NUMBER 682• 14 FEBRUARY • HISTORICAL
Child care in the period from 1948 onwards reminds one of three stages in the learning process. The first stage is when the problem seems relatively straightforward because so little is known; the second when growing knowledge and a mass of detail confuses the pattern; the third when detail begins to be mastered and formulated and a pattern starts to emerge again. The point where we stand at present seems to be the second stage with some indication of the third ahead of us.
Looking back it hardly seems possible that the community could have accepted so readily the apparently reassuring classifications into which children could be put, delinquent, maladjusted, deprived, each qualifying for a different type of service according to the classification. It was frustrating at first when exceptions to the simple pattern appeared; children who were maladjusted, delinquent and deprived and other things besides. For a time the service into whose hands such a child first fell, confidently seized on the particular symptom for which it catered and arranged the child’s life accordingly, and if another symptom gradually dominated, passed on the problem with little recognition that a whole person was carrying the symptoms around in his daily life. The pattern of the social services available made this too easy. In an unpublished thesis (‘Provision for Deprived Children in England and Wales’) Jean Packman has referred to the child in our present social services as being ‘reduced to the position of the ball in the pin-table — pushed from one point to another, hovering over first one pocket and then the next, and finally perhaps, missing a pocket altogether, and coming to rest in no-mans-land’. She describes a child whose behaviour was anti-social and who in her life away from her mother lived in two voluntary homes, two special schools, a reception home and a mental hospital, and but for the ‘accident’ of the points of view taken by individuals at various stages in her case, might equally well have gone to an Approved School, a hostel for maladjusted children or perhaps even a unit for psychotic children, if one had been available. The thread running through the whole pattern was her antisocial behaviour, and the lack of adequate facilities to help her in spite of the multiplicity of agencies involved.
We have been heavily influenced by the classifications and habits of thought we have developed for ourselves and have built up around them whole structures of attitudes which have tended to inhibit a questioning and searching turn of mind. It has not been uncommon to hear reception homes described as being observation centres for ‘normal’ children while remand homes were for ‘delinquents’. After the Children and Young Persons Amendment Act, 1952, allowed young children under 12 to be remanded to special reception homes anxiety was expressed about the possible ‘contamination’ which would be suffered by the others. Yet, later, the shortage of beds in remand homes led to reception home staff having to accommodate and assess adolescent girls in moral danger. Some of them expressed the view that other children committed to Approved Schools but unable to go at once, after three months in a reception home were sufficiently well known and stabilized ‘not to need to go to an Approved School after all’.
MRS. B. J. KAHAN
Kahan, B. J. (1966) A Children's Officer's View. The anti-social child in care Vol. 14 1966. pp. 4-5