‘We were ahead of the game’

Ahead of his retirement, one-time Barnardo’s “hatchet man” Hugh Mackintosh tells Derren Hayes about some of the painful decisions he has had to make

1966: Housemaster, Ian Tetley Memorial School, near Harrogate.
1970: Assistant director, Caldecott Community, Kent.
1976: Senior residential officer, Barnardo’s London.
1978: Assistant director, Barnardo’s London.
1981: Assistant director, Barnardo’s Scotland.
1991: Director, Barnardo’s Scotland.

When Hugh Mackintosh, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, retires in early 2007 it will end an association between man and
organisation that has spanned 40 years and for a time saw him cast as a “hatchet man”.

His social work career began in 1966 when he became housemaster at a Barnardo’s school for disabled children in Harrogate.

A desire to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots was the driving force behind his decision to join the sector.

But he had his sights set on management simply because he thought he would be good at it. And the opportunity to become manager at Barnardo’s arrived in 1976 when he joined the charity’s London office.

Very quickly he found that, along with the title, came tough choices.

“One of my first jobs was to close the Garden City Village boys’ home in Essex – I’d never opened or closed anything in my life,” he says.

It was the first of several Barnardo’s residential homes Mackintosh had to shut in line with a change in the charity’s policy.

Despite a background in residential child care he “didn’t see a great future” for the organisation in that field. “I had to make some tough decisions but I wasn’t a great believer in long, drawn-out closures.”

The pattern of presiding over service closures continued when he joined Barnardo’s Scotland in 1981 as assistant director.

By his own admission, he was seen as something of a hatchet man.

“I don’t deny that there was a lot of pain. But you can’t dodge the difficult issues: they only come back to haunt you.”

Recent history has shown that a move away from residential care to other forms of support for disadvantaged children and families was the right decision for Barnardo’s.

“We were a bit ahead of the game in that respect,” Mackintosh says. “Residential child care was looking like a thing of the past and when I came to Scotland there were other voluntary sector organisations struggling to keep units open.”

Since Mackintosh became Scottish director in 1991 the organisation has broadened the number and range of its services. One of these is the support it provides with the police to families affected by domestic violence in Tayside.

Devolution was also pivotal to the expansion of the social care sector in Scotland, and the role voluntary groups play in it, says Mackintosh. “The Scottish executive and ministers have got hold of the issues and have invested heavily in them,” he
says. But the life chances for lookedafter children remain a major concern for Mackintosh.

He says earlier intervention, such as more use of shared care, in which children take short breaks from their families with carers, is the key to stemming the flow of children taken into care. But current financing levels for social work departments and the prioritisation by some of crisis intervention over prevention make the reality “a long way off ”.

Although he has seen many changes during his career, Mackintosh is adamant that the need for organisations to help those
less fortunate is as relevant today as  when he started his career.

“The divide between the haves and have-nots is still getting greater,” he says. “There are still children who are not experiencing a good quality childhood.”

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