If a Children’s Home is to run smoothly and maintain continuity it is very important that it should be managed by an enlightened Committee who, while prepared to support the person in charge and give them scope for initiative, are nevertheless themselves aware of the problems of deprived children and in touch with current developments in child care.

Much progress can be made in spite of a committee but this is not conducive to the long-term effectiveness of the Institution. The independent Home can see-saw from one extreme to the other according to whether the person currently in charge believes in complete permissiveness or complete repression. This applies particularly to the smaller independent charities. The large voluntary societies have created their own machinery and employ experts who advise in the framing of policy as much as on the details of administration.

In some areas, Inspectors of the Children’s Department of the Home Office make it their business to meet the committees of voluntary societies and to discuss problems and possible changes with them but this practice is all too rare. Too often an Inspector never meets any member of the committee, which receives an edited version of his comments at second hand through the Matron or Secretary. This means that the people who are ultimately responsible for the welfare of the children, and incidentally for the appointment of the person in charge, are entirely ignorant of what is being done in comparable institutions, of changes in the climate of opinion and of significant trends in child care.

It sometimes happens that charities outlive their usefulness and this is particularly true of those Homes founded in the last century1 to rescue children from destitution. Since the establishment of the Welfare State no child need be destitute and therefore there is no need for the continued existence of these Homes unless they can provide something better than the State provides, or cater for children with a particular need which is not met by the State. Progress in social work is almost always effected by the State taking over what has been started by voluntary effort. The voluntary societies were the pioneers but they should be prepared to hand over responsibility when the right moment arrives.

Recognising this, the large Victorian Societies have attempted experimental work with children who are mentally or physically handicapped - autistic, educationally retarded, spastic and many others.

Some societies carry out the wishes of the founders by providing an upbringing based on a particular religious faith - Roman Catholic, Jewish, Anglican, Non-comformist which would not be done by the State.

There are however some Homes which provide an upbringing less good than that the children would receive if they were in the care of the Local Authority and for them there is no justification.

The Children’s Committee of a Local Authority is more open to new ideas than its voluntary counterpart (always excluding the large societies). The Chairman of the Children’s Committee and other representatives are invited to the annual conference of Children’s Officers. They are also obliged to deal with their own Children’s Officer who may be their servant but is also the acknowledged specialist.

The education of charitable committees appears to come within the province of the Children’s Department of the Home Office, whether it is done through the inspectorate or the Children’s Officers or a combination of both. It would be a valuable beginning if the local Children’s Officer could become an ex-officio member of every voluntary committee in the area.

There is also a case for requiring new members of a committee to attend a course similar to that which has been made obligatory for new magistrates. This would apply equally to all committees whether voluntary or Local Authority. Voluntary work can be as responsible, onerous and exacting as salaried work, it seems therefore quite illogical that training should not be considered for it.

Retired people are often valued members of a committee because they are prepared to give unlimited time and relevant professional experience to problems which arise. It does seem however that there should be an age limit for committee members, as there is for magistrates in a Children’s Court. I know a committee which rightly imposed a retiring age for its staff but whose membership included two octogenarians. The youngest member was in his fifties and majority in their sixties and seventies.

 

1ie Victorian