A child of misfortune. By Cyril Ives.



Pictures of the Caldecott Community by Jean Mole.

The sirens screamed and the bombs whistled overhead as my grandmother ran with me in her arms to the air-raid shelter. It was 1942 I was a few months old, my mother was in prison for shoplifting and child neglect and my father was mentally ill  in “The County Asylum”.  Having raised twelve children of her own, my beloved gran was unable to cope with me for long and I was removed to hospital where I remained for seven months, supposedly safe from the bombing and  abuse of my mother. It was agreed that I should be fostered by my aunt and uncle and I would never be returned to my mother, or told the truth about my parents.

By 1950 at seven years of age I was  rebellious, described as “impossible to manage” by my foster parents  spending more time at my gran’s house than with them. By now they had two children of their own and I felt unloved and unwanted.. I screamed and shouted, day and night.

The same year  my father died in hospital and his body was brought home to lie in my gran’s front room.  I believed  he was my uncle, and could not understand why I had to kiss him every morning and  at bedtime. I led the funeral procession, and threw flowers into the grave. I said goodbye for ever without knowing to whom.

As I  became ever more difficult to control  I was referred to The Maudsley Hospital  in London. There I was  assessed as in need of prolonged psychiatric and social work help  with  an urgent  recommendation that I should  be removed from the foster parents and  live where I could experience safety and  stability – The Caldecott Community. (Caldecott).

Located in a magnificent country mansion in Kent, South East England,  Caldecott  had grown from a nursery in London in 1911 to  an innovative therapeutic environment  headed by Leila Rendel its founder..  Formally registered as a school,

It offered a place of safety to distressed children from many backgrounds with the opportunity to grow and take a place in the world..  This was well before the recommendations of  The  Report of The Care of Children Committee (Curtis 1946) which insisted that Children’s Homes should serve as “places of safety and refuge” for children needing  assessment, care and protection..  In 1947  with the help of The Nuffield Foundation Caldecott set up the first reception  and assessment centre  with the intention of providing evidence and experience for Local Authorities

Prior to this Children’s Homes were mainly provided by Voluntary Organisations such as Barnardo’s and The Children’s Society whereas Leila Rendel, along with Barbara Docker Drydsale of The Mulberry Bush in Oxford  proposed a much wider and therapeutic response – the first of the  Children’s Therapeutic Communities.

Writing at the time Miss Leila was clear – “It is useless to camouflage a children’s home or foster home as a “home from home”. that it could never be. For these children of misfortune  there could be no adequate substitute”.  I was fortunate to be one  of the 195 children referred  to New House for assessment in 1950, moving on to the  nearby main house  Mersham-le -Hatch in  the same year.

Its true The Caldecott  environment was never “homely”. That was its joy and salvation for children like me who felt out of place  in a conventional family .It could cope with our impulse to break out, to run away, to act out feelings of anger and distress, which could not be contained in a  box.  We needed to be able to breathe, and do all these things without fear of sanctions, to be understood and cared for whatever we did. The Community met these needs exactly.

We had space outside and in to express ourselves, through education, art, literature,music,poetry, sport, work in the garden, with horses ,on bikes, hitch hiking, youth hostelling, camping and making friends, sometimes for life, The discipline, timekeeping, rituals and continuity created the sense of safety

All of this was a far cry from the suffocation I experienced in the domestic “family environment” . Although my foster parents were blood relatives, I had nothing in common with them, and re-acted against their attempts to control me. To be fair it was post war London, extreme poverty and uncertainty, and I had somehow inherited the streak of madness that came from both my parents.

At first we were educated in Caldecott’s own Nursery and Primary Schools, and at eleven we joined the local day Schools as appropriate, Secondary Modern, Grammar, Convent, depending on ability and returning at night to our secure base.

Our involvement in these  schools   ensured we were not isolated. from the local community.  How I hated the school holidays, when three times a year we had to return home,  There I was teased, bullied and ridiculed and could not wait for time to go back to  Kent.

During my eight years at Caldecott I thrived on the environment, the opportunities for self expression, especially through Music and Drama, and learned how to manage my uncontrollable temper, night fears and dreams, and attempted self destruction. I responded to the discipline which was reasonable and fair (not hysterical as at home), and the routine of regular meals, clean clothes, and feeling of being  important to  my peers and those around me.   I was rewarded appropriately for success, and  my failures were understood . It did not matter that affection was not overt, this would have frightened me, and many others, who had already learned to distrust adults at an early age.  The sense of belonging was most important.

Bearing in mind that this was the early days of such pioneering approaches to child care, the proposals for continuing after care as envisaged by Caldecott did not materialise as clearly as the assessment and therapeutic living and although individual members of staff made great efforts to maintain contact. –  indeed some of them still do –  it was a very different world and climate, and others returned to the families from which they had been rescued, and had to sink or swim. There was a standing invitation to return to Caldecott as a visitor from time to time at re-unions,  but this did not appeal to many, who disappeared off the radar in a short time.

Returning to the family home at the age of 16 was a very great challenge for me, as I did not fit, did not want to fit, and soon started to experience again  the anger and frustration of my early childhood.  Within months I was  literally thrown out into the snow with nowhere to go but now I had learned enough skills to survive, became independent, and never returned to live with the family again..  It would  be good to record that I lived “happily ever after”  but some of the damage caused by the circumstances of my birth, the time and place, left scars which have never healed. Only in recent years have I fully come to understand the truth about my background and parentage, and this has helped a great deal in resolving some of the questions. The sense of loss and abandonment has never left me.

In the 1950’s Leila Rendel clearly identified not only the  needs of the children at the  time but  in the future,  setting out clearly a strategic plan for the future with children always at the heart. An individual response,  assessment,  fostering where appropriate, a variety of facilities  ranging  from small family homes urban and rural, to larger creative environments for those children who  needed more space, The kind of shelter that would satisfy and not be met with anger and rejection by the child. Last but not least  ongoing support and aftercare  for as long as needed.

Following Miss Leila’s death in 1968, Caldecott attempted to adapt to what her successors and pressure from potential funders  saw as the  progressive approach to child care,  living in smaller groups, more professional staff, more emphasis on return  to the family and family involvement.   Government and Local Authority politics and finance rather than  philosophy dominated  decisions about the nature of residential  care for children  and in time even the small group homes have given way to an overall emphasis on fostering and rehabilitation.  The Caldecott  Community was not exempt from this pressure,  moving from its original location in the year 2000  and becoming  a  restructured organisation  (The Caldecott Foundation)  with a more specialist and individual response.

What all of  this overlooks was clearly identified by Curtis,  Rendel, Docker Dyrdale, Wills and others. They believed that  some children are so hurt, so damaged, so vulnerable, that  its an escape from family life not a return to it that’s needed.. For those that cannot return to families and for whom fostering is not appropriate, skilful preparation for an independent life in the community is a vital part of any  programme. Research  for the  NSPCC has shown that about half of the children who go into care because of abuse or neglect suffer further abuse if they return home and  and later  have to return to care.

Its  hard for me to be objective given my own experience, but I believe that those organisations that have developed the concept of a more personal approach in smaller living units, while retaining the concept of community have been and are the most successful. Policy alone  cannot re-create the vision of  the charismatic Individuals who made a unique contribution to the care of children from which so many  have had the benefit.

Some of us have to leave the nest before we learn to fly.

Can we be sure someone will always be  there to break the fall?

Cyril Ives

Mersham-Le-Hatch  1950-1958


For Reference:

Report of the Care of Children Committee  – Curtis   HMSO 1946

The Child of Misfortune –  Leila Rendel  1952

Deprived Children – The Mersham Experiment   Hilda Lewis 1954

The Caldecott Community Association : www.caldecott.org.uk

Supporting children and  families returning home from care – counting the costs

Centre for Child and Family Research 2014 (for NSPCC)

Re-uniting looked after children with their families Behalf N (2006)

Therapeutic Living with Other Peoples Children  PETT Archive 2012

The Mulberry Bush Approach
John Tuberville  www.goodenoughcaring.com  July 2015

Reflections on the evolution of The Mulberry Bush School and Organisation
John Diamond www.goodenoughcaring.com   July 2015

The Mulberry Bush School Ofsted Report  January 2016.