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Beyond A Boundary. Learning From Cricket About Residential Child Care (4)

Beyond a boundary. Learning from cricket about residential child care (4)

#4 in the series of four.

What is the role of children’s homes? Thinking about residential child care, class, race and gender

In understanding anew the role and function of residential child care throughout the ages the role of class, race and gender must also be understood.

This thinking has been conducted for special education and criminal justice but not for the social, emotional, behavioural, mental health needs of children’s social care.

In applying a social cultural and economic analysis we see something new.

There is no doubt that there is healing happening.

However, we can also see scarcity and rationing of responses in the critical observations by administrators and researchers that there is not enough early or later interventions of the right type at the right time.

When the needs of the children become too much for the scarce resources they are escalated.

There is a hierarchical use of social care that comes with an increasingly distancing language, ‘family support, kinship, adoption, kinships’, then the rubicon of ‘placements’ is crossed and a different territory is entered of professional placements, fostering and children’s homes, that comes with being a ‘child in care’ with a Care Order, with the legality and personal  aspects of parenting starting being split between at least two people, social worker and keyworker, and probably more starting with the IRO and Registered Manager.

Class, race and gender perform differently in this territory where care becomes a dominant class response to the issues that have been caused to the overwhelmingly working class children and families through the creation of the economic, social and cultural systems.

When the needs of the children become ‘too much’, expressed to gain attention, they are attributed to the individual family or child rather than as a social construction.

Scarcity and rationing of care responses are seen most explicitly when then the needs of the child are met by diversion from, or absence of, care.

If class, race and gender were irrelevant then we should expect to see the demographics of the country reflected in the children (and staff) living and working in children’s homes. We should not find disproportionate class, race and gender generally and repetitively represented throughout homes and services. Colloquially we do. There is no database though.

Do we know the answer to this question in research evidence?

That there are reports regarding fostering that address this matter by Nina Biehal and others showing it is recognised. Is there a similar recognition for children’s homes?

When the Care Review asked the question ‘What is the role of children’s homes?’ this may not be the answer that was anticipated. These factors do not seem to have been factored into the Care Review’s ‘thinking out loud’.

What seems more in line with Care review thinking is that recently revealed by Anne Longfield in the Commission for Young Lives, Out of Harm’s Way report

New care home models need to be urgently developed that keep children at their local school and in communities they know and where they have support. New local community children’s homes would be able to work therapeutically and long term with children and their families, responding to their needs. These local homes, commissioned and led by local authorities in partnership with health, schools and charities have the potential to create a new kind of support for vulnerable teenagers that provides protection whilst strengthening families. Government funds for residential care should prioritise these developments and local councils should consider using their capital funds as part of a long-term business case to improve effective support and reduce costs.

This blend of local and less costly seems to be a case of the question being prompted by the answer already being known.

This seemingly common sense proposal raises many questions still to be defined and answered.  Here are some:

  • How are these homes to validate their work as ‘therapeutic’?
  • What is the role and function of distance?
  • Is there an understanding of ‘felt security’ as being emotional and psychological; perhaps impinged by geographical closeness to the degree that it prevents any therapeutic alliance as explained in the ‘double diamond’ model in another of this series.
  • What is the family work to be (this takes a lengthy time – a DCS recently remarked that he would not place in a children’s home that did not undertake family work as it was only if these conditions changed systemically that the child could return and the work achieved by the time living residentially could be sustained)?
  • Is there the workforce to staff such homes, maybe 300+ across the country?
  • Are children’s services in local authorities able to offer the sustained social worker relationship necessary?

This is only to start the necessary thinking.

Such homes need much more thinking through.

In her incarnation as Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield championed ‘Stability’. How would this apply to these homes that seem predicated on throughput, as do multi-homes and productivity, as in the case of one RM many homes?

Is hers a challenge or an accommodation to the status quo? We do not believe it the latter. But nor is the former the challenge that is needed.  To be so requires a more extensive critique of needs being created economically, socially culturally and politically and that contests any accommodation (unconcious or unconsidered as yet) that accepts these are deficit laden individual children, families and class whose ‘problems’ are of character and circumstance that are of their own making not that of others.

To answer this at this time we go back to cricket. To CLR James.

Widely regarded as on the finest books written about the game of cricket certainly widely recognised as one of the best and most important books is ‘Beyond a Boundary’ by CLR James. c-l-r-james-beyond-a-boundary-2.pdf ( (an unusual source but one that allows free access to the entire book). As the title suggests to find what is really going on one must look ‘beyond the boundary’, at the social context.

It is also only when one crosses the boundary of what is expected to be the focus of analysis and writing on RCC that one starts to apply the full focus rather than a reduced one.

CLR James observed in his 1969 essay ‘Discovering Literature in Trinidad ‘we have to find out what is taking place in the world’.

James takes the view that to acquire the thinking necessary requires amongst other things, ‘evasions, disobedience, open rebelliousness’ of received thinking and opinion. Certainly not seeing things as they are more usually presented in discussion. James would see in this obedience an evasion through a pronounced compliance and the lack of the necessary rebelliousness to think anew.

Beyond a Boundary is both about cricket and about something much wider. It “poses the question,” says James in his short preface, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” Of course we can substitute ‘cricket’ for any other area of knowledge, like, perhaps, residential child care. And we can flip the question.

What do they know of RCC who do not RCC know?

Yet this is the situation confronting residential child care. Definitions and decisions are being made about the future of residential child care by those who possess little, sometimes any, knowledge or experience.

Is there another profession that this would be done for?

Certainly not cricket.