Readers response to our ‘Care of Young offenders’ Feb 1st edition. By John Pressley.

As a former residential child care worker of 35 continuous years and the  Principal of a previous Approved School in the East Midlands region, I found the recent papers on Approved Schools and CHE’s interesting. I have been retired for 14years, but I have kept myself up to date with current practice and philosophies through TCJ  and other publications.

I want to make a few comments from my personal experience.

Some  Approved Schools and CHE’s have rightly attracted negative press including the practical evidence of poor interventions for young people residing in them. Nevertheless this is not true of all of them and I think this negative  ‘broad stroke’  detracts from the many positives for young people that I and my team achieved for many. Indeed, I think the positives of these total environments have been missed by many social work/education commentators and society at large.

In many local authorities from the 1970s onwards the criteria for admission to a CHE was coined by the words “ unmanageable “ in other children homes, foster placements and mainstream schools. Therefore young people entering a CHE were often further damaged by the numerous failed placements before they were considered “ bad enough “ to be admitted to a CHE. Given this context it’s a wonder that they had any success at all.

But they did have  successful interventions and I think our staff team ( and I am sure many others ) helped numerous young people in the following areas :-

Improved educational attainments ( many young people had missed schooling for years prior to admission. )

Improved social skills and trusted relationships

Learning a trade for life and future employment

An arrested pattern of  ‘ delinquent drift ‘.

Improved life opportunities

New hobbies and interests to participate in

A  re introduction into their natural families or independent living

 

I believe the above to be true, to a greater or lesser extent, for many young people for whom I was responsible.

CHE’s progressed through the 1980s often tarnished with a  ‘ warehouse ‘ or ‘ incarceration ‘ label. They actually provided a much needed structured environment for many young people to feel safe and secure and  the mixed sex ( boys and girls ) establishments further enhanced the living situation to be more ordinary  and another move away from institutional labelling.

Many of these total environments had the benefits of large, campus, type of grounds much utilised to provide a variety of both recreational and educational facilities.

Smaller living groups on the same campus, sometimes accommodating as few as six children in each was far away from the popular image of a large scale dormitory environment. This indeed was a shift to a more therapeutic environment, as was smaller classrooms with a ‘ curriculum ‘ based on life opportunities rather than a necessarily all academic approach.

I think the true image of Approved Schools and CHE’s and the methods they used to treat the young people in their care have undergone over severe criticism – to the extent that the good work many achieved is lost and at best obscured by negativity.  This is a shame because it negates the conviction of a majority of staff, who saw it has their ‘ life’s work ‘ to effect change in and for young people.

The overall contribution of these establishments in the pantheon of Residential Child Care –  in a historical context – has been seriously overlooked and underrated.

John Pressley.

johnpressley330@hotmail.com

 

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