Reflections on research into residential child care in scotland and england
Returning the Gaze: Reflections on research(1969-1973) into Residential Child Care in Scotland and England Keith J. White, SCI Kilkenny March 2012
IntroductionThe thesis dealt with history, and has nowbecome historyIt was done to inform my own life andpractice, and I share it with you so thatyou can do the same in your contextTaking stock and learning from history
Part OneSeven reflections on re-reading the thesisfully for the first time forty years after theeventThey are not representative or arrived atsystematically(Today’s presentation draws from a fullpaper, with references.)
Reflection 1: The Marginalisation of ChildrenChildren were effectively “nobodies”: the PoorLaws were not designed with children in mind 1763 In English workhouses 93% of babiesdied 1834 In an Edinburgh poorhouse 8 out of 73children died, and others were sick“Institutionalisation”: the incarnation of a system
Reflection 2: The meaning of childhood?Frustrating and confining to find few even askingwhat childhood is aboutThere is a constant recording of activities andstatistics, routines and rules…Doubly “poor” children: children and poor“Children’s services”, not “children’s spaces”
Reflection 3: EconomicsWhy wait so long to name the elephant inthe room?!Whatever is said about the advantages ofa system of care, the “bottom line” isabout costs1851: an example from St Cuthbert’s,Edinburgh
Reflection 4: Separation4.1 Fear of contagion4.2 Attractiveness of “clean starts”4.3 Emigration4.4 Gender separation4.5 Residential and field staff4.6 Staff cut off from the rest of the world4.7 Children separated from their life stories
Reflection 5: Formal ReligionThere is a lot of it about! Nearly fourhours for all children at Daniel Stewarts orthe Red House Home on a Sunday forexample…The reason for many voluntary children’shomes was because of the need for formalreligion: Smyllum, for example, had 700places in 1910 to cater for RC children
Reflection 6: Theory and Training(This was a major theme of my research.)There is little of it about…One outstanding example: Blackford BraeResidential Nurseries closed eventually
Reflection 7: Forgotten housefathersThey are in the system, but not of it!Forerunners of fathers in foster care?Representatives of the “village” that it takes toraise a child(N.B. Children’s Officers going on holiday withthe children in their departments.“Corporate parenting” in Hull in 1593 with themayor and aldermen doing their part.)
Part Two Returning the gaze Looping back on the research with these sevenreflections in mind through the eyes of two child care pioneers: Pandita Ramabai (India) and Janus Korczak (Poland)
Question 1: Marginalisation of childrenWhere are the practice examples andmodels today where children are in themidst?Who is challenging the system from thebase of life lived with, among, and forchildren and young people?The Cloyne Report
Question 2: The meaning of ChildhoodWhere are the places and adults thatrejoice to be alongside children at play?How can the meaning be explored unlesswe are beside them, aware of theirfeelings of things little like insects, andgreat like the constellations?
Question 3: EconomicsIs it possible to realise a children’srepublic or village in a state-fundedsystem?Can one live with integrity among, withand for children except with the freedomto experiment and choose radical options?
Question 4: SeparationTo what lengths are we prepared to go inorder to counteract the way children andyoung people in care systems areseparated from the rest of society?Where are the inclusive “villages” inevidence?
Question 5: ReligionWhat are the things we dare not challengeor change in our contemporary world?How do we create the spaces in whichchildren can explore everything from theinner recesses of their hearts to theinfinity of space?
Question 6: Theory and Practice How eager are we to learn about every aspect of life with which children engage? How adequate is our overall philosophy of childhood, learning and care? How integrated is our policy and practice with child-focussed theories?
Question 7: Forgotten housefathers Is this the sort of open-ended and serving role one that we would embrace ourselves? How do we welcome and engage those people and roles that do not fit neatly into our structures and systems?
ConclusionI have tried to bring some of this together inThe Growth of Love and Reflections on Livingwith Children and would actively welcome yourinput as a Study Guide nears completion.Who is writing today from a practice basealongside children in everyday life, and in thelight of history?We owe it to our children today and futuregenerations to put into words what we believe.
History LessonSome of you may know this poem bySteve Turner: History repeats itself. Has to. No one listens.Today we are bucking this trend by takingstock: thank you for listening!