The Month’s Theme: Looking Back to Look Forward

If one is working with children and young people there is usually so much going on that one does not have time to collect one’s thoughts. If adults don’t set the pace for the children, they will find themselves playing catch-up on what the children are up to.

And if you’re a manager, you probably have an intray the size of a haystack and a zillion emails to wade through, plus the latest batch of Government guidance to get to know if one is to avoid criticism from Ofsted.

So having the time to sit back to read about historical matters may seem a luxury, and one that is not related to one’s day-to-day work. But unless we learn from the past we are liable to make the mistakes of our predecessors all over again. The present has been shaped by the past and we cannot understand the present if we have no grasp of what has gone before. If we are planning for the future we need to understand the trends and patterns of which our decision-making is only the current contribution. What we are doing will become part of those patterns.

This applies to individuals – children learning about themselves and their pasts – and to organisations, laws and systems. There is always the danger of introducing new systems without understanding why the previous one was set up as it was; remember the old farming adage of not moving a fence until you know why it was put there.

In this issue we have two long articles about key periods in the history of child care. The first, by Professor Roy Parker, looks at the Children Act 1908, one of the landmarks in the history of child care, which earned itself the title of the Children’s Charter. But was it groundbreaking? Was it revolutionary? Roy Parker describes how the Act was put together, the influences on it, the way it was steered carefully through Parliament and he evaluates its impact. If you are wanting to get a policy through Parliament, your Council or your Trustees there are lessons here.

The second long article describes the Court Lees affair, which started in 1967 with anonymous allegations of brutal caning in an approved school and ended with the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. This paper was written in early 1968, when the subject was still live and raw, and it describes the debates in the press and parliament and the tensions between the different viewpoints and interests.

Keith White looks back with ‘Suzy’ at the records of her time in care as she pieces her early history together and tries to make sense of her life and the way that the authorities handled her case. How do we create records which people will find useful and ‘real’ as adults?

There is an article about Family Group Homes. Apparently no one has ever written a book about them, so we have drawn together the references we have found in the hope that someone else will get interested and do some research. The family nature of the homes was abandoned almost accidentally, and the lesson for today is that we need to design services for children and young people to meet their needs, not external factors such as local authority systems or conditions of service.

Kathleen Lane uses her experiences of the 1970s to contrast with today. Here there is a challenge too. Do child care workers (and Kathleen addresses people in residential child care) want to have an influence on their services and their profession? For years the pace has been set by the Government, not the profession. Isn’t it time to change that? Kathleen offers the solution of using the ICSE as a place to rally.

We have a book review on Phil Carradice’s Nautical Training Ships: An Illustrated History, which tells the story of the way that redundant wooden battleships were used as reformatories and industrial schools to train boys for the navy.

And if child care archives are a matter of concern to you, there may still be a place at the conference being held at Warwick University on 10 June, which is going to consider a wide range of aspects of the subject – children accessing their records, their use for legal purpose or as teaching matter, findings from recent research in Birmingham and Ireland, and more.

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