A Hundred Years at Caldecott

The Caldecott Foundation celebrates its Centenary this year. Perhaps it is not inappropriate for me to reflect on this as I went to work there as a young man 60 years ago this year. I was a conscientious objector and a tribunal gave me ‘social work’ as an alternative to military service before going up to university. At that time I wanted to train for ministry in the Church. As it turned out, I remained in social work for the rest of my career and I have maintained contact with the Caldecott Foundation all that time.

Apart from working there for nearly 10 years I also spent 30 years as a Trustee and for 8 years was Chair of the Board. I now chair the Caldecott Association, a group of ex-Caldecott staff and children, which arranges Reunions. This year we are to have a Reunion at Lambeth Palace, when we expect about 150 people of all ages to attend. The Archbishop of Canterbury is our Patron. There is also to be a Thanksgiving Service at Canterbury Cathedral when the Archbishop will be preaching.

Looking back

It is not always helpful to look back on the past, but it is interesting to reflect on the changes that have occurred in residential work and whether we have lost some of the best ingredients. Of course it may be that some of those ingredients needed to be lost and new values had to take their place.

There are a number of changes that have significantly altered the ethos of residential care. The first relates to commitment. In the 1950s and 1960s staff worked all hours and only had one day off a week. The shift system that then came into being means that staff often have to go off duty at a crucial time for a child. On the other hand, this enables staff to be more able to lead their own lives with their families and be more fulfilled to bring freshness to their jobs. The same applies to social workers. I remember as a child care officer having a case-load of 120 clients, something which would be completely unthinkable today.

One of the other changes that came about with a new professionalism related to finance. Staff started to receive appropriate salaries from local authorities, who had to pay much more to send children to residential communities. I can remember the days when I had to plead with the secretary at Caldecott to have a new football for my group. Staff were paid pitifully low salaries. I can recall one occasion when the staff were called together by Leila Rendel (the founder and director) who told us that we were to receive an extra £10 on our salary. One enthusiastic member of staff cried out, “Oh good, another £10 a week”, only to be told by Leila, “Don’t be so silly, my dear, £10 a year”! Such was the attitude to money.

Key principles

I believe that the principles that Leila Rendel held in relation to the care of children are as relevant today as they were 60 years ago and probably long before that too. The first principle was the importance of giving children a pattern and significance to their lives which includes achieving a balance between freedom and order. Residential establishments have to provide that opportunity for young people to find significance or even a passion.

The second crucial element is that of the need for continuity. The children in our care have had the most disruptive lives imaginable and the adults they have known have often come and gone at frequent intervals. This process is a real dilemma for staff who need to move on themselves. Perhaps nowadays that continuity is provided by foster parents, but that is not always the case and the most seriously disturbed children are not easy to foster.

On the positive side, however, there are many examples of young people who have been in residential care having continuing relationships with staff long after they have left an establishment. I know that Keith White who runs Mill Grove can give many examples of young people who have so identified with the place that it has become their home for life, to which they return frequently. Many of the young people who have been to Caldecott in previous years have not only become attached to the Community, but also to individuals there and this has continued.

Nowadays young people only stay for a year or two and such continuity is more difficult. However, the aims of such a community are different nowadays and the intense therapy provided is often given in order that children can adjust better to a life outside the Community. It is essential that the adults in such a community not only offer affection, but also provide integrity.

The other crucial need in residential care is the one to regard each individual child as an individual with a different identity from others. Many of the young people in residential care have a poor sense of identity. Many children who have lost their identity will show real signs of regression before a new and safe identity can be found. As in the area of therapy and analysis it is essential for a young person to understand why what has happened in the past has happened, and how that has influenced their development. The past is not sealed and there is always hope for the future.

Support for staff

A more professional approach to child care has meant that staff usually get greater support and supervision, which is essential when dealing with disturbed young people. David Wills, one of the great pioneers of work with difficult youngsters, felt that many communities broke down because staff were not prepared to make “the total commitment”. “Love is persistent; it is unconditional,” he once said to me. I wonder how many of us are really prepared to go that far.

One of the other areas of change relates to faith. One of the key places at Caldecott was the Chapel. Leila Rendel was a Quaker and the service she held every Sunday was non-denominational. Many of the young people who went to it then now remember in adulthood some of the wise things that were said and they absorbed some of the spiritual content. A real faith was experienced. I am glad to say that some of the elements of that service are being repeated in our commemorative service at Canterbury Cathedral.

I am very conscious that we need to be aware of people of all faiths and those who have no faith, but I do not accept that this means we should provide no religion in the lives of children. It is interesting that the short service we held at the last Reunion in the Crypt at Lambeth Palace was packed and I expect the same will happen this year.

I have found the whole journey I have experienced in social work to have been immensely satisfying and inspirational and I have benefited enormously from the relationships I have established and continued with for 60 years with both adults and young people. Of one thing I am certain: in our society there is still a meaningful place for residential care of quality.

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