Unintended Consequences. by David Lane

Paper given at the Child Care History Network

Hinsley Hall, Leeds: 3 July 2015


The Hinge Factor by Erik Durschmied is about a number of key conflicts which the author  believes changed the course of history, such as Agincourt and Waterloo. One of the obvious ones in British history is the Battle of Hastings, which affects us even today in the blend of Anglo-Saxon and French which we speak. His book is subtitled How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History.

My proposition today is that the 1970s were an unrecognised hinge decade in the history of residential child care in this country, that we are still affected by the changes that were introduced then, and that there are lessons for us today in studying the way things happened.

I would not wish to allege that stupidity has been a major factor on the part of the politicians and policy-makers who shaped child care services in the 1970s, but you will appreciate from the title I have given to this paper that it seems to me that almost every one of the changes I will describe had its unintended consequences.

I propose to

–              sketch in a little of the early history of residential child care to provide a context,

–              paint a brief picture of residential child care in 1970,

–              outline the changes which took place in the 1970s,

–              paint a brief picture of residential child care in 1980, and then

–              list the lessons which I think need to be learnt.

You will appreciate that to cram all that into the time available I will need to make quite a lot of assumptions and sweeping statements. If I were an academic I would have taken ten years in preparing the paper and hopefully would have got a PhD. As it is, I hope you find the overall messages convincing, and I hope there will be time at the end if I need to be corrected.

The Past

First, a little by way of background.  You will know that residential child care as we know it was first introduced in this country in the latter part of the eighteenth century, and it was developed considerably in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century. Homes were at first generally very large and institutional, some catering for hundreds of children, though some were developed on the model of groups of cottage homes, to provide something of a family life. Other than the workhouses, residential care for children and young people was largely developed by voluntary bodies, in the main Christian and usually denominational.

The big change followed the Curtis Report and the Children Act 1948, which set up Children’s Departments in local authorities. This was revolutionary in more than one respect. (A significant number of the Children’s Officers who headed up the Departments were women, whereas up to that point only eight women had ever been chief officers of local government departments.)

The Home Office, which was responsible for children’s services at that time produced some excellent guidance on the provision of residential care in 1951. It still reads well, and it came out clearly in favour of small homes, with an appendix on ways of breaking up large homes into smaller units.

The Central Training Council for Child Care was set up under the 1948 Act, and it developed a good framework of qualifications which gradually built up the numbers of qualified field and residential workers from a very low base.

During the following two decades the Children’s Departments got to work, increasing the number of Child Care Officers working with families, developing foster care and building their own children’s homes, often in the form of family group homes.

Preventative work was supported by the Children and Young Persons Act 1963, but it was the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 Act which heralded much bigger changes, indeed a fundamental switch to a new philosophy of care. Up till then, young offenders were put on Approved School Orders, which they themselves saw as finite sentences. Other children requiring residential care were on open-ended Fit Person Orders. With the 1969 Act they were all put on Care Orders, which could continue till the child was an adult.

Furthermore all establishments for children became community homes, with approved schools becoming community homes with education – or CHEs – and remand homes and reception homes becoming community homes for observation and assessment.

This was the scene at the start of the decade I wish to focus on.

A Typical Home in 1970?

What was a typical family group home like at this point?

There would have been between 6 and 10 children, with a wide age range,  some of whom might have been in the home for much of their childhood.  Two or three might have been siblings. There was little turnover and the atmosphere was fairly stable.

They were probably living in a building on a council estate that looked like – and possibly was – two semi-detached council houses knocked into one.

There might well have been only two staff, both resident, both female, and some floating support to cover holidays and sickness. They worked very long hours. It is probable that neither was trained, though one might have done the Preliminary Residential Child Care course.

The woman in charge might have had a husband working 15 hours a week for free board and lodging or she might have been single. The hours were long, amounting to exploitation. Pay was low, with emoluments as compensation. It was very close to being like a large foster home.

Bear this picture in mind when we come to the end of the decade.

I have given a family group home as an example, but there were of course a lot of larger homes and the CH(E)s, as well as residential special schools. At this time there were about 8,000 children in CH(E)s, but very few children were locked up.

Throughout the range of homes, there was a large number run by voluntary organisations such as Barnardo’s, the National Children’s Homes, the Children’s Society and the Catholic charities, though the number of local authority homes was growing fast. The private sector was virtually non-existent.

Eight Basic Areas of Changes

The changes which I am about to describe took place over time, and at different speeds, and they influenced each other, but I shall try to disentangle cause and effect.

1              Legislation

The first set  of changes provides the context within which residential child care was provided. There were three major pieces of legislation which affected the services. First there was the 1969 Children Act, about which more later.

While that was being implemented, Social Services Departments were created in 1971, following on the Seebohm Report. The legislation created generic departments, serving all client groups, offering ‘one door’ for clients to enter by. Seebohm had never intended that individual social workers would also become generic, but that is what happened in most of the new departments. The unintended consequence was that much specialist expertise was lost, and this situation continued for some years.

There was also massive expansion; under Sir Keith Joseph as Secretary of State budgets rose in real terms by 14% per annum. Almost anyone who was qualified was promoted, and frontline field social workers were mostly unqualified for the first few years, till a huge expansion in qualifying training caught up.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the 1969 Act was badly implemented in its early years, and clients often suffered the consequences. One impact on residential child care services was that they were often overseen by middle managers who had no experience and little knowledge of the work.

The icing on this particular cake was the reorganisation of local authority boundaries in 1974, which resulted in yet another reorganisation of the senior management in areas which were affected. The changes should have been made in reverse order – boundary changes first, set up the departments, then introduce the child care legislation. Clearly the chaos caused by the way laws were enacted was not foreseen.

 2              Fixed Working Week

A major change for children’s services was the introduction of the 48-hour week in local authority homes. This took place about 1971, though I have not been able to track the actual date. I have already said that the situation was exploitative up to that time. I recall Kathleen Lewis telling about her request for a day off to attend a family wedding; she put the request in eighteen months ahead of the event, but near the actual date the authority said they could not release her as they could not find anyone to stand in.

With the fixed working week, there were two major developments. First of all, many authorities had to double their staff teams to provide adequate cover. This of course increased  the cost of residential placements considerably, and the increase gave a further impetus to foster care, which was seen as being cheaper.

Shiftwork was the second major consequence. It was not new, but from now on it became the standard pattern. Most staff had been resident till this point but there was no room for the new staff, so they were recruited from the neighbourhood and came into the home to do their shifts. The home became the place of work, not their living quarters, for the non-resident staff, and I think this probably had some impact on their sense of ownership; the home was not ‘home’ to them.

There were consequences for child care practice. There was an increase in the number of adults for the children to relate to, which had both its plus points and its minuses. There was the risk of discontinuity, for example, so that handover sessions and log books were needed. There was the chance of miscommunication or children playing staff off against each other.

From the staff point of view, even in family group homes there was now a team of staff, who needed to be managed, to maintain morale and to develop a team approach to their work.

Over time, the fixed work week was reduced, so that by 1981 it had come down to 40 hours, no doubt requiring a few more staff to provide cover, and entailing some extra costs. Improved staffing levels were also affected by the application of the Castle Priory Report on staffing ratios. Published in 1969, it was gradually adopted by local authorities until it became generally accepted, though I believe that it was never formally endorsed by the government.

3              Non-residence of staff

The second major change was that there was pressure to improve staff salaries. It was recognised that residential child care workers were underpaid, and undertrained and generally underprofessional. One part of the package which included better pay was the introduction of realistic rents for accommodation. The idea was that staff should not be tied down by emoluments and a requirement to be resident.

About 1973 I undertook a survey through the Residential Care Association which showed that having to live in was really resented by many of the staff and it came out top, together with the lack of training opportunities, as one of their two major gripes. One can understand this, as resident staff were always accessible, even on their days off, and single staff in bedsits had little privacy and were always under the scrutiny of the children.

The result was that when the chance was presented, staff moved to become non-resident in large numbers. The result, though, was that children’s homes became places of work for all the adults and were homes just for the children.

I think that the change in salaries and realistic rents probably started in the mid-1970s, and the resulting changes took place over the latter half of the decade and into the 1980s.

4              The Impact of the 1969 Act on CH(E)s

When the 1969 Act was passed, there was no policy intention to do away with, or even reduce the number of CH(E)s, though there was a strong strand of thinking, especially among field social workers, that residential care was bad thing.  A system of regional planning was set up, with about a dozen Regional Planning Committees covering groups of local authorities, responsible for the oversight and development of shared resources.

These RPCs dwindled away during the decade, other than in London, as essentially local authorities chose to do their own thing. A major problem was that if a local authority decided to make savings by placing fewer children in CH(E)s, the occupancy dropped and the per capita costs went up, so that placements became expensive. CH(E)s were reduced in size and then closed by the authorities which were the providers, until by the end of the decade there were very few left.

This was not part of the government’s plan, but the reality was accepted and in the 1983 HASSASSA regional planning was abandoned.

5              Alternatives to Residential Care

I mentioned the wish of many social workers, and their managers, who usually came from a fieldwork background, to reduce residential care to a minimum. Warwickshire, for example, abandoned residential child care in toto, as researched by David Berridge. One outcome was the search to find better alternatives. Children were maintained with their families with better social work support. There were experiments in intermediate treatment. Foster care was greatly expanded.

On the residential front, I have already mentioned the closure of CH(E)s. Residential nurseries were also closed in the 1970s, and as far as possible, young children were fostered, rather than being placed in children’s homes.

One outcome was that the young offenders and disturbed teenagers who would previously have been placed in CH(E)s now had to be accommodated in other types of home, taking up the places vacated by the younger children who had been fostered. Family group homes found themselves having to cater for a much older and more demanding clientele, whose patterns of behaviour did not always fit easily in the estates where the homes were sited.

6              Changes in Measures to Control Children

If you go back to the period before the 1970s, smacking children and beating them were widely acceptable as means of control or punishment. The Approved Schools Rules, for example, spelt out in detail how many strokes of the cane could be given, what size the canes had to be, and how beatings had to be administered, witnessed and recorded. A lot of people were still saying that being beaten never did them any harm, but there was also a strong and growing lobby that was against corporal punishment, seeing it as a form of assault which taught children that might was right.

This came to a head in the Court Lees Inquiry in 1968, where the central issue was the acceptability of caning. Caning at Court Lees did breach the regulations and was more frequent there than in most other approved schools, but it was basically a fairly typical approved school. From that time onwards, caning became increasingly unpopular among professionals until it was ruled out.

At the start of the decade it was unusual to lock children up. Remand homes had perimeter security to prevent absconding, but approved schools were open. There were individual secure rooms, and it was about this time that the first secure units and treatment centres were opened, such as St Charles in 1971.

The children’s rights movement was growing. In 1974 the Family Rights Group was set up. In 1975 NAYPIC was founded. The Children’s Legal Centre followed in 1981 and Who Cares? in 1985. One of the concerns of those involved in children’s legal rights was that children could be locked up without the approval of a court, and so legislation was passed which made this a requirement, though I think this was in 1983 under the HASSASSA Act.

A direct consequence was that purpose-built secure units had to be designed, from which children could not escape, where they could be contained and controlled, and where they could not harm themselves. A new genre of architecture developed in which everything movable was attached to the floor and the whole living space was hermetically sealed. I never visited a secure unit which I could have called homely.

I do not have the figures, but a number of secure units were opened and other young offenders ended up in the juvenile section of the penal system. In part this will have been because of the closure of the CH(E)s.

In short, I suspect that a measure intended to preserve children’s right not to be locked up without the approval of the courts ended with many more being placed in secure accommodation of one sort or another.

A further impression is that some staff in children’s homes no longer saw themselves as having the right to prevent children from running away, and there appeared to be a consequent loss of nerve in controlling children, with the result that some homes descended into chaos, though this may have been in the early 1980s.

7              Changes in Training

The Central Training Council was responsible for training residential child care staff until 1971 when the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work took over. One of its priorities was to review training for residential workers working with all client groups and in all types of homes. A working party was set up chaired by Dennis Allen, and it produced a discussion document known as the Red Book, which was distributed in thousands, and a Green Book of proposals, entitled Residential Work is Part of Social Work.

The outcome was that from about 1973 courses leading to the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work were deemed appropriate for residential workers, and soon afterwards the work-based Certificate in Social Service was created. The former qualifications for residential child care workers were abandoned.

This had three unintended consequences. The first was that relatively few CQSW courses specialised in residential child care and residential workers who took the CQSW were often bombarded with anti-residential care views, often based on Goffman’s Asylums, which was published in 1961. Furthermore, their qualification opened up the possibility of posts in field social work, with easier conditions of employment, and the movement of qualified staff from one service to another was marked. Despite heavy investment, the proportion of trained staff in residential child care only inched forwards.

The second was that the three postqualifying courses at Glasgow, Bristol and Newcastle Universities were wound up and deemed the equivalent of the CQSW by CCETSW. These courses had trained many of the senior managers in the services, and at a stroke this training was no longer available.

Finally, I think that the adoption of fieldwork thinking by the staff who qualified on CQSW courses led to subtle shifts in their approach to the work, which proved unhelpful. The subject is more complex and would merit a paper on its own.

8              Changes in Provision

Finally, it was during this decade that the voluntary sector reduced its involvement quite dramatically. In part this was because residential care was seen as dated and there was a wish to move into new community-based services. In part it was because local authorities had developed a wide range of services and tended to use the voluntary sector as a sort of overspill at times of high demand. This led to varying levels of under-occupancy which left voluntary homes unsustainable.

It was not the intention of the local authorities that the voluntary organisations should pull out of residential care as many of the services they had provided had been excellent; it was just another unintended consequence.

The demise of the voluntary sector left the beginnings of a gap into which the private sector later moved, but that is the story of another decade.

A Typical Home in 1980?

I asked you to bear in mind the picture of the family group home in 1970 – like a large foster home, not well-staffed, with resident staff and a wide age range of children.

Ten years later, we have a home with maybe half a dozen children and less bedroom-sharing, but the children are now adolescents, some with serious problems. The children probably come and go, and there are few who can form a stable resident group. Partly their movement is planned, while permanent alternatives are found or because they reach the age for independent living. Partly it may be because they become involved in more serious problems and are removed or because they absent themselves.

The staff are non-resident, with two sleeping-in on call at night. The staff team is larger; two or three of them may be qualified or taking the CSS. There may well be a balance of men and women on the staff. There is much more record-keeping and much more liaison with field social workers.

In short the picture is completely different from that of a decade earlier.

Three Lessons

What lessons are to be learnt from all this?

1              The first is that very few of these major changes arose directly from trying to meet the needs of children in residential care more appropriately. The development of fostering, improved fieldwork support for families and the development of intermediate treatment come into this category, but they are not residential. The attempt to regulate the use of secure accommodation, I suggest, may in part have backfired.

Only the reduction of corporal punishment constituted an attempt to improve the day-to-day experiences of children in residential care, though there were campaigns during this decade such as the banning of order books in buying children’s clothes, the banning of bin bags for children’s possessions on discharge, and the introduction of keyworkers, all of which were profession-led.

2              Secondly, a lot of the changes had serious unintended consequences. No one wanted the chaotic start to social services departments, but the order in which legislation was enacted led to it.

No one was planning that staff should become non-resident; it happened because of the realistic rents policy. The government did not want to wind up the CH(E) system; it happened because of the system for financing places. No one in CCETSW wanted to redirect qualified residential workers into field social work, but the grass was greener in the field. No one in local authorities wanted to see the voluntary organisations pull out of residential care; it happened because they were treated as overspill.

3              During the 1970s the Residential Child Care Association became the Residential Care Association, incorporating workers with other client groups, and then the Social Care Association, broadening to include work in other settings. It was a body which had considerable influence, in view of its size.

Nonetheless, it has to be admitted that the residential child care profession had very little control over much of what happened to the services in this decade. It was not a matter of the professionals asking “How do we best meet children’s needs?”, “What sort of services do we need to create?” and “What sort of support services, training and conditions of service do we need to support the provision of those services?” Instead the services were often pushed this way and that, with some improvements and a lot of unintended consequences.

4              So I would like to ask, “Are we doing any better today?” “Do we control our professional milieu now?” and “What are the unintended consequences of the measures being adopted and the decisions being made today?” I have looked back forty years; how will people judge today’s services in 2055? And if we can answer that question, is there anything we should be doing about it? These are questions for our final session today.

And if anyone would like to choose this subject for their PhD I would be happy to assist them.

David  lane 20 06 15