The Reality of Closure

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 by Jim Hyland, davidlane

The Royal Philanthropic Community Home School in Redhill, Surrey.This was the longest established CHE, and finally closed in 1988. Correspondence and other data that chronicled the last years of the CHE were elicited by Maurice Logan-Salton, (a former social worker and right wing activist for the Monday Club), including letters from the Director of Social Services for the controlling Local Authority (the London Borough of Wandsworth), the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, Edwina Currie, MP, the Principal of the Royal Philanthropic, Walter Campling, Lord Silkin of Dulwich and George Gardiner, MP.

Campling, in a letter of 7 July 1986, gave a cogent account of how events developed at the Royal Philanthropic. When the former Approved School and Classifying School became a CHE in 1973 the trustees had opted for controlled status with the London Borough of Wandsworth. At the time of the change of status, the campus consisted of a CHE for 60 children, a Regional Assessment Centre for 52 children and a Secure Unit for 30 children. All the provision was for boys only. The CHE and the Assessment Centre were closed in 1982 and the Secure Unit in 1983. In place of these facilities a much smaller service, consisting of 20 places for remand and assessment, 12 long stay places and 8 secure places, was offered.

These facilities had been much in demand during the period from January 1983 to 7 July 1986. During that time some 460 boys had been admitted for varying lengths of stay. (Campling stated in a letter of 3 September 1986 that the Secure Unit in particular remained in great demand and that on one day in August 1986 he received no fewer than 17 enquiries for places.)

The Royal Philanthropic had, in fact, begun selling off the large campus once it ceased to be fully operational in 1982/83. The CHE site with workshops, classrooms and staff housing was sold to a developer in 1984. Subsequently, planning permission was granted for the erection of an ‘Old People’s Village’. The adjoining farm, which had always been a thriving part of the establishment was sold as a going enterprise. The Society had given as its reason for deciding to sell the property a wish to realise the assets tied up in the site and to apply them to other more modern methods of social work intervention in young people’s lives.

Logan-Salton’s correspondence with Norman Fowler, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in August 1986 tells of a somewhat belated attempt to stir up opposition to the closure, in view of the facts given above. It is clear that he was unaware that the closure was so advanced. Nonetheless a number of senior politicians were roused into responding to the issues raised, given that there remained a significant remnant of the Royal Philanthropic. Thus Lord Silkin of Dulwich QC in his letter to the Home Secretary, on 22 September 1986 stated that he shared Logan-Salton’s concern that, with the closure of such places as the Royal Philanthropic, there would be a reduction in the number of alternative to custody places for young offenders. He also commented that “No doubt you and Norman Fowler have consulted together to make good these gaps”. In her reply (8 October 1986) to Logan-Salton, the Under Secretary of State, Mrs Currie, observed that “Closure of a number of community homes is, I would suggest, to be expected”.

In a letter received from George Gardiner MP (5 September 1986) it was stated that the Philanthropic Society was not planning to close the CHE. “All it has said is that in 2-3 years time it will cease to provide free-of-charge premises. If the authorities wish to continue the CHE then they can seek to buy or rent the existing premises, and the Society will consider proposals on their merits” - a subtle point, since it would be unlikely that the amount of cash expected for this type of transaction would be available to Wandsworth Council.

Campling and his staff were clearly unhappy with the Society withdrawing from the arrangements with Wandsworth He commented:

The Royal Philanthropic Society was founded in 1788 and pioneered social work with delinquent children. Its innovative work paved the way for much of the eventual legislation introduced during two centuries to ensure that children who offend are dealt with outside the mainstream provision for adult offenders. It does now seem ironical that their present action will almost inevitably result in more children entering the penal system that would otherwise be the case.

This may have been a harsh judgement on the Philanthropic Society since it was largely the lack of referrals by local authorities in earlier years that had greatly reduced the work on the campus and made it less viable.

It was regrettable that the Society planned to withdraw from being involved in any residential provision offering training and education. The new Director of the Society, Donald Coleman, stated that instead it was intended to develop accommodation for young people who had been in care, a good and necessary work but not wholly in line with its previous history of work with young offenders. The society finally closed the remaining provision at Redhill in June 1988.

The Closure of St Peter’s, Gainford, and the Regional Plan

The second account concerns St Peter’s near Darlington, which was one of the two CHEs managed by the agency known as Hexham and Newcastle Diocesan Rescue Society. St Peter’s was situated in a rural area just outside the village of Gainford in County Durham, and offered places for 60 boys aged from 11 years. It had opened in 1900 as a Roman Catholic institution for homeless children, and became an Approved School in 1942. St Peter’s was set in 32 acres of land beside the River Tees. The building itself was large, sprawling and barrack-like in appearance. It had a modern classroom block, a gymnasium and sports fields. There were staff flats, bungalows for the Principal and Deputy Principal and a staff house, all on the campus, and staff housing in close proximity.

At the time of closure in 1984, the staffing consisted of the Principal, Deputy Principal, Head of Education, Training Officer, 4 Housewardens, 22 residential care staff, 7 teachers, maintenance men, gardener, 2 administration staff, and cooking and domestic staff- some 56 staff in total. The CHE was owned and managed by the Catholic social work agency for the diocese in which St Peter’s was located and had assisted status with Cleveland County Council.

Efforts by the Region to Manage Closures

The closure of St Peters should be seen in the context of concern in Regional Planning Area No. 1, from 1980 onwards, about the number of CHE places required in the Region. In 1981 the Regional Planning Committee had created a working group of Senior Officers from various Authorities in the Region to review CHEs with special reference to the overprovision of places. This group reported back to the Committee that there were 140 boys places surplus to requirements, out of an existing total of 540. The 150 girls places were considered necessary. Critical remarks were made about two CHEs, the Castle School, Stanhope, and St Peter’s, and it was recommended these should be closed.

Cleveland County Council who managed the Castle School and ‘assisted’ St Peter’s were quite happy with this recommendation, but the Hexham and Newcastle Rescue Society strenuously defended the practice at St Peter’s and the need for the CHE to continue. In the event, the Regional Planning Committee did not pursue the recommendations that facilities should be closed. Instead they left it to individual local authorities to make suggestions as to how to bring about the reduction in numbers. As a result, St Peter’s was not closed at this time. In its place Newcastle upon Tyne sought agreement to its proposal to close Axwell Park CHE at Blaydon. The Castle CHE did, however, close in 1982.

The Region attempted to create a clearer and more specialist structure for its CHE provision and a further working group was given the task of developing these proposals. In 1982 it produced a review of services for difficult children and their families in which it was recommended that there be a concerted attempt to integrate the CHE system into the total provision for children and families. This report laid down an ambitious programme to bring together both local and regional services and was accepted in principle by the Regional Planning Committee in 1982.

Events were, however, overtaking this belated attempt at integration. Individual local authorities began making their own decisions about closures. Although they still formally sought the approval of the Regional Planning Committee to proceed with their plans (and also Regional funding to cover the costs of closure) there was little likelihood that these proposals would be rejected. This was because of the general agreement that such closures would ultimately save all the participant authorities expenditure, and because no one wanted to deny that, in practice, each authority retained the right to exercise its powers over its own establishments.

The Impact of the Health and Social Services Adjudication Act 1983

The change in the law in respect of Regional Planning under the terms of the Health and Social Services Adjudication Act 1983 led the local authority Councillors to resolve to end the pooling arrangements on 31 March 1984 and, in the absence of any agreement on an alternative co-operative grouping, the local authorities’ regional dialogue ceased. It would appear that once finance was removed from the agenda there was little incentive left for the self-sufficient local authorities to consult with their less well endowed neighbours.

The prospect of the removal of the financial cushion of the Regional Pooling arrangement had led the Hexham and Newcastle Rescue Society to write to all local authorities in the Region in October 1983 asking about their projected future use of St Peter’s. Only the assisting authority, Cleveland, saw any likely use of St Peter’s, and this for only seven places. In the light of these responses it seemed prudent to close St Peter’s rather than risk serious losses as a result of low occupancy and additional closure costs. If the Society closed St Peter’s before the end of March 1984 the constituent authorities in the Region, as they had done with the other closures, would meet the costs of this exercise.

The staff had been kept fully informed of these possibilities as soon as they became apparent in October 1983. A further meeting was called in November 1983 to advise staff that the consultation with local authorities had shown that they foresaw no future need for St Peter’s and that it was to be closed on 31 March 1984. At the time of the announcement there were 40 boys in the CHE. Ironically, because of an industrial dispute amongst local authorities and residential workers, a further 12 boys were admitted on a short-term basis up to the period December 1983 when all further admissions were then refused. The boys were all told of the closure plan on the same day as the staff and generally were upset and unsettled by the prospect.

Of the 52 boys discharged from the date of the closure announcement 20 or so (including some of the short-term placements) would, in any event, have returned home over that period; for the remaining 32 boys the closure meant yet a further disruption in their lives. Case conferences were called on every boy to make the best arrangements possible. Twenty-five boys were discharged by Christmas 1983, six by the end of January 1984 and eight by the end of February. The last boy left St Peter’s on 28 March 1984.

When the closure plans were announced to St Peter’s there were 56 full and part time staff in post. The longest serving member of staff had been in post for 33 years. Eight of the teachers and care staff had worked at the CHE for eight more years. Redundancy payments, in line with those when other CHEs in the Region closed, came to just over £70,000. Six of the staff took early retirement. Many staff had difficulty in finding other suitable employment.

The managers of St Peter’s accepted that the Rescue Society had genuinely explored the future viability of the CHE and that they had reluctantly made the only prudent decision. There was some belated outcry from a few members of the public but no concerted effort was made that offered any realistic alternative to closure.

St Peter’s was put on the open market by the owners, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. The building was sold in November/December 1984 to a local consortium. Over £40,000 had had to be spent on wages, heating, rates up to the time of its sale. The building and the land were sold for £130,000. The buyers subsequently sold some of the dwellings and converted one wing into a nursing home for the elderly. The need to repay the DHSS for improvement grants made by the DHSS or Home Office in earlier years added still further to the financial burden for a small voluntary agency after offering a service to the State for so many years.

The Closure of Benton Grange, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Benton Grange was also managed by the Hexham and Newcastle Diocesan Rescue Society but was owned by a Roman Catholic Order of nuns.

Benton Grange had originally been opened in 1889 by the nuns. It was a large solid structure with all its living and educational facilities in the one building. It had also a small secure unit for three girls. Located in an urban area, the town centre of Newcastle was 15 minutes distance on public transport. Originally it offered places for 44 girls but this was reduced to 40 in 1978, 34 in 1983 and 22 in 1984. The reductions were an attempt to retain the CHE with a smaller number of girls and staff but, ultimately, the low number was not viable.

The staffing consisted of a Head, 2 Deputies, a Head of Education plus 6 teachers, 22 care staff, a Bursar and an assistant Bursar, half-time nurse, a secretary, two maintenance staff and a cook and domestic staff. The cost per week at the time of closure (1984) was £377 per child per week.

Exploring Options for Survival

Considerable effort had been made by the managing agency to retain Benton Grange as a CHE. In 1983 a managers’ working party and a staff working party had been appointed to explore ways of ensuring its future. In August 1983 a 17-point plan for the future development of Benton Grange was presented, following the exploration of various options. Amongst those explored had been the development of the CHE into a special school for girls. The Secretary of the Northern Council of Educational Committees had responded to this idea by stating that “LEA (Local Education Authority) provision in the Region of the Northern Council of Educational Committees, with particular reference to provisions for disturbed children in need of special education, was likely to be adequate for the near future”. The option of special residential education was not therefore pursued.

There was also little scope for any integration with Newcastle upon Tyne City Education provision. Some way of serving the Catholic network of 22 secondary schools in the Diocese was also explored. The difficulty was that, although a number of Heads of Catholic schools expressed interest in the idea of referring difficult girls to Benton Grange, there was no system for doing this since the schools were located in eight different local authority areas which, on the evidence of the Northern Council, could see no need for additional provision.

The model of provision offered by Barnardo’s at Druids Heath CHE in the Midlands was also explored. This approach involved a small network of residential facilities in the community and a main base, used primarily as an education unit and as a family support provision. Support for this proposal was not forthcoming from the local authorities.

Although the proposals were accepted by the managers and the staff they never came to fruition. There was little enthusiasm from local authorities for the ideas and reluctance by some staff to become part of a more complex resource.

With the collapse of the Regional Planning Committee and the ending of the Regional Pooling arrangements, the future funding of Benton Grange would depend entirely on fees from referrals. However, as the number of girls’ places provided in CHEs in the Region as at 1 April 1984 was likely to fall from 142, with the closure of one girls’ CHE, the probable closure of a second and the conversion of the third into a co-educational CHE, the anticipated eventual number of girls’ places available in the Region would be only 41. Although only four local authorities, one of whom was out of the Region, took up a proposal to buy in a number of places at Benton Grange (10 places in all), it was nevertheless decided at the end of 1983, despite the demise of the Region, to proceed with offering 22 residential and six day places at Benton Grange.

When, by early May 1984, the number of residents dropped in 16, with the prospect of some discharges at the end of the Summer term and virtually no new referrals, it was finally decided that there was no option left other than closure. In a written statement to all staff at Benton Grange on 9 May 1984 the Administrator of The Rescue Society advised them that he had decided, after consultation with the Managers, the assisting local authority (Newcastle), and with the knowledge and agreement of the owners of the property, to announce that Benton Grange would cease to be a CHE with effect from 31 August 1984.

The staff were not particularly surprised by the announcement of the closure. Many had become weary of the worry and uncertainty about the future viability of the CHE and accepted the announcement with some relief. The few girls who would have remained in the CHE had it not been closing were distressed when they heard the news. Case conferences were soon arranged and all were discharged by the end of July 1984.

The Cost of Closure

Benton Grange closed with a running cost deficit of £70,653 and staff redundancy payments of £39,653 and £12,000 in supplementary payments under the superannuation scheme. With central government refunds of £15,000 on the redundancy payments, the Society was left with a deficit of £105,000. All Local Authorities in the Region were asked to assist in clearing this debt on the basis that they had been the main beneficiaries of the use of Benton Grange. Four of the nine authorities agreed to make a contribution totalling £29,000. The Society was therefore left with a debt of £76,000.

The Religious Order who owned the property agreed to the Society running Benton Grange as student accommodation for two years. With some minor building modification, 50 students took up residence in mid September 1984. This arrangement was to allow the Society to explore other possible uses for the CHE. In 1986 the Order decided to sell the whole property, including the adjoining convent. The building stood empty and unused until, in October 1987, it was demolished. There is now an housing estate of executive style properties on the site.

The main reasons for placement had been the serious emotional instability of the girls and the ‘moral danger’ to which they were exposed. In view of the depth and range of disturbance of the girls who were placed at Benton Grange it seems that many girls with similar problems and needs must now be left in the community with very limited support.

The closures of both St Peter’s and Benton Grange illustrate how a voluntary society was forced to relinquish work with disturbed and delinquent young people because of financial pressures and the change of policy of local authorities in respect of the use of residential care. With a substantial financial loss it was difficult for the Society to develop other community based alternatives.

Short Accounts of Twelve Other Closures

The most frequent reason given for closure was finance and the to ensure the best use of resources. This was stated as the main reason in the closures of St Hilda’s, Gosforth, Springhead Park, Sheffield, Danesbury, Hertfordshire, St Camillus, Tadcaster. At St Hilda’s there was clear evidence that the controlling local authority, Newcastle upon Tyne, decided to use the closure to help balance its Social Services budget and to improve some of its other child care services. In it financial year, £230,000 was saved. Of this £100,000 was allocated to improve staffing ratios in children’s homes and to improve resources at the observation and assessment centre. The balance was deducted from Social Services expenditure. (Peter Wright, 1985). At Crouchfield and Danesbury (Hertfordshire), considerable savings were made in Social Services budgets as the result of the closures. The figure given for Danesbury (Gentry, 1986,) was £750,000. Some of the monies from the closures were used to develop intermediate treatment programmes. The rest was lost to child care services.

A major aspect of the cost of maintaining Springhead Park, Sheffield, and of many other CHEs, was that of the employment of large numbers of staff. This raised the weekly fees to a level that deterred many local authorities from using the service. In Springhead Park, a CHE for 30 girls, there were a Principal, two Deputies, a Head of Education, three full-time teachers, two Group Leaders and a team of residential social workers, a field social worker, a bursar, two office staff, a cook, a handyman, a gardener and domestic staff. It is hardly surprising that at the time of its closure in 1986 the weekly charge was £423 per week per girl. Part of the explanation for the policy of providing a high child/ staff ratio was the belief that change in the child could be best achieved through effective interpersonal relationships.

The high charges could only be sustained in a declining market of referrals where Regional Pooling systems operated, which enabled those CHEs with deficits to be reimbursed. Once this collapsed, many CHEs, especially those managed on a voluntary basis, faced financial disaster, as in St Peter’s, Gainford and Benton Grange.

Another example of this was the closure of St Camillus, Tadcaster. At the time of its demise this was a CHE for 45 boys. It had been managed by a voluntary child care agency, the Leeds Catholic Child Welfare Society. There had been no cost pooling arrangements in this instance and as local authorities attempted to sustain their own facilities rather than send the declining number of referrals to a voluntary agency, this typeof CHE quickly became a victim of market forces. It closed in August 1983.

Five other voluntary managed CHEs support the evidence that they were generally more vulnerable to closure in the early years of the decline in the use of CHEs than those managed by local authorities. These were St George’s Freshfield, St Aiden’s Widnes, Greenfield House, St Helen’s and St Joseph’s Marshfield. There was a great deal of anger with the local authorities and the Regional Planning Committee for forcing these closures on the voluntaries.

Some creative thinking on the part of the agencies concerned emerged as a result of these closures. In the case of St Joseph’s, a CHE managed by the Good Shepherd Order, an arrangement was reached with another voluntary agency, Dr Barnardo’s. This involved the Sisters becoming responsible for the staffing and day to day management of a CHE, owned by Dr Barnardo’s, Duncroft, in Staines on a limited contractual basis. As a result of this the Head of St Joseph’s, nine staff and 20 girls transferred to Duncroft.

Alternatives to Closure

In the cases of two of the CHEs managed by Liverpool Catholic Social Services, St George’s and Greenfield, considerable foresight and tenacity was shown in changing their status from CHEs registered with the DHSS to schools for children with special needs, registered with the DES.

Had a similar course of action been advocated in other instances the special residential services for children might have been substantially improved and a number of CHEs could have been enabled to carry on offering a service to children. It emerged that the closures could be more complex and painful where a number of separate but interested parties were involved. This was apparent in considering the closure of the Royal Philanthropic, with the Society and the local authority adopting differing standpoints. It was even more complex in the case of Eton Lodge CHE in Liverpool. This was owned by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Order and managed by Liverpool Catholic Social Services on their behalf, and had assisted status with Liverpool Social Services. The decision to close Eton Lodge was taken by the Good Shepherd Sisters because they no longer had sufficient nuns to manage the CHE. The local authority and the managing agency were not pressing for the CHE to close and were unhappy about the decision but, once it had been made, they decided to accept it. The various reasons and differing circumstances of the closures indicate the general disarray into which the CHE began to fall from the early 1980s onwards.

The Casualties of Closure

The closures had a dramatic impact on the lives of many people, primarily the CHE staff and residents. The follow-up enquiries by Jones of Polebrook House indicated how poorly many of their former residents behaved after what was often a premature discharge from residential care. The St Peter’s data also shows that many children were returned home earlier than would have otherwise been the case. The Springhead Park account drew attention to the increased disturbed behaviour of the girls when they learned of the impending closure.

The fact that Polebrook House staff were the only group to mount a sustained challenge to closure plans indicated the absence of any concerted resistance to the closures. The professional associations did little to resist the changes and there are no records of them aiding any of the CHEs that were closed. The work of the CHEs was not generally known to the public. Many of them had operated with only very limited contact with the community (belying their title) and their going did not arouse much, if any, public interest. The managers of the CHEs did not have the power or the status of their Approved School predecessors and so generally felt unable to resist the closures even where they might wish to do so. Initially the Regional Planning Committees tried to set the pace for the closures. As they were wary of dictating closure decisions to constituent Local Authorities they flexed their muscles on the voluntary agencies.

Thus, St Joseph’s in Wiltshire, St Camillus in Leeds, and St Aiden’s, Lancashire, each of which were in different Regions and all voluntary agency establishments, considered that they had been chosen for closure in preference to a local authority resource. In Region 1 there was evidence of an attempt at an orderly disengagement under the direction of the Regional Planning Committee. This was short-lived, however, and once local authorities began to take unilateral action any thought of Regional needs appeared to have vanished. Once the local authorities started closing their own provision they made no attempt to sustain the remaining voluntary agency CHEs.

Few of those who provided the data for the accounts were satisfied that realistic alternatives for delinquent and emotionally disturbed children were in reality available in the community. It is apparent that the CHE system could only have survived intact where there was a strong belief in its worth. Once that belief collapsed, as it generally did, then there were many arguments readily available to favour its dismantlement. What is perhaps of more concern than the loss of the resources inherited from the past is the general failure to build substantial alternatives for the future.

One of the important changes brought about under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was that central government divested itself of direct responsibility for the former Approval Schools - the new CHEs. The only powers retained were to hold a watching brief via the Department of Health and Social Security and a requirement that the Secretary of State had to authorise the CHE coming into being and agree to closure. In the event these powers were used in a largely formal way and thus simply endorsed recommendations of lesser bodies, i.e. Regional Planning Committees and local authorities. With government distanced from CHEs, and with few powerful advocates and with the financial pressures on local authorities their closures were inevitable.

This material is based on Jim Hyland’s account in his book Yesterday’s Answers (1994).

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One Response to “The Reality of Closure”

  1. krobson Says:

    this place redhill was a terrible hellhole that iwas sent to in 1957 the treatment i recieved was appalling and cruel im pleased to know it was closed,

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