Allan Levy and Barbara J Kahan (1991) The Pindown Experience and the Protection of Children: The Report of the Staffordshire Child Care Inquiry 1990 Stafford: Staffordshire County Council 0 903363 49 6
This inquiry, established in June 1990 and reporting a year later, chronicles the development between 1983 and 1989 in Staffordshire children’s homes of a method of controlling children known as ‘Pindown’. It was initiated by a qualified social worker and sustained over a number of years by untrained staff who thought that what they were doing was sanctioned by an ‘expert’. Senior staff did not enquire too closely into the methods used because the county was under serious financial constraints and the methods appeared both to work and to be cost-effective.
It is probably best read alongside Cliffe and Berridge (1992) which chronicles what was happening in another county without the same financial constraints but with similar attitudes and beliefs about the respective roles of social work and residential care.
- Staffordshire County Council was one of the lowest spending authorities in England and Wales; yet it pursued a policy of further cutting back on expenditure and there was an acceptance of low levels of provision.
- A reorganisation in April 1983 envisaged turning most children’s homes into family centres and the remainder into semi-independence units.
- Following a series of difficulties, the former staff accommodation at 245 Hartshill Road was designated a ‘special unit’ to which children who were creating problems elsewhere might be sent.
- It was not continuously in use but had its own regime with its own procedures and log book.
- Though one official visitor queried its legal status, it was allowed to continue operating substantially without change until 1989; for brief periods in 1988 and 1989 other units also implemented the same regime in parts of their establishments.
- The regime ceased in October 1989 following a telephone call from a solicitor representing a girl who had been placed in the unit.
- Children as young as nine were placed in the unit.
- The regime involved a degree of isolation, loss of clothing and having to earn privileges even to hold a conversation with a member of staff.
- The conditions were worse than for military detention at the time.
- No professional advice had been sought in managing any of the children placed in the units.
- Failures to record, to produce policies and guidelines and to make those known to social workers were all part of the culture that enabled the abuse to continue and which also rendered children vulnerable to abuse in other situations.
- Lack of training and supervision further exacerbated the situation.
The report has seven parts; Part 1: Background and procedure contains Chapter 1 Background to the inquiry and Chapter 2 Introduction to the report which summarises its contents.
On 2 October 1989 Kevin Williams, a solicitor, telephoned John Spurr, Deputy Director of Staffordshire Social Services Department regarding the treatment of a girl in care at 245 Hartshill Road, Stoke-on-Trent. Later Barry O’Neill, Director of Social Services, issued an instruction for Pindown to cease at 245 Hartshill Road. Kevin Williams made two children wards of court and on 13 October 1989 the High Court prohibited the use of Pindown by the Social Services Department.
In an atmosphere of increasing concern over the use of Pindown, Granada Television transmitted a World in Action programme on 25 June 1990 and on 29 June 1990 Staffordshire SSD appointed Allan Levy and Barbara Kahan to carry out an inquiry. Their terms of reference covered the period November 1983 to October 1989; the inquiry involved a lot of children and was held in private to avoid identification and publicity. They sat for 75 days between 23 July and 29 November 1990 when they heard 153 oral witnesses; they also read around 150,000 pages from 400 log books and visited the six residential establishments involved. Only one witness failed to attend but some were telephoned to dissuade them from attending.
In Part 2: The history, they provide a chronology of the events leading up to, throughout and after the end of the implementation of Pindown.
In Chapter 3 Pre-April 1983, they begin by outlining the career of Tony Latham from social worker in 1972 to senior assistant (children and families) at HQ in 1988, the impact of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 and the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 and the outcome of local government reorganisation in 1974. Staffordshire County Council acquired the boroughs of Stoke-on-Trent and Burton-on-Trent but there was little support for this change. The Social Services Department developed a culture in which people did not read policies and there were low levels of qualification and relatively punitive attitudes in county facilities. It had the second lowest expenditure on social services in England and Wales and the lowest on management and support staff; the management structure was a result of cuts and then ‘sticking plaster’ additions.
There was acceptance of low service provision as expenditure fell from 1975/76 in response to a succession of demands for cuts from the County Council which led to regular foster parents working for Cheshire and Warwickshire instead. In this climate, people accepted what Tony Latham did as long as he produced the goods. When the previous Director had produced the family centre scheme as a response to cuts, some children did not know where they were going on 1 April 1983 when it was implemented. By this time Tony Latham was involved in a wide range of enterprises providing services for the County.
In Chapter 4 1 April 1983 — 31 December 1983, they note that SI 1983/652 Secure Accommodation (No 2) Regulations came into force 1 January 1984 and LAC(83)18 of 9 December 1983 reminded local authorities that the Secretary of State would no longer approve the use of single secure rooms; it also included a definition of restriction of liberty.
There had been little consultation about the family centres and few adaptations; so there was no space for interviewing, day care, etc. but there was a reduction in domestic staff which led to staff doing the laundry rather than other work.
The homes that were not family centres, such as 245 Hartshill Road, became semi-independence units; all were overcrowded and by 6 June it was clear that there were major problems with the reorganisation. Staffing ratios were based on notional beds, not the number of children, and were well below those recommended in Kahan and Banner (1972).
The situation at The Birches was hopeless and in November the staff accommodation at 245 Hartshill Road was turned into a ‘special unit’; on 8 November Tony Latham set out in a memorandum the punishments available at 245 Hartshill Road and soon staff were referring to the unit in records as a ‘secure unit.’ There were problems in the day-to-day running of the unit because main meals were brought from The Birches and often essential items were not available. That year five children spent six periods in Pindown, the longest being 12 days.
In Chapter 5 1984, they
and another 117 spread over six episodes.
In Chapter 7 1986, they note that the Secure Accommodation (No 2) (Amendment) Regulations, Secure accommodation for children and young persons: guidance for local authorities CI(86)8 and the NHS Health Advisory Service report Bridges over troubled waters on services for adolescents with mental health problems were published.
January saw the first use of a home tutor and in February a cook was appointed and daily deliveries of bread and milk began while July saw the arrival of the fourth Pindown document. Between 7 August 1985 and 31 December 1986, 272 ‘programmes’ were produced, nearly half unsigned. Over the year 27 children were in Pindown, the longest for 37 days.
In Chapter 8 1987, they note that 245 Hartshill Road began to take admissions, rather than just transfers, and over the year 30 children were placed in Pindown, the longest for 25 days with one child spending 42 days in it over 6 episodes.
In February the Social Services Department took over five of Tony Latham’s enterprises and he applied for and was appointed voluntary bodies co-ordinator from 1 July, having been off ill for six weeks during April and May because of pressure of work.
In Chapter 9 1988 — the year of the Wagner Report (Independent Review of Residential Care, 1988), they note that the staff involved in setting up Pindown had moved on, while Riverside, the authority’s community home with education, was gradually being run down as it encountered serious difficulties.
A second Pindown unit was started at The Birches, though entries were made in the logbook at 245 Hartshill Road until 14 July. There was also an attempt to introduce a positive form of Pindown alongside traditional Pindown but this was unsuccessful. The last Pindown at The Birches took place in November. Over the year 40 children had been in Pindown at 245 Hartshill Road, the longest for 64 days, and 10 children at The Birches, the longest for 29 days, though one child had had 47 days in two episodes.
On 25 November proposals for a major social services reorganisation were put forward. With the ending of Manpower Services Commission funding another of Tony Latham’s companies was wound up.
In Chapter 10 1989 — the year of the Children Act, they note that Riverside was closed in January and there was trouble at various residential units. On 20 March Pindown started at The Alders amid concern from Tamworth social workers and later at Heron Cross House. By this time Tony Latham was senior assistant (children and families).
Following various problems at 100 Chell Heath Road and Heron Cross House, changes were made in September and October to the functions of 100 Chell Heath Road, Heron Cross House and 245 Hartshill Road. During this period a girl who had been taken to 245 Hartshill Road jumped out of a window and was later made a ward of court. Pindown formally ended following the telephone call from Kevin Williams, the solicitor, and Tony Latham produced the eighth Pindown document. On 31 October the Social Services General Sub-committee were first told about Pindown.
Over the year eighteen children had been in Pindown at 245 Hartshill Road, the longest for 27 days, seven at The Alders, the longest for 21 days and three at Heron Cross House, the longest for 8 days.
Part 3: the Pindown experience consists describe the continuing problems at 245 Hartshill Road including, on occasions, a complete absence of staff. On 16 February Fred Hill visited and drew attention to potential breaches of the Community Homes Regulations 1972. He was commissioned to write a report but his recommendations on the removal of children’s clothing, education and sleeping-in were ignored.
On 5 May the first girl admission took place by which time there was plenty of evidence in the log books of children’s distress at their treatment. Around this time the first of eight ‘Pindown documents’ was developed; the second was written in August setting out the running of the unit and the ‘Yellow Folder’ was also started. However, the records made did not conform to accepted standards. Over the year 19 children were in Pindown, the shortest for 1 day and the longest for 37 days, with one child having five episodes totalling 60 days.
In Chapter 6 1985, they note the continuing complaints about physical conditions and inadequate staffing. In February Paul Hudson, Director of Social Services, took early retirement; Barry O’Neill was appointed and there was a senior management reorganisation. On 1 April Tony Latham moved from area officer (family centres) to area officer (children and families). He was heavily involved in his various projects and worked very long hours. Among the children in Pindown that year, one child spent 84 days in it of a single chapter, Chapter 11 Pindown profiles, in which they give profiles of seven children who experienced Pindown:
- Jane who had been fostered because her parents were psychiatrically ill and who at fifteen had had disagreements with her foster mother;
- Susan who had been placed in Pindown when first admitted to care at the age of nine;
- Michael who had been brought into care because of behaviour difficulties and been placed in Pindown at the age of eleven;
- Susan who was in care because her mother had difficulties coping and who was placed in Pindown at the age of nine;
- Sophie who was in care because of behaviour problems and spent time in Pindown at the ages of thirteen and fifteen;
- Peter, who had been in care from the age of four because his mother was unable to cope, had been at the Birches in 1983 at the age of fifteen and had been sent to 245 Hartshill Road;
- Sheraz who had been admitted to care at fourteen because she was beyond control and had been in Pindown at The Alders when fifteen.
In Part 4: Analysis, they present analyses of Pindown and the circumstances surrounding it, ending each chapter with recommendations.
In Chapter 12 Pindown, they describe Pindown as a regime in which everything, including the right to communicate with staff, was a privilege which had to be earned. In a report a member of staff had written, “Above all, it enabled at times hard line punishment and reward tactics to be adopted without influence, prejudice or inconsistency”. Care was being “presented as a totally negative experience”. In fairness Tony Latham had written that it “should seldom be used” but staff referred to it, among other things, as “solitary confinement”. It generally included:
- cordoning off,
- removal of clothing,
- having to earn privileges, for example, to attend the school room.
Its purpose, in principle, was to re-establish control but it involved elements of isolation, humiliation and confrontation in varying degrees.
Meetings were not properly documented and the ‘contracts’ and ‘programmes’ were very basic; there were no consistent written procedures and a separate Pindown log book. In total 132 children (81 boys, 51 girls) had experienced Pindown, the longest single stay being 84 days and the longest total for one child being 129 days in four episodes; one girl had experienced it twelve times between eleven and fourteen; the youngest boy and girl had been nine and the oldest seventeen.
During the inquiry various views were expressed on it but it was worse than military detention under the Naval Detention Quarters Rules 1973 or the Imprisonment and Detention (Army) Rules at a time when the Community Homes Regulations 1972 were in force and Staffordshire County Council had not been approved by the Secretary of State to use secure accommodation as defined under regulation 2 of Secure Accommodation (No 2) Regulations 1983.
No psychiatric, psychological or educational advice or any legal advice had been sought and there was no professional oversight; line managers and middle managers were supportive while senior managers claimed not to know about it - a serious indictment on them as senior managers. The reports of statutory visits had been altered before being given to the Social Services Committee and the Social Services Inspectors had not been shown the Pindown unit on their visit to the establishment.
Yet on 25 February 1991 the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not enough evidence to warrant proceedings.
In Chapter 13 Fundwell, they explore the network of voluntary organisations developed by Tony Latham during the 1970s and 1980s. They note that in 1985 Barry O’Neill, the new Director, had been horrified by the range of undertakings and concerned at possible conflicts of interest. There were concerns about the extent of children’s participation in the various projects and the relatively low level work they entailed. There had been no supervision of what happened to children by senior management and the Education Department had never been consulted.
In Part 5: The protection of children, they address a number of child protection issues which had emerged during their inquiry.
In Chapter 14 Residential establishments and the protection of children, they note the sentencing in July 1989 and November 1989 at Worcester and Stafford Crown Courts of men who had been part of a gay sex circle preying on young boys who had visited some Staffordshire homes.
In Chapter 15 The visit to 245 Hartshill Road, they consider one visitor but conclude that he was probably taking the boy out to commit burglary.
In Chapter 16 The sex offender as landlord, this consider a landlord who had taken children in care and had committed an offence against a child. He had previously accommodated ex-offenders for the probation service but they had ceased to use him because he was unsatisfactory. No checks had been made by the Social Services Department before he was put on the approved list and it was not even clear if there was a policy on this. However, Home Office Circular 101/1988 did not cover landlords and, because he had served a non-custodial sentence for an earlier offence, he did not fall within DHSS Circular LAC(78)22 (Persons who pose a risk to children).
In Part 6: Professional issues, they consider wider professional issues.
In Chapter 17 Management, they note that there had been three major reorganisations (in 1983, 1985 and 1989) and cuts in each year from 1983 to 1987. The culture was for management to make decisions in isolation and it was impossible for staff to get through the layer of middle management. There was no complaints procedure until September 1988 and there was a general failure to provide adequate resources. There was no requirement for management training and it was difficult to get secondment. There was no process of evaluation. Several of these points had been raised during the SSI inspection of family centres in 1987.
In Chapter 18 Supervision, they note that the supervision arrangements had been criticised by the SSI in 1987 and again in 1990. Though a document Staff supervision — policies and guidelines had been developed by senior managers, staff were unaware of it.
In Chapter 19 Training, they note that training had a very low profile and in-service training was virtually non-existent.
In Chapter 20 Staffing, they note that posts were only advertised externally after an internal advert had failed to produce an appointment and, though this was not uncommon at the time, it meant it took a long time to fill vacancies and unqualified people were appointed if qualified people were not available. The lack of night staff had been justified because it was based on the theoretical number of beds rather than the number of children in the establishment. More significantly, there was no career structure for residential staff.
In Chapter 21 National implications, they look at the implications of their findings for control, residential care, the education and health of children in care, the needs of young people over 16 and child protection.
Part 7: Conclusions and summary of recommendations consists of two chapters setting out their conclusions and recommendations and is followed by fourteen appendices including the eight ‘Pindown documents.’
This is a thorough and comprehensive report, benefiting both from the time taken to receive the evidence and the breadth of perspective the authors bring to it, though the framework they adopted to try and bring some order to the material does not always work and there are some inconsistencies and unnecessary repetitions in the report.
The overwhelming impression is a re-run of the Aylesbury workhouse scandal (Crowther, 1981) in which a series of incremental changes were made by the local managers while those at the top did not read any of the guidance they were sent during the period. Indeed, one of the staff appeared to see the purpose of Pindown as the same as that of the workhouse, to make care such a negative experience that no-one would want to be in care. In a sense, to use residential care as a deterrent was a logical extension of the views of Bowlby (1952) and Goffman (1968) that were popular with social workers at the time. If it worked, it might accelerate what many people then thought was inevitable, the elimination of residential care (Cliffe and Berridge, 1992).
It also mirrors the nineteenth century experience that workhouse staff rarely left the workhouse or knew anything about what was going on outside that world. In much the same way, social work in the 1960s and 1970s had increasingly come to see itself as a self-sufficient profession that did not need to call on psychiatrists, psychologists or educationalists to advise it on what to do. Thus it never appears to have occurred to the social work managers in Staffordshire that running residential establishments is something which needs a different set of skills and a different pattern of relationships and communication from that which will work in an area office (Woodward, 1980) or that the county employed psychologists and educationalists in other departments who might have been able to advise social workers on more effective management of difficult behaviour.
However, like Cliffe and Berridge (1992) and the Leicestershire Inquiry Report (Kirkwood, 1993), it also raises questions about the usefulness of social work training. Tony Latham was a qualified social worker, as was Frank Beck in Leicestershire. The qualified staff who ran the system in Warwickshire which eventually led to the closure of all Warwickshire’s children’s homes were no more able to develop a positive model of residential care than were the staff in Staffordshire. Ever since the Curtis Report (Care of Children Committee, 1946), more or better training has been raised as a remedy for neglect or abuse in care; yet time and again it is qualified rather than unqualified staff who have let children down either directly as abusers or indirectly by failing to carry out the most basic requirements of their posts.
This may be because it is the wrong sort of training (Winkler,2009) but it may also be because catastrophes do not normally happen because one thing goes wrong but because there is a long-standing instability in the system (Postle, 1980). In both Cleveland (Inquiry into child abuse in Cleveland 1987, 1988) and Orkney (Inquiry into the Removal of Children from Orkney in February 1991, 1992), there had been difficult relationships between a number of players in these situations.
But it may be because the wider system of child care is inadequate. Whereas Judge Hughes and his colleagues had felt able to put forward a holistic approach to addressing the problems which they had identified (Committee of Inquiry into Children’s Homes and Hostels, 1986), Allan Levy and Barbara Kahan, like the authors of most other reports, confine themselves to the obvious changes in practice that needed to be addressed, not least because going beyond that would probably have gone over the heads of those who would have to implement their recommendations. But this means that, rather than questioning the underlying assumptions which allowed these situations to arise, we end up with a sequence of reports identifying what we need to do to prevent the next scandal but nothing which asks the question whether people’s assumptions about what would be the right thing to do in the first place was in fact the right thing to do (Argyris, 1976).
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