Richard Balbernie. ‘After Grace – Teeth’
A comparative study of the Residential Experience of boys in Approved Schools (1975)
S Millham, R Bullock and P Chernett London: Human Context Books
This is a sociological study of the different “regimes” in 18 boys Approved Schools and their effect on both staff and their disturbing, troubled and anti-social clients. It is the only authoritative survey carried out in this area of social service to date. It raises important questions, some of them psychological in nature, and it does not end up with a blanket recipe or blueprint for Improved Schools nor for the total abolition of all residential institutions. My authority for writing this prologue is as a practitioner and from work done in this field.
The study shows the effect of “regimes”, of regimentation, and the transient secondary adaptations of most boys in these 18 schools to institutional life. There is little or no evidence of the underlying revenge, the aggression, or the violence of these anti-social young people in such environments. This is very much at odds with the daily experience of those of us who work with them closely in treatment and, of course, the outcome is predictable and saddening. Sadly too, this surface impression fits in with current denial and sentimental propaganda with regard to “nice young children” which so isolates the involved residential worker in ignoring his or her daily experience of nastiness, cruelty, callousness and sadism.
The Approved Schools were abolished under the 1969 Children‟s Act. It is of significance that whereas they are now called Community Homes under the Act, they continue to call themselves “Community Schools”, or as an uneasy compromise „Community Homes with Education on the Premises‟.
It has become clear over the years that for many reasons the old Approved Schools had been becoming increasingly counter productive in terms of their task, the rehabilitation of the young offender, though miraculously they somehow continued to contain a potentially swamping degree of off-loaded mental illness, aggression, and depression. In the 1930‟s about 75% of boys leaving were not reconvicted within two years after leaving. In the 1950‟s this dropped to about 43%. In the 1960‟s it dropped to about 34%. By then about 60% were going on to Borstal within about two years and about 50% of that population eventually to prison. The reasons were complex. These figures did not for example reflect all schools. It was noticeable that those where there was high morale in staff and courageous and exceptional human leadership produced quite different statistics.
The authors of this study recently summarised their findings in ‘Special Education’ (1) as follows:
“Whatever criticism one can offer of the way the Act has been implemented, it was quite clear that the old system of Approved Schools was not very satisfactory. Our own and much other research clearly suggests that in a whole range of areas – high conviction rate, the deterioration of a large percentage of family relationships while the boys were at their schools, their indifferent work records after release, the difficulties of after care and poor feed back of information in the schools – the situation was not encouraging. However, in view of the punitive and custodial role thrust upon them, the heterogeneous nature of their intake, and their inability to work with the home and local community, the schools probably achieved a greater success than might have been expected of them. Even so, few would pretend that for the majority of children the schools were achieving much more than a holding operation. It is in this context that the Act was necessary. While the direct changes in school regimes depend upon other factors such as the willingness of staff and local administrators to implement them, the Act is an exciting opportunity to develop new approaches to the residential care of young offenders”.
As these institutions have over time become increasingly “static” so they can now be classified in terms of “regimes” with predominant characteristics and their institutional goals and objectives can be identified. This study is concerned with such an analysis of what over the years became relatively static systems.
The 1969 Children‟s Act brought to an end the old Approved Schools and the Old Approved School Order and central control under the Home Office and Treasury. Children were to be placed in “Community Homes” and on a “Care” order, the object being in time to develop an integrated range of treatment resources for young people in trouble within each local authority Social Services Department.
In child care almost any “system” of socialisation will work provided those it serves and those who serve it, feel themselves to be actively a part of it. Institutionalisation occurs when heart is lost and morale is gone, when love, respect and enthusiasm are missing, when reliability is lost. It is from this that devaluation and depersonalisation springs. By the 1960‟s the Approved Schools had in the main lost heart. There was no real enjoyment or well-being left, little of their original spirit, shared values, and abundant boarding school type enthusiasms and loyalties that helped at least a few of their more robust clients.
What stands out most clearly in this study is that those regimes studied which support staff in forming substantial relationships and interdependencies with these young people, being in touch with them, and which help them to communicate their feelings, are more effective than those which do not. This is an important finding and one which we cannot ignore.
Off-loading, labelling, and institutionalised care.
Acting out always takes place in a context of failure in or withdrawal from open communication. Trust and reliability then die. This occurs in circumstances of fear and intolerable anxiety. No one then listens and a fear of being human develops. It may then become necessary to maintain order institutionally by decrees and by rules.
In situations where relationships and inter dependencies diminish and shrivel and particularly in situations which in their very nature are cradled in intense anxiety and which must at least contain chaos and disintegration, order easily begins to be maintained by increasingly institutional and repressive means. As readily available off loading systems for social ills institutions engender much heat and emotion and need well structured defences against the over-reactivity of staff. Only by careful selection, small units, and clearly defined tasks, can this be effectively altered and staff survive. The humanness of those in society‟s care institutions is always at risk. Residential workers can empathise with the feelings of the battering mother.
In “The Hothouse Society” (2) the Dartington Research Unit reported on their study of the boarding public schools. Here Eros lives in an overheated space beneath the floorboards of the façade, or he simply wastes away. Where substantial involvement, relationships, and mutual respect and empathy are missing in the love and care of adults, heat is engendered within a sub-culture. The maintenance of the system comes first and the needs of individuals second. The direction is then towards the static or institution centred, a regime rather than a culture. „Regimes‟ tend to become functionally autonomous and disassociated from individual child need. They cease to be a reliable order, a culture, which is identified with and which is taken in by individuals in that way. Their real conscious identity is then lost and there is no connection between façade and sludge. The end result may be like the grotesque „enjoyment‟ of the elderly patients in a mental hospital ward happily singing old thyme songs with the staff and where all the naked horror and emptiness of their lives is split off underneath and painful for all. The authors note this of boys assessment centres, though the situation there is less severe.
This process of degeneration has by now been very well documented. The institution is then no longer performing its primary task, that is that task which it must perform in order to survive – in this case the rehabilitation of the young offender. Reality is denied as anxiety increases and a splitting process is set up. Sociologists have pointed out the Parkinson‟ law applying within such institutions – where there are warehouses they will be kept full just because they exist and because people‟s jobs depend on them being kept full and open. The whole situation becomes brittle and paranoid. Where a culture breaks down this way the result is that grotesque distortion of personality called institutionalisation – the super-imposition of a false self, the growth of the outer shell only – a lot of false selves „enjoying‟ themselves whilst all the painful difficulties disappear underground, are denied, and plastered over.
The authors have studied the relative effectiveness of a variety of classifiable „regimes‟ in creating and maintaining something of a delusional equilibrium, „happy‟ systems of denial and plastering over, in which the problems have largely gone underground, only to re-appear later. These are studies of relatively institution centred regimes which can therefore be categorised and differentiated in this way. It is very difficult to categorise responsible and organic systems, that is those relatively less centred on maintaining themselves through stasis than on meeting changing individual needs in an imaginative and creative way.
The study describes this surface and brittle delusional world and the institutional splitting processes between task and façade. We are once again at present in fact in this field returning to the sausage machine „allocation‟ system as the bottlenecks again build up after a lull caused by the recent changes in legislation, and now that once again all the „schools‟ are full up to the brim.
Since Approved Schools, like prisons and mental hospitals, are one of the means by which society copes with intolerable guilt and moral uncertainty in order to survive, institutions into which are put those unacceptable and too threatening parts or members – the morally inferior minority, their abolition raises considerable anxiety. Residential work is at its most questioning at present – are we keeping ourselves in business in a blind collusion with a predatory competitive and sick society? Social institutions of this kind easily become mere dustbins into which are off-loaded these rejects, those who would otherwise constitute a too painful consciousness of reality. They are a means whereby society is able to evade its guilt, its despair, it‟s hopelessness and it‟s helplessness through the organised dispersal and disposal of it‟s problem people – it rejects them and expects them either to be punished in an over-determined way, or treated sentimentally. At present there is much confused vacillation between these poles.
Where we work in collusion with these processes we in fact diminish that torch of self illumination for which we stand in this work and our mere presence in it will be potentially harmful and destructive and a loss to society. As we become more conscious of that which we do to others, for that which we reject in ourselves, so these institutions begin to crumble. But consciousness is only tolerable within a sense of well being and that well being has to be well grounded.
The Staff World
The study is about those deeply disturbing adolescents who engender a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and despair in those who attempt to live with and help them. Many cannot perhaps be helped by any man made organisation. Those that serve within any lumping and dumping system must do so in considerable isolation and with very little support. The fear of involvement in the magnitude of the suffering of others is very much in contrast to the “I‟m alright Jack” attitude. Staff may all too easily be placed in a situation where in order to survive they have to deny this despair and hopelessness in the individual and in the institution. This will only lead to systems of organised defences in order to ensure this, whilst they become encapsulated in their own self confirmatory inner world more related to “system maintenance” and inertia than to the needs of their clients.
Residential treatment is an art, the art of consciously using oneself in relationship to others and to create a healing culture. Adults are drawn to this work seeking to integrate the least accepted parts of themselves, to recover their own humanness and wholeness. If they are to help those they are drawn towards they come face to face with their own problems and are profoundly changed, if they survive, and if they remain human and accessible.
This study is about those very disturbing, very empty young people, who persistently steal and who yet prick our social conscience and who make us feel so passionately furious or sentimental in living with them. Their despair is profound, they are sad, without hope and empty.
To survive in this work each staff member has to develop and find strength in his own individual and personal philosophy. Though he be familiar with every blueprint and theory and speak with the tongue of Freud, Skinner, or the Development Group, and leave himself out, he will be in considerable danger.
The extent of the damage in these young people has so far been severely under-estimated. Only those who have now begun to live with them in more open communication and in more substantial dependency and involvements are as yet painfully aware of this fact. These are young people, many of whom have been devalued, degraded and depersonalised since birth and in recovery and until they are able to integrate some of the terrible underlying feelings of revenge with which they are wracked, staff have to go through a process of being literally tested to destruction and they have to survive.
It is of no use to talk about a generalised system of “Improved Schools” for them. We must accurately identify in each individual case that which is damaged and the treatment needed. They need quite different forms of “cover” and management.
There is so very little suitable effective treatment provision for so very few. Many may be too damaged to help very much to recovery of their humanness. Some, and we must identify exactly which, may indeed need a placement which is an improved school (this might best be provided under the DES Special Schools system in that case). Many however of this particular slice might be better helped in their own homes and in their day schools without the mere temporary dispersal and disposal of the problem through separation. A substantial number, at present off-loaded residentially, need alternative and preventative forms of non-residential treatment and help at present not available. Some may need hostels for weekly boarding attached to their day schools. Some will need opportunity to find lost parts of themselves through the provision in reality or in symbolic form, of missed earliest care and nurturing experience. Some will be such empty shells, full of panic anxiety, they will continuously disrupt, and will need forms of cover and management in relation to their complete inability to contain such feeling and their continuous acting out. The needs of these, the unintegrated, who are unable to differentiate between the inner world of primitive reactions and feelings and the outer world of events are quite specific, and it is not possible for them to be helped or treated with the integrated without harm being done both to their peers and to staff, who will become impoverished. Some will be stuck inside and no mere external environmental manipulation will help them, they require quite specific treatment. Some, in order that staff may survive and contain their own anxiety and primitive feelings, will require a physically secure environment within which it may be possible to be able to provide effective help. For unless there is a sense of order and well being in staff such young people will continuously put themselves and others at risk and be in a state of terrifying cross currents of fear. There is as yet practically no effective helpful provision for the young person needing treatment in a secure environment and many tragically inappropriate placements have to be made. It is with regard to clarifying the diversification of task in secure placements that the most complex problems for clear headed analysis and differentiation exist. It is in this highly sensitive area too, one so loaded emotionally and politically, that the greatest inhibitions lie, and it is in this area that the most generalised and blanket assertions abound. The magnitude of the present need for places is such that any unit setting out experimentally to explore the possibilities of treatment for at least a few of these young people, who may be able use such very expensive help, will need considerable protection from interference and a clearly recognised differentiated task and special selective control of intake.
This study shows that the old regimes were in general ineffectual though some were slightly less ineffectual than others with regard to the majority o cases referred to them. The task is therefore more accurately to differentiate the individual treatment needs of this extremely heterogeneous and disturbing population. Behind the 1969 Act lay the personal philosophy and vision of Derek Morrell. He died soon after the Act became law but by then was very conscious of the inhibitions of the Approved School system which he felt he had severely underestimated. These inhibitions, in fact the whole socially organised machinery which basically copes with society‟s violence, its labelling, and its rejection in an organised way, have led to this system becoming stuck. It is strange that since about 1925, when Child Guidance Clinics were first developed in the United States and when Healey and Bronner were writing about the needs of young offenders referred to Child Guidance Clinics, we have known a great deal which has not permeated outside the Child Guidance system. Within that system assessment of need, psychological, social, educational, has been relatively sophisticated yet modest. Within the residential services for young offenders, and within the Approved School system, we have had to maintain a relatively hit and miss and very inadequate, irrelevant and academic sausage machine allocation service. It amounts at present to a very elaborate, or increasingly crumbling system of sentencing children to new and more sophisticated academic categories and despatching them to non-existent resources. The whole delusional process winds up with schizophrenic top brass propaganda meetings in expensive south coast hotels where plans are made from nothing. We are still in the throes of assertion and dogmatic argument about systems and their maintenance or cessation. But the stage has now been reached where it begins to be possible accurately to assess the needs of each individual so far labelled “delinquent”. We need to know in each case the exact level of integration reached and the implications of this for treatment. This sociological study increasingly points clearly to the need for very much more accurate differential diagnosis as the basis for more thoughtful and less reactive and emotional change in this field. I will return to this. We need to spell out the treatment needs of this population.
Recently some of the more fashionable sociologists (3) have suggested it were best to close such institutions and to start again without them. If you are up to your navel in alligators the best thing is to drain the swamp. It is however, now I believe possible through more accurate individual need assessment to think through change in a more sophisticated and less over determined way. There is much that we can learn from our deviants without continuing to impose results of our anxieties and fears so heavily upon them. There is evidence that society is beginning to be better able to understand and to cope with its own ambivalence to them. There is less of the tendency to swing wildly between an attitude of sentimental “loving care” and an equally over-determined and generalised assumption about the need for good order and military discipline. What can be said with some certainty is that these young people have, to a greater or lesser extent, all failed to achieve a personal control function, a conscious boundary to the envelope of their own personalities, a function capable of mediating between their inner environment, instincts, impulses and feelings, and the external environment of objects and events.
Investment in “The Impossible Task”
It is going to continue to be an extremely difficult and demanding period of change, and many of us will continue to feel very threatened. Some of the old Approved Schools will probably be needed in transition as temporary and continuing “off-loading” systems, at least a definite, very hard and clear cut task. Ideally it may be possible gradually to change this task consciously as resources are available and differentiation is possible for them. They would not then continue progressively to lose morale in a state of increasing uncertainty and confusion, for painful reality which is at present being avoided would be faced. Each person in each residential establishment has to ask whether by his mere presence he is in collusion with the acceptance of a situation in which harm is being done simply by his being there, by his tacit acceptance, and by serving what has become a dinosaur. Staff in these establishments are already extremely conscious of this process and there is now, I feel, little wish on anybody‟s part to bury their heads in the sand. This would serve no-one.
The old Approved Schools in the end existed and survived on muddle and confusion – on the “impossible task” rather than on any clearly defined task. They had to. This became a virtue. Present change challenges this obscurity. „The impossible task‟ is a sort of smokescreen. It is hugged because it gives a sort of spurious status to muddle and confusion in this work; it is, in fact, basically anti the clarification of task, a sort of sludge gulping.
As demands at present once again rapidly increase, there will be pressure to regress to the mutually collusive process and to slither back to large institution centred Improved Schools with actual task performance and façade again split.
It is not easy to accept that which is most weak, most vulnerable, most frightened or most isolated in ourselves and so in others, but this is the only basis of health and well-being. Simply to remove our socially organised defence systems will create more anxiety and acting out. We have to concentrate now on what it is that can be put in their place, the whole extremely complex process of reorganisation, and the implications of this. This takes us from the collective from institutions, to the singular, to the individual, to the ego, it takes us from the big to the small.
To talk of “success” or “failure” in relation to this very large residual population of unselected young people suffering from an undreamed of degree of emotional damage is irrelevant. This is a rag bag, many of whom are hopelessly stuck at the very earliest stages of emotional development and have not yet begun, the anti-social, those who have to be continuously excited and steal, and who have not yet reached concern. Mere external environmental change will not suffice. Many need specific individual treatment.
Differentiation of needs and tasks
It is possible accurately to differentiate those who have not even begun from those with a very weak level of ego functioning. It is essential to do so for we cannot treat them together and staff survive. We have to ask what those resources are that it is essential to plan and to provide as an alternative to the old Approved School system and which cannot be left to chance.
So many harmful decisions are made in sentencing children to new and more sophisticated labels and “therapeutic” punishments, and to woolly academic clichés and theories. So many increasingly identify with each institutional knowledge and, having been brain-washed, doubt their own experience or, worse, prevent others from valuing theirs. This at least asks for consciousness of fallibility and ignorance and a waiting for something objective to form itself from within, from the deeps, and to be shared with others as it slowly grows, takes shape and changes.
Ideally each unit must be conscious of its own specific primary task. The authors rightly argue that since residential provision is an extremely scarce and expensive resource, it should be used circumspectly and very much more consciously and sparingly than at present.
We have to ask:
1. Who are these youngsters with special needs?
2. What are these special needs?
3. Is residential treatment essential (and if so, for what specifically), or could this child be better helped by non-residential treatment?
4. How and where are they best provided for?
We have to determine in each individual case:
1. What is damaged?
2. What is the treatment needed?
3. Will this specific unit be able to help him – that is for whom is it suitable or unsuitable at this point?
4. What is its criterion of successful outcome of task performance?
We have also at each referral to determine:
1. Can we help him?
2. Can we contain him in this specific environment?
3. What is the present level and balance of highly disturbed children?
4. Can we meet his needs without staff impoverishment leading to breakdown?
5. What level of integration has been achieved?
In order for the above to be achieved we would require:
1. Accurate diagnosis and precise formulation of individual treatment needs.
2. Units with clearly formulated and differentiated primary tasks.
3. Management structures that could support and contain therapy.
4. Accurate knowledge of the level of functioning of the unit in all its‟ aspects at the moment.
Getting to know a person. Towards a philosophy of preventative intervention.
The authors‟ write „Our task was to identify the effects, if any, that school regimes might have on a child, not to discuss criteria by which boys might be admitted to special provision‟. Here this study raises perhaps that most central and paradoxical questions of the moment, the most profound, in this field. Special provision exists to meet individual need. So far on the whole we have been rather feverishly exercised as to how to fit individual need to existing provision and people to plans. What is perhaps avoided, because it is painful (perhaps politically disastrous) and certainly a complex matter, is that we are relatively ignorant as to how to assess individual need except institutionally or at a superficial mechanical „fitters‟ level. The magnitude of this problem is so sobering and numbing that it is seldom admitted. It is left to agitated reactionaries or extremists on the one hand, or to inflated and omnipotent techniques and technicians on the other, those who „know‟ the needs of others. I remember the nightmare of a worker on his first day of an advanced course. He was devoured by a need assessment computer; and a wife seeking divorce who said “I have had Charlie assessed by two psychiatrists”.
The authors rightly raise from this study the magnitude of the problem of “planning from ignorance”, which is of course also planning from knowledge rather than ideas and woolly abstractions.
The regimes themselves in the end determine the way a person is seen, experienced, labelled and „known‟, they inhibit any real knowing through identification and understanding. This can only gradually be gained by living with a person in an open way, in a known relationship. Even then it is always partial, always a changing and continuous process. It comes from care and concern not „knowing‟ in any powerish technical sense, but from humanness and respect.
This study leads firmly and inexorably towards this central issue. There can be no new planning really until it is looked at for at present we plan from dogmas, or at least we plan mainly from institutions and institutionalised thinking. It is here that we are profoundly and traumatically stuck, and perhaps none too soon, as it is here that this important sociological study must say to the psychologist „over to you‟. Our present plans are substantially based on little or nothing.
This, it seems to me, is the most vital challenge of the liberating philosophy behind the new Act.
The authors rightly observe that „at the moment hopes of matching diagnosis and provision seem mirages to comfort baffled social workers‟, but the implications lie deep.
The psychological technician may at present omnipotently „prescribe‟ or believe, or hope that one day we may prescribe, for human need as, in a sense, a doctor prescribes for known physical illnesses. This starts from a false assumption for the process is one of „getting to know‟ as a mother gets to know her baby. It is towards the unknown element that this study points and to its daunting magnitude and implications.
It is here that this study must cause extreme disquiet for it demands that we stop some of our present almost manic activity and start to consider this problem more profoundly. Knowledge which may be used technically about others with the power to consign them to residential placements is not of the kind needed and is of a very dangerous nature, a more subtle form of therapeutic violence than that we have so far employed in mere social scapegoating and institutional off-loading.
The challenge is that of accurate assessment of changing needs, towards unlabelling, and towards forms of organised care that may retain their humanness and in which individuals may be understood, rather than known about. The church used to recognise and allow for “invincible stupidity”, as a human failing and Auden wrote “Thou salt not commit a social science”, but we increasingly sin blindly in this as the rag bag of our “knowledge” grows and our respect of others diminishes to add further to their devaluation. Let the academics argue with passionate intensity from nothing but let us hope also that the body of knowledge based on shared experience, which now grows slowly, will be properly valued.
We need to realise, to shape, and to conceptualise the experience of those who live with children, to pool our different experiences in order to understand better. At best perhaps each little narcissistic false self hawking in its little piece of the whole but perhaps gradually becoming more conscious of doing so.
We also need a clear philosophy of preventative intervention in relation to „residual populations‟. We can no longer evade this. It is only on such
ground that we can continuously build, not from institutionalised or theory based knowledge or practice, nor fashionable ideas or hot air balloons. To become conscious of the profundity of our ignorance is at least a start. To use the knowledge of experience actually available would take us still further than we are now.
What substantial work there is with regard to assessment of need in this field should at least be studied seriously by all those concerned in residential work and training. (4,5, & 6). I believe that at present this, the major issue raised by this study, is to a very considerable extent, and understandably enough, evaded. We have perhaps to begin at least with what Winnicott has called a „good enough‟ caring environment before we can begin to see. This requires knowledge, it requires resources, but above all it requires humanness in leadership, the antithesis of the ubiquitous process of identification with “regimes” and institutions, and consequent loss of self and soul. It is so very very difficult, increasingly so, not to be drowned in blueprints and fashionable theories that we mistrust our personal experience and knowledge and become alienated from ourselves. Thus staff become mere “its” in regimes rather than individuals.
Unit tasks in relation to individual need
The Act is in fact an “enabling” one. It challenges us to much greater consciousness, it paves the way towards a child and family service in which small specialised therapeutic communities with differentiated tasks as essential integral parts of a single unified service could play an important part. Only within an appropriate framework of “management” and order can there be therapy. The therapy itself must have structure which will fit into the management frame work. Central also therefore to the questions raised by the study is the definition of what “therapy” really is, and what it implies in terms of this particular residual population – this miserable, disturbing, split off slice of our fragmented materialistic and greedy society, about whose treatment we have such mixed and extreme feelings.
Certainly the primary task of many residential units would place them neither in the category of School nor Home.
End of an era. A possibility of new heart?
The institution has been a means whereby terrible and threatening reactive feelings have been contained in staff and clients. How much depends on the help afforded to each and every individual towards greater consciousness. From the delusional equilibrium maintained during the 1950‟s we cannot return to the original Approved Schools with their abounding enthusiasm, faith and morale, though during the present institution inertia and loss of heart with all its anxieties, uncertainties and doubts, there is much backward longing. It is the evening of their discontent but new heart will not come through such longing. These institutions exist, to a considerable extent, to protect the majority of society from responsibility for the acceptance of its own diseases, those feelings, particularly violent feelings, which the individual can then disclaim and project, hatred is institutionalised, sexuality is institutionalised, revenge is institutionalised, brutality is institutionalised. At best, and if they are not in themselves in collusion with these processes, they provide asylum, protection, and shelter for their inmates. They are necessary only when they serve these processes consciously, not blindly, and in so far as they become part of a mutually collusive social process they are dangerous and inevitably counter productive in terms of social rehabilitation and health. Certainly we will need institutions whose primary task is custodial and holding but we must not pretend that it is otherwise, and let us then further assess and differentiate the needs of their inmates to see what better might be done. It is a fine balance as to whether we place those in them at further risk by closing institutions or by keeping them open. At least we can reduce further degradation.
The institutions studied are those which within society have particularly protected staff from the negative aspects of exercising personal authority in relation to society‟s most difficult, wayward and anti-social young people. In such circumstances pathological loyalties are created both in the staff world and the client world, otherwise such well tried and well oiled and smooth running machines could not function.
Throughout, this study points to the magnitude of the problems involved.
The study also clearly points the way towards further study in greater depth of staffing, and this the Dartington team are about to undertake, as it points the way clearly towards a need for a substantial psychological analysis of individual need in this field.
These young people can be helped but only by the right environments and structures and the right people. Only staff who have a real personal forward movement of their own and deep personal investment in this work and who go on evolving as individuals can help them. Their own libido must be in it for the residential worker “speaks” with himself or herself as a whole. It is this knowledge of their own evolvement on which training must centre if it is to be relevant and helpful and not on an academic rag bag of ideas. Otherwise there is no such personal change and there is breakdown, or by leaving themselves out they become the “its” of institutions. They must be motivated by this inner evolvement of themselves in relation to others, for if they are stuck they regress always to becoming “its” in regimes, regimental its. This conscious “speaking” and caring with one‟s being, what one is, with the person as a whole, is at the centre of the discipline and skill of residential work and it is important that the implications of this be more fully understood. Listening and talking are important but helping a child through being oneself is less fully realised. It requires endless hours of availability at times and a very special support structure for such availabilities particularly at critical periods. Staff too must be able and helped to “recover the wholeness so being human” through their experience, to individuate and find themselves in fact. The involvement of the environmental therapist both in the provision of management and the symbolic equivalent of missed early primary experience is quite different from that of other social workers. The importance of this differentiation is not very well understood as yet. The motivation of the group living worker is of a particular nature and significance, and this must be honoured.
In this work men and women, often with little experience, are faced suddenly and very nakedly in living with the horror of non-being. Instinctual reactions are overwhelming and may often swamp brittle identity. It is not easy to live exposed to the agony of despair and helplessness. But no-one should be sentimental about this work, for these young people are also extremely and often bestially nasty and vicious. Too much of all this has so far been plastered over within these regimes.
We can do very little, if anything, for such a high proportion of these severely damaged young people. This is not the same as saying that we can do nothing. But if follows that far too many expensive resources may be wasted in areas where little or nothing can be achieved. Here we might well attend more to prevention. Where we are intending to develop, at this stage experimentally, expensive treatment resources, their use should be limited to those who can benefit from, or make effective use of, such treatment. And for the rest, what? They are an essential prick to the conscience and potentially the mental health of society, and at least we can no longer withdraw concern and consciousness or reproduce an old apartheid system blindly. We must not go on collusively blurring and obscuring the primary task. The pressures at present to go back to that are immense, and once again to justify “the impossible task” by dumping a heterogeneous rag bag population. Approved Schools are at present ambivalent about going back to this old scapegoat role, some are drawn to it, others would reject it. Society must now be prepared to produce the necessary resources of people and money, and to support them properly if we are to go forward.
Those of us who have lived openly over long periods with these youngsters who to use Samuel Beckett‟s phrase have “never been properly born” will welcome this authoritative study of this particular muddy swampland.
So now in 1974 a new situation and a crucially important one emerges, and it is with this that the study is concerned. Social workers, the courts and judiciary, faced with increasingly selective residential establishments, complain that they no longer have the old system within which these highly disturbed and disturbing young people could be so simply and unquestionably off-loaded and dumped. It has become much more evident that for a very high proportion of these young people no suitable placements exist. Whereas before they would have been deposited in the old Approved Schools and thereby in the end justified the investment in the “impossible task” status of these establishments, they are now in far worse case. Our newspapers increasingly pick up this problem as it develops throughout the country.
There is danger in the situation but there is increasing consciousness and although the pressures are great it is unlikely that there will be regression to the old collusive generalised system. The only way forward is through knowledge of individual need, provision of the necessary resources and to look at social priorities in terms of those resources. A recent documentary film produced by N.A.C.R.O. “People like Albert” stated that about 70% who go on from Approved School to Borstal and 50% of which go on to prison become the average prisoner who costs £25 a week in terms of his actual cost in prison but is also married with two children, and roughly costs the state about £4,000 per year, and very often through the major part of a lifetime, since these are the last adequate and least able ever to stand on their feet. The cost in human degradation and evaluation and thus in the underlying but increasingly split off anti-social attitude, is incalculable, and this continues to be acted out either in passivity or more obvious violence.
This has been an elaborate training and educational system. Royston Lambert, a colleague of Spencer Millham and Alan Bullock at Dartington Hall wrote recently in New Era (7) “Thus most educational research is concerned to find how the institutional processes can be rendered more effective. No-one in this country has asked if it is all worth it, what does this vast apparatus of schooling, always extending and absorbing more resources, in the end achieve. There has been little attempt in theory and no effort in practice to explore alternative ways for the development of children”.
But the onus for such provision has passed from central to local government and it will be a long time before local government authorities it his particular field with all that is now thrust upon them can make it other than a relatively tail end Charlie obligation. Local ratepayers are perhaps less likely to leap to with unambiguous enthusiasm at the prospect of caring for these particular and least loveable weaker members in this way than was a more detached Treasury and Home Office Children‟s Department. Again, however, on a broad sociological map, it is an opportunity and a move in the right direction – but meantime the situation remains extremely confused and uncertain.
We can, however, begin to see, as the smoke clears, how to help at least a few of these deeply disturbed, despairing and desperate young people.
We are in a period of intense questioning in residential work, and of increasing consciousness of complexities, of doubts, of uncertainties, anxieties, ignorance, and limitations. There is danger of loss of heart but for those who would accept the challenge this study helps to focus and pin down these problems more clearly, so that they can at least be more widely shared, professionally held, and worked at rather than by-passed emotionally through either existed acting out or depression. Such anxious oscillation and depression is often a herald to change towards a stage of more reliable and substantial human and less arrogant concern, the beginnings, of newly discovering again what is means to be human in this field of sweaty endeavour.
The challenge of the Act is the ideal of effective treatment as the primary task. This raises some very difficult and painful questions with regard to intake, selection, and boundary controls, which are all too easily evaded.
Most important the study points to profound problems in the assessment of individual need. It‟s sociological objectives “to identify the effects, if any, school regimes might have on a child”, focus our attention on psychological assessment.
It points to the need for a much more human and clear headed ethic and philosophy of intervention, one that is neither sentimental or punitive, in relation to the meaning of prevention when applied to any labelled or „residual‟ population. Just because we are in such a state of uncertainty and confusion at present there is a possibility for new consciousness and forward growth.
We have a great deal of knowledge, enough to produce effective treatment for these young people, but we need more and we need both the material resources and the human leadership. Only so can we prevent the next wave of self fulfilling though more sophisticated institutions to fit people to, for without these resources humanness will always diminish. Yet alternative institutions exist, always have done, here and there, in the field of education and social service. Here and there an individual life “speaks” out of the solitude of his or her own experience a language of love and refuses to collude with all that is cheap, competitive, and acquisitive. These people, often the more invisible, exist in our schools, in our hospitals, and elsewhere. Their non-recognition, is itself often rather sad. These small, more free spirits often mediate the living spirit of an organisation more than is recognised until too late. This too may be as it should be. It is from here that forms and structures come which facilitate creative endeavour and in which it can evolve. If the challenge of residential work is to create healing boundary control systems and structures which are therapeutic, this is at the heart of it. From this source only comes their ego and identity, from out of the immensity of the conflict between inner life and outward living in society. I commend you to this vitally important study of this conflict in the field of residential help for the anti-social child.
My paper today carries a headline “Who runs hospitals, Ministers or Cleaners?” without a doubt, Cleaners.
(1) Milham, S., Bullock, R., Cherrett, P. ‘Can we legislate for care?’ Special education. Volume 62 No. 4, 4th December 1973.
(2) Lambert, S. and Milham, S. “The Hothouse Society”. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1968.
(3) See:-‘Closing Correctional Institutions’. Edited by Yitzlak Bakal, London. D.C. Heath and Co. 1973.
(4) See for example: – Winnicott, D.W. „The Family and Individual Development‟. Tavistock 1965, particularly papers 17 and 18.
(5) Bettelheim, B. „A Home for the Heart‟ Thames and Hudson, 1974.
(6) Dockar-Drysdale, B.E., „Therapy in Child Care‟, Vol. 3. Papers on Residential Worrk. Ed. Tod. Longmans, 1968.
Dockar-Drysdale, B.E. „Consultation in Child Care‟. Vol. 4, Papers on Residential Work. Longmans, 1973, particularly papers 8 & 9.
(7) Lambert, R. “Alternatives to School”. The New Era, Vol. 53 No. 7 July/August, 1972.