  and the decision by the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (1977) that the defining characteristics of a social worker were that they were involved in assessment and issues of liberty had made assessment the hot topic. Even then Hoghughi had moved with some of his colleagues in the old approved system to the recognition that assessment is merely the handmaiden of treatment which is central to the care of children.

He never really challenges the thesis that young people are getting worse, a thesis which Gibson (1971) had already challenged and Cawson and Martell (1979) were to challenge. But he does demonstrate how a small group of children whose behaviour society does not understand can repeatedly be victimised and have no redress for that victimisation, a theme which Blumenthal (1985), the architect of the building that replaced the original Royston House, was to take up.

He notes the inadequacy of existing training and the inability of qualified staff to handle these children any better than unqualified staff. There are a number of possible explanations for this.

  • Children who have suffered serious adverse experiences benefit less from ‘therapy’ than from the provision of a long-term caring and supportive environment (Clarke and Clarke, 1976).
  • Existing training focused more on short-term ‘therapy’ than on the creation of long-term caring environments.
  • Children in adoption (Tizard, 1977) and fostering (Berridge and Cleaver, 1987) benefit from being cared for by older adoptive or foster parents who have the tolerance and capacity to give greater attention to children.
  • Perhaps qualification was irrelevant because what both the qualified and the unqualified staff lacked was age and experience.

A number of the differences between the girls and the boys are now more clearly understood as related to girls’ development which tends to focus on relationships much more early than boys’ development (Archer, 1992). The girls’ greater responsiveness to group interaction suggests that they were no longer at the dependency stage (Wolins, 1973) and, by implication, that the girls might have benefited from a single sex unit more attuned to their developmental stage. It is noticeable that they were more likely than the boys to be returned to community settings.

However, the girls’ family situations more closely resembled those children identified by Rutter (1978) as being at risk: children living in poor housing conditions with a mentally ill mother and a criminal father – a point which supports Hoghughi’s assertion that the boys in secure provision were more ‘odd’ than the girls. The girls’ offending profiles also closely resembled those of adult female offenders (Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, 2004).

Moreover, if mothers do not play with their daughters, they are more likely to be deficient in peer group skills and more likely to be rejected at school and to have low attainments while girls who are subject to coercion are more likely to become victims and more likely to regard aggression as an effective strategy (Ladd, 2005).

So it would appear that the girls’ behaviour can be more easily explained than the boys’; they had suffered adverse experiences which resulted in them not obtaining the experience of a pro-social peer group in which to develop their understanding of relationships and to learn the norms of behaviour that girls in mainstream peer groups accept.

The finding that children in secure conditions had had more physical ailments may be significant in that hospital stays can remove children from peer groups for significant periods and so interrupt their social development. However, the figure of 1 in 7 with a learning disability is rather lower than the 20-30% found in a recent study of prisoners, including those under 18 (Talbot, 2008) .

His comment about inexperienced staff not allowing other staff to support them was to be explained by Vander Ven (1981); only when staff reach the second, or meso-system, level of understanding are they able to work as part of a group.

His suggestion that many of the children may not have received the level of attention at home which enabled them to progress developmentally was to be supported by Tizard (1977) who found that parents whose children had been restored to them failed to recognise or to provide for their children’s needs and that this accounted for much of their lack of progress compared with children who had been adopted or placed in long term foster care.

His hypothesis that it is not so much that the children who ended up in secure provision could not observe boundaries but that they did not perceive the boundaries that had been set for them may be original; cognitive developmental theory had hardly taken off in the UK and Hoghughi himself was not a member of that school. It is indirectly supported by the evidence that unpopular children fail to take account of the complexity of situations and blame uncontrollable factors in them (Erwin, 1998); in other words, they fail to see those factors in situations that will enable them to deal with them satisfactorily.

His critique of existing approaches to assessment is spot on but his alternative, a problem based approach, was very much a child of its time. Though problem-solving has made a comeback recently, it was all the rage in the 1970s, in part as a response to criticisms of the open-endedness of welfare programmes under the Johnson administration in the US. By tackling defined problems and demonstrating defined outcomes from those interventions, it was thought, you could answer the critics of welfare services. In fact, problem-solving approaches create as many problems as they solve, not least in terms of who is defining the problem (Checkland, 1999) and the fact that most ‘solutions’ simply create more problems (Vickers, 1981) .

His recognition of the need to protect the rights of children in secure provision was ahead of its time; the Who cares? project (Page and Clark, 1977) had only just published its report and it was to be another two years before the Poles initiated the process which eventually led to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. His hope that ‘due process’ might provide children with the protection they need may have been naive because he certainly underestimated the ingenuity of adults in ignoring or by-passing measures put in place to protect children (Levy and Kahan, 1991). But at least he was thinking about it at a time when it had hardly crossed anyone else’s mind to consider. Sadly, many of his strictures about the importance of protecting children from extreme measures appear to have gone unheeded with the passage of time as an enquiry into practices in the successor unit to Royston House was to reveal (Social Services Inspectorate, 1993) .

In some respects Masud Hoghughi is closer to Homer Lane and Anton Makarenko than to many of his contemporaries, fumbling at times in his efforts to find a new way of dealing with children in a completely new situation where there are no signposts and no literature to inform him what to do and yet animated like them by a deep concern for the young people in his care.


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Berridge, D and Cleaver, H (1987) Foster home breakdown The practice of social work 16 Oxford: Blackwell See also Children Webmag April 2010.

Blumenthal, G J (1985) The development of secure units in child care Aldershot: Gower See also Children Webmag December 2009.

Cawson, P. and M. Martell (1979) Children referred to closed units DHSS Research Report No 5 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office See also Children Webmag December 2009.

Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (1977) Guidelines for courses leading to the certificate of qualification in social work CQSW. Paper 15.1 London: Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work

Checkland, P (1999) Soft systems methodology: a 30 year retrospective and systems thinking, systems practice Chichester: Wiley

Clarke, A M and Clarke, A D B (1976) The formative years? In A M Clarke and A D B Clarke (Eds) Early experience: myth and evidence Chapter 1, pp. 3-24 London: Open Books

Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System (2004) Women and the Criminal Justice System London: Fawcett Society

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1 thought on “‘Troubled and Troublesome’ by Masud Hoghughi”

  1. I am a former resident of Aycliffe Centre for Children, I left there in February 1989 and if anybody on this site wants to ask me anything about my stay, please feel free to contact me anytime through the site.
    There is a lot I have to say about the place and by speaking with any academics who are interested in writing about the place I may be able to assist.
    Many thanks
    Robin (Former Aycliffe Centre for Children resident)


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