Recent news about CCHN's activities is contained in the Addendum to the 2012-2013 Annual Report, and so this Newsletter will take a look back at CCHN's first five years, and a look forward at the next quinquennium. It is important that organisations should from time to time ask themselves what their role(s) should be, and indeed whether they still need to exist. There is no point continuing if the organisation's function has been fulfilled and, if further goals are identified, they provide a raison d'être to motivate members to further action.
Is there still a Role for CCHN?
CCHN was set up in the first place because there was no existing organisation covering its precise remit. There are associations concerned with the history of social work, education, nursing, medicine and voluntary bodies - all of which abut onto, or overlap with, child care - but it was felt that child care formed a specialist niche which had not received proper attention. Furthermore it was a subject which was presenting problems. There were reports of archives being destroyed, of people who had experienced care as children having difficulty accessing their records, of child care libraries being closed, and so on.
CCHN was therefore established at its first General Meeting in 2008, following a period of consultation and discussion. The question looking forward is whether there is still a niche for CCHN to fill. My personal view as Chair is that there is plenty of unfinished work to be done, that there are still problems to be tackled, and that the track record of conferences which CCHN has organised suggests that there is a market for further events. CCHN may need to shift its focus or adjust its programme of activities, but in principle it has not yet run its course and should continue.
The Name and Remit
The Child Care History Network is a rather lumbering title, abbreviated to CCHN (pronounced see-chin), but it is broadly descriptive of the Network's remit.
It will be noted that the title contains no reference to CCHN's country of origin. The original steering group came from England, but Scottish colleagues expressed an interest in CCHN's aims, and there has been good representation from Scotland on the Board throughout. I would be happy if there were Welsh and Northern Irish representation too.
Indeed, there is no reason why the Network should not be world-wide. CCHN's website is accessible in other countries, and the issues it covers are common to other countries. The conference held in Scotland involved speakers and participants from several other countries. In practice, one has to walk before one can run, and in terms of what it can achieve, CCHN is still a toddler, but in principle, looking to the future, there is no reason why CCHN could not offer to become the international focus for child care history.
CCHN's membership is made up of a handful of corporate members and a modest number of individual members. New members are usually attracted through personal contacts, and ideally the membership would be somewhat larger. Certainly all major service providers should be concerned about matters such as archiving and their own histories, and should be in membership.
An encouraging aspect of CCHN's membership is its breadth. Its niche may be small, but it is one in which many groups of people have an interest. There are child care workers and their managers, researchers, librarians, historians and archivists, all of whom have a professional interest in the subject. Significantly, though, there are usually a number of delegates at conferences who had experience of child care services in their childhood, in the care of local authorities or through having attended residential special schools, for example. Their input has been invaluable, providing a reality check both in conferences and Board meetings.
The Board has had a good cross-section of the membership, with former service users always represented. Although its membership is elected at General Meetings, people keen to be active have been co-opted. There have been meetings about four times a year, often linked with conferences to be economical. The main office-holders have been the Secretary, Treasurer, Information Officer and Chair, but all Board members have contributed, for example in planning conferences.
CCHN has had five distinguished Patrons to date, each serving a three-year term. Electing Patrons has been a way of honouring people who have made important contributions to child care, especially if they have worked on historical issues. We have made few demands on the Patrons, but their advice has been sought from time to time, and some have spoken at conferences. To date the Patrons have been Earl Francis Listowel, Dame Gillian Pugh, Professor Roy Parker, Professor Bob Holman and David Hinchliffe (former MP), with Sir William Utting nominated for election at the coming AGM.
For its current range of activities CCHN does not need a large budget - enough to cover the costs of governance, to run the website, and to underwrite conferences. To date shortage of resources has not limited CCHN's programme, but it would be preferable to have a somewhat larger cushion in the bank.
The main activity of the Network has been its conferences, and in each of the five years we have organised one or two conferences. Some have been held at the Barns Centre at Toddington in Gloucestershire, where the Planned Environment Therapy Trust have been our hosts. Others have been held in Warwick, Glasgow, Liverpool and, now, at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, jointly with other organisations, such as the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University and CELCIS in Scotland. For the most part these partnerships have worked really well. PETT has provided administrative support to deal with bookings, which has been appreciated.
A wide variety of themes has been covered, including ethical issues, child care archives, child migration, the impact of electronic recording, and child protection and safeguarding. The quality of papers has been excellent, and they have mostly been published on CCHN's website afterwards. The Board has identified a number of themes for the future, such as the medical and nursing care of children in care, a commemoration of the late Maurice Bridgeland's work, and the history of children's homes.
In every case, the aim is to take a look backwards at what history has to tell us, to identify what we can learn from the past, and then to consider how that learning may be applied to present and future child care services. CCHN does not see its function as being purely academic, but hopes to see its findings applied. Unhappily child care seems to be a profession whose members know little about the historical developments which led to current systems and practice, and it is doubtful whether the politicians and civil servants who devise the policies for the services are better informed.
Looking to the future, a pattern of one or two conferences per annum appears to be within the capacity of the Board to plan and manage, and it should in my view be continued.
The one main failing of the conferences is that attendance levels could - and should - have been higher, in that the quality of papers and discussion has been high, their content would have been relevant to larger numbers, and increased income would have helped CCHN's finances too. It is hard to say why numbers have been low, and there may be several factors - material going out rather too late, employers unwilling to fund participants in the current economic climate, difficulties getting the word round about conference themes without laying out large sums of money on advertising? Certainly it will help if our publicity can be improved, and the Board has started planning further ahead, to allow more time for information to circulate.
Over the years, thanks to Craig Fees and John Moorhouse, the website has been designed and redesigned, loaded with materials, and equipped with Paypal to ease payment. Communication with members has been almost entirely electronic; this may cut out some people who prefer to work with paper, but circulating information through the website and by email saves a lot of time and money. CCHN's Google Group has been successful, in that from time to time it provides a space for contributors to share their concerns. It was, for example, particularly active at the time when NCERCC was being wound up, and there were many strong opinions aired. Sadly NCERCC lost its funding and its NCB base. Currently there have been exchanges about Chris Beedell and his impact on individuals and child care as a whole. These functions have proved useful, and should continue.
The CCHN Board have issued about a dozen Newsletters by email. For the most part these have been a few pages long, reporting on activities, for example. In a few cases, whole articles have been added, to give the Newsletters more content. We have not received any comments from members about their preferences - whether to expand Newsletters or keep them short.
As yet CCHN has published nothing in hard copy (unless one counts the text on the side of the CCHN coffee mug, a few of which are still available for sale). Consideration has been given to books and to launching a journal, but so far the publication of articles has been through the website, and the Board has been wary about the demands which publishing a professional journal would make. Discussions have been held with a possible publisher, but if a journal were to be published there would need to be a steady flow of good quality contributions, and it is questionable whether this could be guaranteed without a considerable amount of editorial work. If a member is prepared to commit the time required, this will warrant reconsideration, as the existence of a journal would help to attract attention not only to CCHN but also the subject of child care history.
CCHN has undertaken campaigning from time to time.
The action being taken by the Care Leavers' Association to improve access by care leavers to their records is a current example. The pointlessness of heavy redaction has been one of my personal bêtes noires.
Approaches were made to The National Archive to consider a research project to identify the whereabouts of child care archives, probably starting with a scoping exercise, followed by a major piece of work which would require substantial funding. In my view this project, which has been on the back burner for the last couple of years, should be a priority for future action.
Consideration has also been given to the need to establish a national collection of books and papers on residential child care, especially in view of the closure of child care libraries. PETT, in my opinion, would be a good site, as they already have important therapeutic archives, many of which cover residential child care.
Over the next five years these and other issues will crop up from time to time, and there will be roles for CCHN to play, especially in collaboration with other organisations.
Other suggestions for action have been the establishment of local groups and special interest groups, e.g. for archivists, but to date no action has been taken.
In passing, it should be noted that a lot of work has been undertaken, particularly by Craig Fees, in answering queries, putting people in touch with each other, researching issues, and so on. This work takes time and goes unreported, but people find it helpful. It is the part of the iceberg below the waterline.
The Public Image
CCHN may not yet be known widely, but it is now being quoted, especially as researchers trawl the web more. It has had a logo from the start, but the Board has concluded that it is time to have one which indicates more clearly what CCHN is about. So if any member has ideas, please get in touch.
Overall, I think that CCHN has achieved quite a lot in its first five years, taking account of its modest budget and reliance on voluntary effort. But there is still a lot more which could be done, and in particular it would be good to see a start made on the major task of recording where child care archives are held.
This Newsletter is my personal view of CCHN's achievements, shortcomings and potential; others may view things differently. If you have views as to what CCHN could or should do, please contribute to the debate.
David C. Lane
04 11 13