Lessons to be Learnt for Children’s and Society’s Sake

Friday, June 1st, 2012 by Jim Hyland

The CHEs were closed with surprising ease over relatively short period of time. Between 1977 and 1990 eighty-seven CHEs ceased to operate, and most of the remaining twenty-three closed over the subsequent decade. The closures were not been carried out in any coordinated manner. The pace of events was influenced rather by local policies and took little account of national need and little, if any, account of national considerations or the needs of anyone other than the managing agency. Although consideration of national need had not been part of the brief of the providers, it is regrettable, however, that no one seems to have taken a national view.Most of the voluntary child care agencies, along with local authorities, withdrew from residential care and education in the face of declining demand and financial uncertainty. A few, such as Nugent Care in Liverpool, showed commitment to this provision by changing the use of some of their former CHEs into special education provision. Local Authorities, for whom such a strategy would have been relatively simple, did not adopt this option. The CHEs then withered in a climate of confusion about juvenile justice, conflicting views about their role and function, hostility to institutional care and general financial restraint.

Ill Thought Out Alternatives

The ideal of creating a system, based in local communities, was one of the welcome features of the alternative developments. It must be questioned, however, whether it was wise to make such a policy the main alternative to custodial measures. The ability of the ‘community’ to cope with a ‘care in the community’ strategy at a time when there were so many other pressures on it (e.g. unemployment, single parenthood, an ageing population), would seem to be limited. Little detailed thought was given to the development of alternatives to residential care and to custody at a national level, and only isolated instances of such thought at a local level. The monies saved from the closures of CHEs were only partially redirected to developing these measures. Much of the cash was lost to child care and was used instead to balance hard-pressed local authority budgets. In spite of alternative methods for dealing with juvenile crime and, from the late 1970s the closure, at an ever-increasing rate of the ‘ineffective’ CHEs, crime continued to rise. The arguments over the effectiveness of the various measures now applied to juvenile delinquents tended to centre on the individuals who offended. Little account was taken of the general impact of the new policies on the communities most affected by the activities of young delinquents when, for example, a young offender known to have been apprehended for the third or fourth time for the commission of an offence received a caution yet again! Nor was the impact on mainstream schools and their staff considered when known offenders were being ‘diverted from court’. There is little evidence that the public at large were made aware of the new approaches to delinquency or that their views were taken into account.

Suggestions for Developmental Approach Ignored

Those in positions of responsibility in the main statutory provision for children, mainstream education, did not consider that they were equipped to manage young offenders. This was an issue explored by the Warnock Committee in 1978. It was observed that there was a considerable similarity between the educational needs of children in CHEs and those with emotional or behavioural disorders in special schools. The Report added, somewhat mystifyingly, that, “At the same time we recognise that children who are placed in CHEs require a period of treatment which aims at social readjustment”. Presumably the same is true of children placed in special needs schools. Warnock was on the brink of recommending that CHEs should be integrated into the educational services: We have therefore considered a proposal for a more fundamental change in the community home system, involving the transfer of the management of CHEs to the education service. We have found merit in this proposal; in particular it would have the advantage of making for a wider and more flexible range of special educational provision for children with emotional and. educational disorders. For reasons, which seem very inadequate, Warnock concluded: On balance, however, most of us consider such a radical change would be undesirable at the present time, given that the Child and Young Persons Act 1969 has not yet been fully implemented. The Warnock Report did, however, recommend that, as a first step in improving the quality of educational provision in CHEs and observation and assessment centres, teachers in those establishments should be in the service of local educational authorities. The National Union of Teachers, in its evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Social Services (in Children in Care - the Short Committee, reporting in 1984), were quite clear that the future of CHEs lay with the educational authorities. In their view, despite the need for residential placements for many children, CHEs “have closed down…not as a drop in juvenile crime or delinquency. It is the result, primarily of financial considerations”. The National Union of Teachers affirmed that it believed CHEs should be the responsibility of Local Education Authorities and not Social Services Departments, and that there should be much closer links between teachers in CHEs and those in local schools. It held that the education element of CHEs could be developed to cater for day pupils in greater numbers. They argued that CHEs should not be just for offenders and drew attention to the many children who just “roam the streets”, and suggested that there were many children in residential special schools who would be better served in CHEs. They supported the views of the Warnock Committee on CHEs, who reported that, in evidence to that Committee, it had “strongly pressed for the transfer of management of CHEs to the education service”. When the Short Committee finally published its Report in 1984 it dealt with the role of CHEs in one paragraph. The scant attention given to CHEs by the Committee indicated either its lack of awareness of their significance, or a belief that they were irrelevant to modern child care. The comments on CHEs were somewhat confused with a number of other issues. The Report stated: What is badly needed is a clarification of what they (CHEs) can offer to children, and a review of each and every placement of a child in any CHE to see if they are appropriately placed. It may be that such a review could be undertaken in the context of a more general review of the functions and performance of other local authority boarding schools. At present CHEs still seem uneasily poised between their essentially punitive past and their supposedly therapeutic future. When considering the formal education of children in care, the Report commented on the concerns expressed by the report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate on CHEs (DES, 1980) and Warnock (1978) about the isolation of teachers in the CHEs from mainstream education. It saw no merit, however, in transferring the management of CHEs, in whole or in part, to Educational Departments. In making these observations there seemed to be a presumption that the CHE system would continue and the Report therefore only addressed the issue of improving the standard of education. This could probably be achieved, it was suggested, by following the example of some local authorities where the teaching staff were employed by the education authority rather than by social services. The Committee was probably right in stating that simply transferring the responsibility for CHEs from Social Services to Education Departments would not solve either the problems of professional isolation or the future viability of the CHEs. Since central government divested itself of responsibility for the Approved Schools and removed the powers of an independent body, the Magistrates, to decide who should be placed in a residential care and education provision the burden for these decisions rested with local authorities. It was highly unlikely that another local authority department, Education, would willingly take on this responsibility, especially during the current upheaval in the management of mainstream education. If at the same time, as appeared likely, juvenile offending continued at its present level, then a growing number of older offenders would be placed in penal or secure establishments.

Separating Welfare and the Treatment of Offenders

The idea of treating or caring for these young offenders seemed to have become foreign to the system and was replaced by a norm of punishment and containment. Indeed the Children Act (1989) specifically removed from the Courts the power to make a Care Order in respect of a child who had committed an offence. This was based on the principle that a child should not enter care because he or she had committed an offence. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 established separate Courts for dealing with offenders, known as Youth Courts. Except for the most serious of crimes, no child or young person under 15 years of age could be made the subject of residential placement as the outcome of a criminal offence. Young offenders aged 15 years and over might be sent to a young offender institution, for a minimum of two months and a maximum of twelve months if the offender was under 18 years of age. With effect from October 1992 no young people under 17 years of age were allowed to be remanded in custody. Local authorities were expected to provide, or have access to, secure accommodation for young people requiring such containment. These two major pieces of legalisation were the logical outcome of the belief in the need to separate the response to welfare requirements and to delinquent behaviour. They also fully reflected the philosophy of preventing children and young people becoming subject to legal proceedings unless this proved unavoidable. For the great majority of children these developments had much to commend them and were the result of enlightened and humane thinking. They failed, however, to take account of the significant minority who are causing considerable concern and distress, both to themselves and others, by their continued delinquent behaviour. There were some reports in the press that gave rise to serious concern about the lack of effective means for managing young delinquents and for curbing their offending. The Times, for example, reported that a boy aged eleven years was sent to secure accommodation following a catalogue of burglaries that included eleven public houses and seventeen other properties. It was not suggested that such behaviour was the norm but there was certainly a level of offending in some communities by young people that should have prompted further thinking about the correct level of response. A strong case remained for an independent body to hear the facts about an alleged offence and, where confirmed that incidents had occurred, assess its seriousness in terms of the age and understanding of the child, and express formally their views on what action, if any, needed to be taken. The Scottish Children’s Panel system (under the terms of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968), seemed to be a model worth considering as a means of responding in the way suggested. Justice and welfare could not, in practice, be eliminated from any civilised system for dealing with young offenders. To rely on one or the other was seen to lead to either an unduly harsh or an unacceptably ineffectual response.

A Role for Residential Care

It was argued that residential care and education should remain an option for a minority of young offenders, both as an opportunity to assist such children in leading a more socially acceptable life and as a reassurance to society at large that where necessary, resources exist both to aid the child and to help preserve good social order. If the residential option were eliminated then a society pushed to desperation in dealing with juvenile delinquency would have little choice other than to take the retrograde step of placing more children in penal or secure institutions, as then happened. The CHE system was an honourable attempt to avoid having residential units for offenders alone, both in an attempt to prevent the labelling of children and to take pre-emptive action prior to a child being formally charged with an offence instead of waiting until they had become habitual delinquents. The new legislation appeared to have accepted that such a goal was unachievable although the low-key approach to petty offending did, however, in practice allow for the opportunity for welfare re considerations to be taken into account and it was felt that a prudent and caring society should take advantage of this. The cost factors in residential care had to be acknowledged. For some children high staffing ratios were needed, both to contain difficult behaviour and to bring about change. For others however, as in the past, it should have been possible to create structured units which offered good levels of care and training but which did not require intensive staffing. Costs had to be kept within reasonable bounds if a residential unit with a capable and caring staff with access to material resources was to offer a valuable contribution to the care, education and containment of appropriately placed children. The general aim should have been to offer a variety of systems and philosophies of residential rare and to place a child in the unit that best met the child’s need Such a service might, in the light of the shortcomings of the CHE system, have seemed to be best overseen by both the Education and Social Services Departments but managed independently, possibly by the voluntary sector.

The Dangers of Bad Care

There was an understandable wariness about the management of residential child care resources in the light of notorious events over the previous decade or more. The Pindown affair in Staffordshire (1991) seemed to have been born of desperation by ill-informed senior management who were attempting to contain children with behavioural problems. They clearly lacked the skill or the knowledge needed to cope in an acceptable way. The cases of serious abuse in a number of other establishments demonstrated the need to be forever vigilant to the prospect of unscrupulous people gaining entrance to a service where, in the guise of caring for children, they could exploit them for their own perverse needs. The rapid closure of a network of specialist residential services inevitably put great pressure on the remaining resources which were, for the most part, established and staffed to deal with children with less complex needs than those for whom they are now caring. The virtual elimination of a resource, in which some people were able to achieve professional advancement within the residential child care service, considerably reduced the pool of experienced and knowledgeable people from which to draw managers for residential child care facilities. This made it more likely that senior managers would lack the necessary skills to cope correctly with the pressures of the work.

A New Constructive Approach Urgently Needed

A new constructive approach, such as the one outlined above, was seen as a way of enabling young delinquents to be managed and contained in a setting other than the penal and secure institutions, when it was necessary to remove them from society for a time. This, broadly, was the concept reluctantly acknowledged in the first instance by the Victorians and then adapted by all subsequent generations until the late 1970s. It was open to question whether such a tradition should have been so rapidly and easily cast aside. John Gittins, who did so much to give the Approved Schools a sense of purpose and who had such high expectations of the effects that would flow from the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, wrote that he believed the 1969 Act was: …one of the noblest pieces of legislation ever devised, but has been so lamentably implemented as to achieve, in some of its most important provisions, the opposite to what was intended (Gittins, 1985). Gittins suggested that, in addition, a number of other factors added to the decline of the CHEs. These were “social work ideology, union rigidity and local authority ignorance of this field”. Even the title Community Home with Education on the Premises, he held, proved to be “so inept as to be lethal”. One might as well call a monastery “a workhouse with religion on the premises”. He concluded that: Meanwhile thousands of children are incarcerated in penal establishments which were never intended for them and for which, please God, they were never intended. These last words could have been written in the early part of the nineteenth century by Mary Carpenter or Matthew Davenport Hill. The main difference is that, in their time, the options were much clearer whereas today they are clouded by often illusory solutions. Some important lessons have to be learnt from what has been cast aside if a truly comprehensive system of managing needy and delinquent children and young people is to be provided.

CHE’s Closed

Approved Schools in 1973 PDF

Approved School List PDF

Jim Hyland based his series of articles on material from Yesterday’s Answers. Copies are still available on request.

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