The period under review has seen an astonishing change in the attitude, skill and self-confidence of people working in Children’s Homes.

Every generation has produced some dedicated, compassionate individuals who have tried to improve the lot of children in their care, but it is impossible to deny that ‘Homes’ managed by Public Assistance committees were, for the most part, staffed by people who did the work because they could find no other - girls lacking sufficient intelligence for Nursing or Teaching but considering themselves too superior for Domestic Service; men leaving the armed forces without a trade, wanting a secure job with ‘all found’.

The voluntary services were slightly more successful. They may sometimes have failed to create a happy atmosphere but nevertheless they had a much higher proportion of people with a sense of vocation and a genuine desire to do the work for its own sake. One of them had a training scheme in existence many years before the Curtis Commission met.

Improvement in the quality of staff is due to a variety of causes many of which are inter-related.

The report of the Curtis Commission, with its emphasis on Training, publicised the need to recruit better people. Courses organised by the Central Training Council brought some degree of enlightenment into the Homes in the persons of students seeking practical experience and tutors who came to visit them. In some Homes eneuresis, soiling, nail-biting and pilfering were, for the first time, discussed as symptoms of some underlying disturbances rather than as dirty or delinquent habits which could be cured by punishment.

In 1949 the Residential Child Care Association was formed to promote a higher standard of Child Care and “to meet the need for some Organisation which would keep Child Care Workers in touch with each other and in contact with new ideas and developments”.

This Association has grown with astonishing speed. It is still based on local branch meetings at which anything from ten to thirty people from different types of Home meet monthly for discussion and, usually, to hear a talk from someone in a kindred field of Social Work - Probation Officer, Children’s Officer, Psychiatrist, Educational Psychologist and others. Visits are arranged to various Homes and Special Schools so that every member has the chance of seeing something of the social and educational work of his neighbourhood.

There is an annual conference lasting for three days for which every member is eligible to attend. The standard of these conferences is high in that they have attracted speakers of good calibre, all specialists in their own field.

The Association publishes a monthly magazine with articles of interest to child care workers and a book review. It also sponsors other professional publications.

The Residential Child Care Association, the Association of Children’s Officers and the Child Care Officers Association have established a very satisfactory basis of inter-relationship. Each Association sends representatives to the annual conferences of the other two and joint conferences are also held. This means that workers with the day to day care of children are able to keep in touch with new ideas and new methods.

Many local authorities and all the large Voluntary Societies hold similar conferences for their own workers.

Increased awareness of the difficulties of the work and of the skill and knowledge required for success has, not unnaturally, led to the demand for improved status for residential workers and the recognition of Residential Work in Child Care as a profession, comparable to that of Nursing or Teaching. There is a certain resentment at what is considered the superior status of Child Care Officers, many of whom hold university degrees in addition to specific vocational qualifications.

It is greatly to be hoped that, within the foreseeable future, residential workers will achieve a professional status based on recognised training and qualifications, but they will invalidate their case if they claim status on any other terms. Experience alone is not necessarily a qualification.

The term ‘career structure’ in connection with child care causes me some misgivings. As in all professions there must be planners and administrators but child care is essentially the care of individual children. To give adequate care one must be prepared to remain with the same children. People with their eyes on the next rung of the ladder are useless except in Reception Centres or ‘short stay‘ homes.

It is however, possible for people to stay so long in the same job that their sensitivity becomes dulled and their work deteriorates. There is also a limit to the amount of personal commitment of which any person is capable.

I talked recently to a married couple who, after an entirely different kind of life, had become responsible for a Children’s Home. I asked them whether the work was giving them the satisfaction for which they had hoped? They answered that they were very happy in the work and found it satisfying and rewarding. Their only doubt was whether they could continue it until they reached retiring age. After only five years they were already feeling the pressure of ‘old children’ and they felt that if the numbers making demands on them continued to increase at the same rate, they would soon be unable to supply the needs of the children actually in the Home. They described the congestion in the house on a recent Bank Holiday when nine ‘old children’, each with boy or girl friend, had taken possession of it.

Anyone who has done residential work will understand this situation. It brings with it a sense of inadequacy because one is so often unable to give the undivided attention which is expected and indeed required.

This is not intended to suggest that every child who spends time in a home becomes dependant on it for life. Many leave and make no further demand but where there is a demand, even if based only on affection and friendship, it must be met. If we reject it, we ourselves are impoverished because all friendship is reciprocal.

People vary in their capacity for making relationships and, fortunately for themselves and the children, are able to carry on for many years with no sense of diminishing returns.

It is in the interests of both children and staff that there should be the maximum amount of flexibility within a particular service, whether it is a voluntary service or a local authority.

People who have been working in a large Home or in charge of a small one might do better work if, at a certain age, they transferred to a hostel where they could continue to be responsible for some at least of their ‘old children’, but where they would be relieved of the very young.

When, and if, residential workers take the two year training which is envisaged, they will be better equipped to undertake some of the ‘after care’ which can be done more successfully from a residential base.

Some societies are already showing this flexibility in the deployment of staff, sometimes with great success.

The Williams Committee, set up by the National Council of Social Service, to enquire into the whole problem of staffing residential establishments, stressed the need for training in all branches of residential care. They recommended that a National Training body should be established to organise training courses and award certificates in Residential Care. These courses would normally be of two years duration and would involve a study in much greater depth than is possible in one year.

If, as is greatly to be hoped, the recommendations of this committee are fully implemented, Residential Child Care Workers of the future will all have the same basic professional training, though many may have other qualifications in addition.

It may be assumed that when and if the new National Training Body is established and the present Training Council disappears, people who hold the existing Certificate in Child Care will be given professional status and will not be expected to do further training.

In the meantime we are faced with a situation in which Homes must be kept open. But only eighteen percent of staff hold the Certificate of Child Care twenty years after the course started.

People of my own generation had no opportunity to take a training in Child Care because, when we were young, no such training existed. My generation has now passed and there is no reason why people who wish for senior positions should be entirely unqualified.

For many years it will be necessary to employ unqualified people as ancillary staff but this has happened in every other growing profession. The uncertified teacher is still present in our schools.

Because residential child care is a way of life, as well as a specific job, it needs people of widely different attributes and abilities. Everyone must have some basic knowledge and the ability to make a home. It is not necessary for everyone to have both academic attainments and a high degree of practical expertise, though both are needed in a Home.

The Teaching profession includes people of different attainments who enter by different doors - University, Teacher Training College, School of Art, School of Domestic Science, Technical College etc., and yet all are recognised as Professionals. Similarly, both State Registered Nurses and State Enrolled Nurses are regarded as Professional Nurses.

At this time the Residential Child Care service needs people with qualifications and experience in kindred spheres of work, whether they be teachers, social workers or those concerned with mental health. The field is wide; the need is great.

The basic need of deprived children remains what it has always been: the need for close human relationship. No one method of Child Care can cater for every deprived child. There must be variety of method - adoption, boarding out, small Home, large Home, boarding school (neurotic parents can sometimes tolerate a child for the holidays when they could not tolerate him permanently). All these methods depend upon the adequacy of the individual staff who are in direct contact with the child.

The success of a Home depends on the quality of the staff and their willingness to remain. They matter infinitely more than situation, size, fitted carpets and all the other things to which so much importance is attached. The right people must be appointed and they must be given the right conditions in which to work. Higher salaries and shorter hours are not enough. They must be given scope to experiment, freedom to evolve their own methods and, above all, their rightful share of responsibility.

This work can be enormously satisfying and rewarding. The people who do it at the day to day personal level should not be deprived of their satisfaction and their reward. After all they, and the children they help, are the people who matter.