The Insider: Orphanages
Star Rating: 4/5
Channel 4 – 7.30pm, 9 March
The government doesn’t like them. Councils have sold them off or closed them down. Generally vilified, they are seen as the last resort. Fostering is better they say. And cheaper. No, it seems that children’s homes don’t have an awful lot going for them, writes Graham Hopkins.
In 1971 there were 28,205 of them. By 2005 this had dropped to 5,700.
Except, perhaps, the tide is turning. In Scotland there is now a proper academic qualification in residential child care – recognising its importance and the need for it to be provided skilfully. And now coming out in support is Phil Frampton in this fine 30-minute documentary.
A product of a Barnardo’s orphanage in the 1950s and 1960s (his then assessment listed him being “half-caste” under the heading “Other defects”), he helped found the Care Leavers Association and has written about his experiences in care in his autobiography The Golly in the Cupboard (which, in my view, despite its flaws, is still streets ahead of anything else in the genre).
Now here he is on national TV telling us all that we should bring back children’s homes. And not in a “it didn’t do me any harm, guv” way either. He admits there was abuse in the home – he was beaten and humiliated but escaped the sexual abuse dished out to others – but it gave him one determining factor: stability. He lived in one place and didn’t have to change schools. He got to university.
Today, children shunted around foster carers enduring several placement moves are more likely to end up in prison than university.
Martin Narey, who worked for more than 20 years in the prison service, was so appalled at the percentage of the prison population who had experienced care at some stage in their lives, that he moved to join Barnardo’s as chief executive. Of the care industry he said: “We spend £1.9bn a year doing a pretty awful job.”
Part of that pretty awful job sees us splitting up most siblings in care – and yet we know that split siblings are twice as likely to suffer placement breakdowns. As Juliet Mitchell, professor of psychoanalysis at Cambridge University, said: “Children form stronger bonds with siblings in the absence of parents. Common sense will tell you that.”
And common sense is pretty much what Frampton’s programme is all about. Let it prevail.
Graham Hopkins is practice editor of Community Care