Editorial: A Job for Heracles

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

The stories may be nearly three thousand years old, rooted in Greek oral tradition, but they are still true. Heracles was told to clean out the Augean stables, which were choked with the manure of a thousand cattle, so he diverted the river Alpheus through them. Have you never felt that you needed that sort of help when faced with a full inbox on your computer? King Sisyphus was condemned to spend his after-life for ever rolling a large stone up a hill. Doesn’t the work of a manager in a bureaucracy feel just like that sometimes - working hard all day and seeming to get nowhere?While there are areas of human endeavour in which developments are massive, there are others which scarcely seem to change. The articles in this issue cover the period from the aftermath of the Second World War, through the implementation of the 1969 Act, to the current debate about the Big Society. In those sixty-five years there have been stupendous developments in electronics, pharmacology, genetics, medical care, urban development, transport, astronomy and so on. But human nature is much the same, the problems faced in child care are in many ways similar, and some of the research conclusions reached in the 1940s are still relevant today.

What does this mean for child care? In some respects we have come a long way in the last sixty-five years. We have the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Educational opportunities have increased. Children’s health has improved. The physical chastisement of children has become less acceptable. Children and young people are given a much greater voice. Our understanding of children’s physical and psychological growth and development is much more extensive. Children are better protected. Children’s needs are on the political agenda, and politicians voice their support for “Education, Education, Education” and the Big Society.

In other respects we are still there with Sisyphus, pushing the stone up the hill. This is true at the individual level. Human nature is not changed; children are still at times abused and maltreated, and professionals still sometimes fall short, despite all the legislation and policy development.

Dr Lin Day urges fathers to cuddle and care for new-born babies, backing up her advice with research findings, but it is for every new father and mother to learn of the importance of baby contact for themselves. And it is in daily life at the individual level that Keith White’s observations about the Big Society apply.

It is also true organisationally. We set up Children’s Departments in 1948, incorporated them into Social Services Departments in 1971, started to separate out children’s services again about ten years ago, and are considering linking all the client groups up again. Which all sounds like going round in circles rather than advancing. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Or again, having struggled over twenty years to get the General Social Care Council set up, and having had the five-year Momentum campaign to get the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care set up, both organisations have been summarily executed. The stone of Sisyphus has slipped back, and regrettably we have to start pushing again.

Which is why Vic Citarella is asking for your support in joining ICSE and seeking to re-establish NCERCC. Tim Loughton, the responsible Minister, is sympathetic to residential child care services, but sees it as the job of the profession and the services to get their act together. We think that a supportive shoulder from the Government would help to get the boulder rolling, but whether there is financial support or not, there is a lot of work to do to get things moving again. If we can answer the problem in a day like Heracles by diverting a river, that will be great, but we suspect that we shall be having to roll boulders up hills in perpetuity. It is now down to the profession to get things moving

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