Time for the Phoenix

In March 2009 the Social Care Association celebrated its 60th Anniversary. The fact that the dinner to mark the occasion was held in a Museum should not be interpreted as implying that the SCA is a relic of the past, ready to be put in a showcase. (The venue was actually the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, a really splendid setting with a first-rate women’s choir echoing round the dome of the gallery where the dinner was held.)

How it Started

The SCA started from very modest beginnings. A group of just over a dozen students from the first qualifying course for houseparents qualified in 1949 and decided that they did not want to lose contact, so they formed the Houseparents’ Association. The following year it became the Residential Child Care Association, and by the time it celebrated its 25th Anniversary, over 3,000 residential child care workers had joined. This was probably about 25% of the people working in residential child care at the time.

The RCCA had a monthly publication, Child in Care, edited by Geoff Banner who later became Director of Social Services in Wiltshire. It had an annual handbook, each year being on a different theme, the first one selling like hot cakes at half a crown a time (12.5p to those too young to remember the old money). And the RCCA had active branches in many parts of the country. It was seen as a source of support, a place to share ideas, and a voice to influence national thinking in the Ministry.

How it Developed

Over the years, the Residential Child Care Association became the Residential Care Association, acknowledging the professional interests of workers with other client groups, and not long afterwards, to take account of workers in other settings, it became the Social Care Association, with a potential membership in seven figures.

Throughout the heyday of the Social Services Departments in England and Wales, the SCA had an impact through its participation in major enquiries, through its short courses and seminars, through its publications and through its membership services.

It spoke for a very wide range of workers, in different settings with different client groups. Any one who has taken part in SCA activities will know that the fascinating mixture of members is one of the stimulating features of the Association, as members bring very varied experiences.

The downside of being an organisation with such a broad umbrella, though, is that potential members do not necessarily identify with the title. In an age when adult services are split from children’s services in most authorities, do people see themselves as social care workers across the board? That is the conundrum facing the SCA today as it finds its way forward.


John Wyllie, as the outgoing President, chose Faith in Social Care as his conference theme. It was an intriguing choice and deliberately ambiguous.

In part it was asking people to have trust in the value of the services being offered, despite any concerns about the public image of some services. At a time when the Lord Laming’s report on the death of baby P was in the headlines, some people – social workers in particular – felt vulnerable, but it was argued that the services offered are valued and valuable, and professionals should have self-confidence on what they offered.

In part the conference was looking at the tricky subject of the faith base of the work – the individual beliefs of workers which motivated them to do the work. This was a bold choice, as the subject is usually ducked. Jennifer Bernard tackled it head on, and the Archbishop of Wales spoke eloquently and persuasively from a Roman Catholic viewpoint in winding up the Annual Seminar.

A New President – and New Priorities?

As the person elected to take over from John Wyllie had had to stand down for personal reasons, Grace Easie-Edgar, newly elected as Vice President, had to stand in at very short notice and take over as President. She spoke impromptu at the end of the Seminar and showed promise as a good speaker, with the strength of being still engaged in residential child care.

This may be no bad thing for the SCA. In recent years the emphasis has been mostly on the social care of adults – an important field, as long as services for children and young people are not overlooked as a consequence.

There are major developments in residential child care at present, with the widespread introduction of social pedagogy and restorative practice – two theoretical approaches which have engendered real interest and enthusiasm for the first time in decades. Unlike many other European countries, the UK has tended to look down on residential child care as a last resort to be avoided if possible. Now there is a chance to reverse that image.

During the Annual Seminar Vic Citarella chaired a fringe meeting with a view to seeing whether SCA would be interested in acting as host to the re-establishment of a National Section of FICE, the biggest international professional association for child care workers. The idea met with enthusiasm. Under proposals which are still in draft, FICE-England would be administered by SCA and its members would have dual membership, using the SCA as an umbrella while keeping a sharp focus on child care.

In one sense this would take SCA back to its residential child care roots, and to its tradition of international contacts over many years. This development could offer SCA a real boost in child care membership, but more importantly it could offer residential child care workers a forum to exchange ideas, to hear of the latest developments, and to develop networks of contacts across Europe.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

There were eighteen present and former Presidents attending the Annual Seminar, and it is quite an achievement for an Association to keep so many actively involved. One very welcome delegate was Ray Trueman, who celebrated his 93rd birthday at the conference; he had been President in 1961-1962, and was still full of the memories of the early years. (A booklet produced for the occasion had contributions from twenty-three Presidents, giving a fascinating kaleidoscope of views, portraying the ways in which the services have developed.)

But the past is only helpful if it gives a sense of direction for the future. The past links with FICE could provide the jumping off point for a surge of interest in residential child care. If SCA is to succeed as an umbrella organisation, it needs to provide the support and cover for many successful special interests groups. Who knows? It could still be fulfilling that role when a successor to Lord Seebohm recommends the re-integration of Social Services.


The SCA may have been celebrating its 60th Anniversary, but let’s not forget that when the Community Homes Association joined SCA they brought with them a much longer tradition. In 1905 the Superintendents’ Association was established at the triennial conference of the Reformatory and Refuge Union. Its first separate conference was in 1910, and it evolved into the Heads Association in 1925 when Arthur Norris, the Chief Inspector, persuaded them to become Headmasters. So SCA could have celebrated its centenary in 2005!

The question is, though, whether the Association will continue creating a history that our inheritors will be able to celebrate. There’s still plenty for SCA and FICE to do. If you’re a residential child care worker (or any other sort of social care worker) and you want your profession to succeed, sign up now.

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