On 9 July 1869 a young Methodist minister, Reverend Dr Thomas
Bowman Stephenson, moved by the impoverished lives of street
children in Lambeth, London, opened the first care home for
children. The founder of today’s NCH recognised that having just “a
devout heart and a pious wish to do good” did not qualify you to
care for children. “It is a huge mistake to suppose that anybody
who can wash a child’s face or sew a button upon a child’s dress is
fit for work such as ours,” he declared.
Stephenson understood that residential child care workers needed
training. Since then a surfeit of inquiries and government
committees, despairing of poor and inadequate training, have
recommended that something be done to put this right. Only to have
this desire ignored.
Residential care is the sick sibling of social work. Children’s
homes are not viewed as an integral cog in the wheels of care. Any
suggestion to raise the status of residential care and the system
jams the brakes. Yet residential care workers deal with some of the
country’s most damaged and disturbed children and clearly need a
high level of knowledge and skills.
And it is far from a decaying service. The more effort made to find
alternatives to residential care, the more it is realised how
needed and in demand it is. So why do we continuously gamble with
young people’s lives by expecting unqualified, poorly trained staff
to contain them, let alone make a difference?
While many countries in Europe run a separate qualification
alongside social work -Êoften known as social
pedagogy1 – the UK has the vocational qualification
(VQs) which, in reality, is more a method of assessment than
training. It falls woefully short of what is needed, according to
Ian Milligan, residential child care pathway co-ordinator at the
University of Strathclyde. “Indeed, given that competence is
accredited in the workplace the very notion of VQs assumes
competent workplaces in the first place.”
However, in Scotland two new full-time residential child care
courses (although not identical) began in September 2001 at the
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, and the Robert Gordon
University, Aberdeen. Early evaluations are encouraging.
“Both universities are partners in the Scottish Institute for
Residential Child Care (Sircc) recently created because of concerns
about both the quality and relevance of existing training,” says
Milligan. Sircc reflects the change in investment in residential
care by the Scottish executive. It has recognised that residential
child care has its own separate training needs.
This recognition has been a feature of the chequered history of
residential child care training. Everyone has recognised the
problem, but recommended remedies have been routinely denied
implementation. The parliamentary care of children deprived of a
normal home life committee was set up as a result of the 1945
inquiry into the brutal killing of 13-year-old Dennis O’Neill,
beaten to death by his foster father, and would lead to the
enactment of the Children Act 1948. It visited many children’s
homes and often found poor standards of care. It rushed out an
interim report on the issue of training residential workers. This
led to the setting up of the Central Training Council in Child Care
(CTC) in 1947.
The CTC set up a Certificate in Residential Care for Children for
“housemothers”, which in 1957 became the Certificate in Residential
Care of Children and Young Persons. The Certificate in Social
Service was introduced in 1975 for people who were not social
workers (who from 1972 had the Certificate of Qualification in
Social Work). Residential care workers were sent on to the CSS
-Êand any thoughts of equal status were quietly tidied away.
The CQSW and CSS were replaced by the Diploma in Social Work in
In response to the Utting Report in 1991, the government set up a
residential child care training initiative that led to the
secondment of about 450 staff to DipSW courses with specialised
residential care modules. Wound up a few years later, its effects
were short-lived. In 1997, the British Association of Social
Workers called it “another temporary scheme whose achievements are
already proving transient”.
Why is residential child care so starved of professional air?
Money, as ever, has played its part in limiting the development of
a specialised qualification. The low status of residential care
also takes a long, lingering bow. Direct care simply has less
prestige than case work. Professionalism, it seems, increases with
distance from the client. Despite explicit statements that
residential care should be seen as “a positive choice” its status
as a last resort service has persisted.2
Lost in Care, the report of the inquiry into the abuse of
children in care in north Wales, noted that: “While the status of
residential child care work remains low, staff who gain a
professional qualification will continue to seek transfer to
broader social work and the turnover of staff, apart from this,
will remain high.”3
It is this train of thought that the groundbreaking courses in
Scotland hope to de-rail. But their potential success is steeped in
a sadness that such obvious courses are, in 2003, justifiably being
labelled “groundbreaking” at all. Thomas Stephenson took on what he
called “pious blundering”. The piety may be in short supply but
there has been no rationing of the blundering. Perhaps, at last,
that’s about to change. CC
1 Pat Petrie et al, “All-round
friends”, Community Care, 12 December 2002
2 Gillian Wagner, Residential Care – A Positive
Choice, HMSO, 1987; and A Skinner, Another Kind of Home: A
Review of Residential Child Care, Scottish Office, 1992
3 Sir Ronald Waterhouse, Lost in Care,
Stationery Office, 2000
The course features distinctive modules on:
- Residential theory and practice.
- Child development which also looks at the developmental
problems which many children in care experience, and introduces
- Health issues in residential child care, including mental
- Caring for disabled children and young people.
- Creative arts and young people, taught mainly by staff from the
applied arts department.
1988 Wagner Report emphasises need for
appropriate training for residential child care.
1991 Pindown Report links the absence of
trained staff to the evolution of an unhealthy and unethical method
of controlling children.
1991 Utting Report recommends: “All heads of
homes and a proportion of care staff, possibly amounting to a
third, should hold the DipSW or a relevant professional
1992 Warner Report recommends examining
European model and a professional qualification for residential
1992 The expert group of social work training
council CCETSW suggests all residential child care staff should
have a DipSW and that all social work students should have a
residential (or group care) placement. CCETSW backs the suggestion
but declines to act.
1997 The Support Force for Residential Child
Care recommends a national training centre for residential child
1998 National Institute for Social Work
Residential Forum recommends “separate and specific training”.