This is the second of two articles that Wally Harbert has sent. He is also sending them them to IICSA
They Don’t Bloody Care
I became a director of social services in 1970 and was President of the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) in 1978/9. This blog describes how ADSS attempted to persuade national politicians to improve the quality of residential care for children.
My blogs on cathy fox blog  under “Avon” describe the sorry state of residential children’s services in the 1970’s and 80’s. Staff were poorly paid, worked long hours and few had a relevant training. They offered a residual service, caring for children excluded from school because trained teachers were unable to cope with them; they also stepped-in to look after children for whom no place could be found in psychiatric units. Staffing levels were low and staff stress was a constant problem.
Former approved schools became part of this system; funded by local authorities, they were mostly run by charities. Some trustees and staff resented what they saw as “outside interference” from local authority funders. Many homes had militaristic regimes to suit the skills and the mind-set of the staff they appointed. There was often little or no understanding of how to minimise or contain aggressive and violent behaviour. The schools became battlegrounds between traditionalists demanding discipline, conformity and punishment and professional child care staff seeking to change behaviour through positive relationships between staff and children. These were largely closed communities and trustees were very protective. It became impossible to properly investigate allegations of abuse.
Keith Joseph was Secretary of State for Social Services when social services departments were created; he envisaged a steady increase in spending and improvements to the quality of services. A powerhouse of ideas, he was convinced that, to reach their full potential, the new departments must be headed by professionals, not traditional public service administrators so he warmed to me instantly. At that time neither of us fully understood how out of touch old-style local government administrators had become and how hard they would fight to retain close control over services they did not understand.
In 1974 Barbara Castle became Secretary of State. Her responsibilities included the benefits system and much of her energies were spent reforming pensions. I chaired a meeting with her in Weston Super Mare where she demonstrated her desire for financial mechanisms that would ensure collaboration between health and social services. The care of children did not feature highly on her agenda but one of her unsung achievements was to upgrade the status of professional; social services advice in her department. That was reversed by a successor.
Barbara Castle gave way to David Ennals in 1976. I had previously worked with him in mental health services. He was a social reformer at heart and acutely aware of the need to improve children’s services. Crucially, he understood that some services were of very poor quality and that there was scope for improvement by redeploying existing resources. He created a working party to prepare much needed practical guidance on control and discipline in homes and established a working group on observation and assessment services. The change of political control following Mrs Thatcher’s 1979 election victory denied him the opportunity to implement the recommendations of these committees.
As President of the Association of Directors of Social Services, I met Mrs Thatcher twice when she was Leader of the Opposition; she asked penetrating questions but had little empathy for children’s services. When I met her Ministers after her 1979 election victory, the need to improve children’s services was uppermost in my mind. It soon became clear that this was a non-starter. It might have been possible to wring some concessions for children deprived of a normal home life but the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 had brought the care of young offenders into the local government system. The Conservative Party had declared war on crime and was in no mood to be seen increasing expenditure on young delinquents.
It had been an ideological triumph to bring together the care of young offenders and children who came to attention through deprivation but society and politicians were not ready to build on that radical thinking. With my colleagues, I found myself arguing for higher standards of care for children from dysfunctional working class families but this was interpreted as going soft on delinquents for whom most politicians – and, perhaps, the electorate – wanted heavier punishments and greater hardships.
William Whitelaw, the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Secretary, was a powerful figure in the government and was pre-occupied about crime among young adults, seeking to give them what he called, “short sharp shocks”. He remained genial but could barely conceal his irritation at being asked to fund improvements to the care of children. I sat glumly with colleagues in a House of Commons committee room as his big frame shuffled out of the door to respond to the division bell. We looked at one another, recognising that we had failed to make an impression.
Patrick Jenkin was the new Secretary of State for Social Services. I had discussed children’s services with him when he was shadow minister the previous year. He lacked the clear strategic understanding of his predecessors and did not have the reforming zeal necessary to push unpopular spending policies through the system. He took his cue from William Whitelaw and allowed Cabinet colleagues to slash social services budgets.
After one disappointing meeting with government ministers, I vividly recall a conversation with a senior civil servant who had previously worked as a director of social services. I said, gloomily, “They don’t seem to understand”. “You’re wrong”, he replied. “They understand. They don’t bloody care”. I have known this man for nearly fifty years and this is the only time I heard him use intemperate language.
One measure of the government’s lack of interest in children was that when the 1979 United Nations Year of the Child ended, it abolished the statutory body advising Ministers on children’s services. The government did not just refuse to bring standards up to acceptable levels, it turned its back on the problem. Children in care have since paid a heavy price.
Before we lay the blame for policy failures entirely on politicians we should reflect that the provision of quality services for the poor and vulnerable was a popular concept with the electorate when it was widely believed the cost would be met by higher taxes on the capitalist classes. By the 1970’s it was clear there would be no working class revolution and that inequality was here to stay. As it became more widely recognised that money to reduce poverty and want would come from the rest of us, the popularity of left-wing solidarity and support for the poor fell away. How could the State support the poor without, at the same time, supporting the feckless? The difference between these two groups was unclear and the popular Press did its best to muddy the water.
In the 80’s, what had been seen as society’s ills became family and individual responsibilities. There arose a growing indifference, even hostility, towards failure and social distress; attitudes towards social services spending hardened. Blair understood this ahead of other politicians on the left and led his party to election victory on the back of it.
Doubtless services have improved in the twenty seven years since I left local government but much more remains to be done. The impact of austerity, concerns about radicalisation and even the Grenfell Tower fire have highlighted the disparities of power and opportunities between rich and poor. Aided by a resurgent Labour Party, this may in time, lead to a new consensus about how the quality of public services for the most vulnerable in society can be protected.
Whatever legacy flows from her premiership, Theresa May is assured of being remembered for all time as the Home Secretary who, set-up the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, thereby taking child abuse out of the closet to provide opportunities to revolutionise care services. At last, the needs of children from dysfunctional families will be in the policy spotlight. The report will shock and provide a definitive account of depravity and neglect on a huge scale. History suggests that professional carers and survivors’ groups must seize the initiative to press for improved services when the Inquiry reports. Further opportunities for reform may not arise for another fifty years.
Wally Harbert 28th July 2017
Wally’s previous posts on Cathy Fox Blog Wally Harberts previous posts 
2014 Nov 9 Child Protection in a Hostile Environment by Wally Harbert 
2014 Nov 21 Bent Twigs by Wally Harbert 
2015 Feb 3 Historic Abuse in Children’s Homes – The Management Context by Wally Harbert 
2016 Sept 28 Wally Harbert’s submission to IICSA 
2017 Apr 14 Children Abused in Institutions – Lessons Still to be Learned by Wally Harbert 
2017 Jul 29 Responding to Collective Astigmatism by Wally Harbert 
Please note that victims of abuse may be triggered by reading this information. These links are generally UK based.
- The Sanctuary for the Abused [A] has advice on how to prevent triggers.
- National Association for People Abused in Childhood [B] has a freephone helpline and has links to local support groups.
- One in Four [C]
- Havoca [D].
- Useful post on Triggers [E] from SurvivorsJustice [F] blog.
- Jim Hoppers pages on Mindfulness [G] and Meditation [H] may be useful.
- Hwaairfan blog An Indigenous Australian Approach to Healing Trauma [J]
- Survivors UK for victims and survivors of male rape or the sexual abuse of men [K]
- Voicing CSA group [L] helps arrange survivors meetings in your area
- A Prescription for me blog Various emotional support links [M]
- ShatterBoys -“Male Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse Inspiring change, Through Shared Experience Whilst Building Connections…Together We Can Heal” [N
 2017 Jul 29 Cathy fox Blog Responding to Collective Astigmatism by Wally Harbert https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/responding-to-collective-astigmatism-by-wally-harbert/
 2015 Feb 3 Cathy Fox Blog Historic Abuse in Children’s Homes – The Management Context by Wally Harbert https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/historic-abuse-in-childrens-homes-the-management-context-by-wally-harbert/
 2014 Nov 9 Cathy Fox Blog Child Protection in a Hostile Environment by Wally Harbert https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/child-protection-in-a-hostile-environment-by-wally-harbert/
 2014 Nov 21 cathy fox blog Bent Twigs by Wally Harbert https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/bent-twigs-by-wally-harbert/
 2016 Sept 28 cathy fox blog Wally Harbert’s submission to IICSA https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/wally-harberts-submission-to-iicsa/
 2017 Apr 14 Cathy Fox Blog Children Abused in Institutions – Lessons Still to be Learned by Wally Harbert https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/children-abused-in-institutions-lessons-still-to-be-learned-by-wally-harbert/
[A] Sanctuary for the Abused http://abusesanctuary.blogspot.co.uk/2006/07/for-survivors-coping-with-triggers-if.html
Let justice be done though the heavens fall – Fiat justitia ruat cælum