BARNARDO'S -- Formerly Dr Barnardo's Homes
Here I'm going to hand over a piece of my website to show you the writings of my late Father-in-Law Jeff Barker - and let him tell you about the years he spent, after leaving the Royal Navy, working with his wife, Jean, looking after children in three different Dr Barnardo's Homes.
The text below will also be available through Barnardo's (as they now call themselves), as part of their HERITAGE COLLECTION at www.barnardos.org.uk .
Any COMMENTS / QUESTIONS ... you are welcome to ask here, using the CONTACT FORM ... where either my wife JOY or I will try to answer - or suggest where you may be able to get more information.
Both Joy and I grew up as the children of Dr Barnardo's Homes Staff (Houseparents).
Over to Jeff ... !!
Apologies if the text size below keeps changing ... I'm working on it !
Caring for Other People’s Children
( Memoirs of Work with Dr Barnardo's Homes )
(1920 - 1999)
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands upon them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mark 10, vv 13-14)
© 2014 Joy M Miller
1. The First Step - Charlton Park, near Canterbury
2. The Village – a view from Larchfield Cottage, Barkingside
- formerly known as The Village Home (TVH)
and prior to that ... the Girls' Village Home (GVH)
3. Howard House, 17 Cardington Road, Bedford
CARING FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN
The First Step
Charlton Park, near Canterbury
The vacancy column in one of the reputable daily newspapers read as follows:
Married couple required to care for a group of children as houseparents in one of our Homes ...
This advertisement was to revolutionise the lives of my family – my wife, our 2 daughters aged 13 and 7 and myself.
This was the work I had wanted to do; it was also my wife’s choice – but what about our own children? Did they wish to follow us into this kind of work where we would be expected to share not only our intimate lives but practically everything else with the children we would be caring for, including our love for our own family?
I suppose this was the first of many cardinal decisions we had to make, decisions which would ultimately affect the lives and the destiny of so many others. Looking back I think it was probably the most important one because one’s own children certainly play an important though unwitting part in such residential work.
After much discussion between ourselves, and after listening to philosophic advice from immediate family and professional friends, we decided that our two daughters were of sufficiently even temperament to be able to accept this completely different way of living.
With this assurance, I applied on behalf of my wife and myself for the vacant posts of Houseparents, feeling that this was an opportune time, if ever there is one, to change one’s destiny. My wife and I rationalised that this change of harmony in the lives of our two girls could not damage our relationships within the family; neither could it harm them intellectually as we had equipped them both very well with a good radical childhood. This has since proved to be very true.
With our successful interview behind us we prepared to close down our own home in readiness for the day when we were to take up our first appointment as houseparents. We had heard that this was to be on 1 February 1960.
We duly arrived at Charlton Park near Canterbury which was to be our first
Dr Barnardo’s Home, with our essential furniture to make our allotted living quarters as homely as the restricted room space would allow. Some of our personal belongings, mainly furniture and linen, we sold or left with relations as we gave up our private home completely; but so as not to entirely lose our family identity, we had elected to array our three rooms with our own furniture; The rooms were our bedroom, a bedroom for the girls and a third which we turned into a sitting room.
The building was very old, reputed to be early Tudor and said to have been the property of the Archbishop of Canterbury during its early years. Its twenty rooms were distributed on three storeys and these rooms, some very large and some quite small, were shared between thirty seven children of both sexes and a mixed team of eight staff.
The children were cared for in three groups. Each group was looked after by two members of staff. My wife and I would be in charge of one of these groups of children, including our own daughters. Overall direction was given by the Superintendent.
Of the two other groups, one was a nursery unit; the other, like ours, was a family group. These groups were each cared for by two female members of staff.
The Superintendent, who held the post jointly with his wife, was the only other male staff member on the residential care side. Our relationship was purely a working one. Not once during my eighteen months at this Home was I permitted to acknowledge him by his Christian name. This was undoubtedly a result of a deliberate aloofness intended to engender respect. Looking back now, I can see that this personal psychological attitude really helped no-one, and certainly without it we could have enhanced our work as a team and consequently have been more effectual in our child-care work.
As one would expect, a house which is over three hundred years old just has to be interesting, especially with built-in ‘secret panels’. This house was no exception. I recall how the children loved to explore the building in search of these secret panels, tapping first this wall, then that, all over the house. On these animated occasions the searchers would often disregard the notion that some areas were ‘out-of-bounds’ and their quest would often end in a mild form of rebuke from the Superintendent.
Unfortunately in a way, these tantalising panels were always situated in the out-of-bounds area. On the other hand I suppose this was a sensible safety measure in such an old building. Yet how exasperating for these children to be living in an obviously melodramatic setting and not be able to take full advantage of it!
During my ten years in residential child-care work I have found it difficult to determine just how far one should permit children to overstep the line – in terms of verbal expression and in physical expression. In my own younger days the adage was “Children should be seen and not heard!” I am sure that the meaning behind this at that time was simply to induce children to be respectful to adults. Perhaps we failed to read into it the intention to help the child to acquire self-restraint and self-respect, because these are vital for today’s children in care. Therefore we must, surely, use our discretion to allow them to overstep the mark occasionally to satisfy their ego.
The two family group rooms on the ground floor were fairly spacious; each was conveniently divided by portable partitions into a two purpose room. One half was for meals, the other served as a sitting room. The latter contained comfortable armchairs, two polished top tables, a bookcase chock-full of books which were very seldom used, and a cupboard which was sectioned off so that each child had somewhere to keep their personal and treasured belongings.
The nursery was also a versatile room. At one time it had been a beautiful Ballroom, described in the 1838 “History of Kent” as ‘a splendid apartment 40 feet long, 36 feet wide and 21 feet high’. Legend has it that a stage was erected in the large bay window by order of the Prince of Wales - later King George IV. The legend continues that on one occasion the prince rode his horse up the winding staircase, into the ballroom and out of the window on to the lawns below.
To convert this ballroom and make it adaptable to accommodate the nursery group, it was divided into three by safely secured partitions which allowed for two bedrooms and one general purpose room.
Although I was not primarily concerned with the nursery group I became indirectly involved, at least emotionally, as our sitting room and bedroom were directly opposite theirs. As a result it became a regular and understood thing that they could come and wish me ‘goodnight’ and of course be wished ‘goodnight’; this was an accepted, mutual understanding, at least between the children and us. To many of these nursery tots this was probably the nearest they had ever come to having a paternal ‘goodnight’. So I tried to arrange my duties to enable me to be available at the approximate time they would be retiring to bed. This is a practice I have observed most reverently in my subsequent Homes.
Though somewhat new to professional child-care, I think I saw quite clearly where the child in care could easily miss out on the small but essential intimacies that are so important in any happy family. I realised that even some professional child-care workers, thoughtful, proficient and devoted as they are to the children in their care, are not always equipped to give the children the same intimate understanding that exists within families, whether a good or an indifferent family.
Rightly or wrongly during those early days, I found myself continually comparing the way the children were being nurtured, with that of our own two daughters; I must admit that I found valuable guidance and comfort in this comparison.
All the children’s bedrooms were on the same floor as the nursery – the second floor. The size of the rooms varied and therefore the number of beds in each was regulated by Home Office rules. Each bedroom led off a long corridor, some thirty yards I would estimate, running the full width of the house. At one end of this corridor were the Superintendent’s sleeping quarters, my wife and I occupying a large bedroom at the opposite end. Thus all the children’s bedrooms were within earshot of a member of staff.
It was not unusual for my wife and me to have our sleep disturbed at least once or twice a night. Quite frequently it would be nursery tots making their way along to the night toilet and on their way back arousing my wife or me, asking to be tucked back in bed. I recall most particularly an occasion when I was awakened by an intrusive disturbance in our bedroom. I found it was young Teresa, a girl of about eleven, standing by my wife’s side of the bed. She was shaking my wife with one hand and holding a bucket in the other. At the same time she was telling my wife, still half asleep, that she was going to be sick. Teresa promptly proceeded to put the bucket on the floor and instantly vomited. She had had to pass the night toilet and the bathroom to reach our bedroom as all bathrooms for the children and the staff were on the ground floor. There was, however, one bedroom which had a wash-basin in it and looking back I have always thought how ideal this situation was for those few children who occupied that room. They certainly were envied by all the other children. Having to wash one’s hands and face is a task which most children consider to be a big nuisance and an unnecessary waste of their valuable time; but being able to roll out of bed and duck their heads into a wash basin all in one movement certainly encouraged a regular morning ablution without any prompting from a well-meaning member of staff.
The morning washing always created problems and this was one time in the day when the Home became very ‘institutional’. Children would often have to line up and wait their turn even to get a look at the soap and water – let alone the toothbrush! In fact I’m sure there were times when one or two could not be bothered to wait.
The House stood very graciously in 160 acres of grounds and commanded a beautiful countryside view. Directly in front of it was a well kept lawn, yet another area out-of-bounds to the children. So, in fact, was the front door as this was exclusively reserved for visitors to the house and, oh yes! newly admitted children when they first arrived at the Home.
Beyond this prohibited lawn the corn fields stretched out to the perimeter of the nearest village. To the right of the long, winding driveway as you made your way from the house to the village was beautiful meadow land with its own personal stream flowing peacefully through it. The meadow was said by the locals to overflow its banks every seven years. Most of the 160 acres was leased to a local farmer who used to graze his sheep and cows in the meadow.
Because we had only limited space for outdoor play, on occasion we used to play cricket in this meadow. The cows seemed to appreciate our company and never interfered with our game. I cannot say the same for all of the children. There is always one who has to be different and we had that one boy. Sometimes the farmer would graze an old bull in the meadow with the cows and by all accounts this particular bull was quite tame. While we played our game of cricket we had one eye on the ball and the other on the bull! Like the cows, he seemed content to share the meadow with us. Then, one evening when the game seemed to be lacking interest, our young friend decided to see just how contented and placid the bull was. He attempted to get as close to the bull as he could, despite our urgent demands for him to return to his rightful place on the cricket field.
Suddenly it happened! The bull must have caught sight of him. Instantly he dropped his head, frantically pawed the ground, then came straight for us. It was every man for himself! We just scattered in every direction; needless to say, no-one bothered to ‘draw stumps’ that day. I suppose the score-book should have recorded “Bull stopped play”.
But it was not only the bull that brought variety to our otherwise routine way of life!
One morning we arose from our beds to the sight of several cows grazing on the hallowed front lawn. They had broken through their boundary fence. Well, admittedly it was not in a brilliant state of repair. From their field they had followed the driveway which led them directly to the front of the house. It was a shambles. The flower beds had been trampled and when we eventually chased them off the lawn they had left hoof-prints in the well-kept lawn. It turned out to be a major operation to return the unwelcome cows to their rightful grazing pasture.
Our first concern at that time of the morning was to remain calm and patient until the children had left on the school bus. It was obviously important to try to maintain some kind of good order and restraint within the house despite what was going on outside. This was easier said than done as, naturally, the children were keen to volunteer for “rounding-up” duties which they felt were far more important than getting off to school that day!
The task then was to shepherd the intruders back into the main driveway – which I reasoned would be the easiest part of the operation. After all, years ago I had observed the drovers back in Worcestershire steering cattle through the streets to butchers’ slaughterhouses. All they did was shout an occasional word to the animals and give them an encouraging prod with a big stick. Yes, this was going to be so easy. How wrong can one be!
It is quite true that with a big enough prodding stick you can get them to go forward but when they miss a turning or you have to get them to back-track to go through a hole in the hedge, it requires a lot more skill than I had. There is always one obstinate one that wishes to take another route. Then that one’s chum decides to follow and the remainder do likewise. This is exactly what happened that day. The result of all my effort was to transfer them from in front of the house to the corn field.
At this point the operation became even more major as I had to call for all available assistance. This was immediately forthcoming in the form of several female members of staff from the house. Fortunately for me, two of these ladies had had some experience of this kind of situation as they had each previously lived on a farm. Eventually, and without too much more chaos and damage, we persuaded the adventurous cows to return to the meadow.
During my subsequent years working in children’s homes I found that I welcomed these impromptu episodes, even if they caused extra work, and even when they came at times when we were already busy with the routine things of everyday life. Taken in one’s stride, these incidents could often be quite amusing and frequently they served as a safety valve by injecting a little variety into our lives. Even during the day, while the children were at school, there were innumerable daily chores to be undertaken to keep the house running smoothly.
As a housemaster in those early days I suppose my lot during the day was sometimes less repetitive than that of the female staff. At least my work could take me to any part of the house, and overnight I became a Jack-of-all-trades without really knowing it. I recall sitting down one evening and reflecting that in just that one fairly normal day I had found myself taking on the role of domestic boiler stoker, toy and furniture repairer, replacer of wall tiles, electrician, plumber, fence repairer and glazier!
Each of these activities was either directly or indirectly concerned with my main function, that of caring for the children. The task of glazing was a good example. Through the exploits of just one young boy, perhaps 8 years of age, in a very short time I became quite experienced in the art of replacing smashed window panes, and one large window in particular.
Richard was a likeable boy, of average height and build for his age. All the staff who had had experience of dealing with Richard always referred to him as a high-spirited boy. He also had an aggressive temperament and was easily provoked. Sometimes, in a state of irascibility, he would become violent, almost unrestrainable.
Time and observation proved that he was suffering from Petit Mal.
Frequently, after receiving some form of correction, however small, from his group housemother, he would show his resentment by retaliating in a way which he knew would distress her. In time I became aware of her distress and the cause of it – as did others.
Richard would immediately dash from the room and out of the house, making his way to a large window at the side of his group room. He would then take hold of a stone or a piece of wood and use it to smash a window. Thankfully one window seemed to satisfy him.
Richard’s window-smashing came to an end when he was transferred to the other group room. Alas, this did not end his temper tantrums. As he became older he directed his spasmodic outbursts against other children and in the main against any member of staff who showed him any affection, tenderness or consideration. Richard was eventually referred to the Child Guidance Clinic for weekly treatment and at the same time he was moved to a smaller type of Home within reasonable travelling distance for his father to make frequent visits to spend a few hours with him.
Being a Jack-of-all-trades within the Home gave me an opportunity to come into contact with all the children on different levels at different times, individually or collectively. I am quite sure it also gave them the chance to see me as a whole person rather than as a substitute parent to be shared with several other children.
Certain children had particular favourites among the chores. For example, four year old Jimmy would walk with me when I was lawn-mowing. Quite often he was content just to walk by my side without uttering a single word, sometimes for an hour or more. Another little lad I remember considered it his personal responsibility to carry my box of nails when I was ‘Jack-the-Carpenter’.
I used to look upon these occasions primarily as Child Care. The chores, necessary as they were, were just a part of the daily round to be used to the benefit of a needy child, sometimes by giving comfort, sometimes understanding, sometimes by just being there as a friend when they needed one.
Sometimes, though, when a senior school child volunteered to help with a chore I became a little more ‘suspicious’ wondering if there was an ulterior motive; usually, however, they were after help or advice. Even so, I considered these moments as something special; it was a privilege for me to be treated as their confidant. These private times with older ones were on a par with the way that the younger ones, delightfully relaxed at evening bath time, would voluntarily “tell all”. Much personal information was gleaned at these times. Often this proved very valuable in the fullness of time when it served to help us understand the child and his or her problems.
Life for us there was very largely self-contained. The Home was some five miles from the nearest town and at least a mile separated us from our Parish village. For most of the time during the week we were fairly isolated. There was the mile-long driveway which led from the village to the house and grounds. It ended abruptly just beyond our boundary where it became a bridleway. Apart from the odd weekend driver who took our lane in error for a short-cut to the neighbouring village two miles west of us, and the weekend delivery men, it was possible to go several weeks without seeing anyone or having any contact with the world outside.
All staff had a complete day off each week and a long weekend every two months. Once a week, twice if you were really lucky, you had a so-called ‘early off-duty night’. Usually this was at 7pm but to qualify for it you had already been on duty since 7am! It was understandable therefore that one seldom used this ‘early-off-duty’ for an evening in town. All one wished to do was bath and retire early to bed.
The weekly day-off was different. You needed this day to get away from the Home, the work, other members of staff and even the children. Once a week we would endeavour to pack a whole week’s normal living into just twelve hours. On this day it was necessary to overhaul your personal ‘dynamo’, to recharge your personal batteries. It was vital for the next week’s work with the children that you returned refreshed and renewed both physically and mentally. The weekly day-off was also the time when my wife and I became a family unit with our own daughters. We would collect them from their respective schools and, until we returned to the Home, that evening belonged to them.
There were no noticeable signs that any of the children were adversely affected as a result of this remote existence, but then again, during Term time a proportion of their day was spent away from the Home at school. The senior-school children left the house at about 8 o’clock to walk into the village where they caught the school bus. It was nearly 5 o’clock when they arrived home.
Our local village was not big enough to offer us any amenities, having only the old English village basics, including the Church, maybe three dozen cottages, and a shabby-looking Village Hall. This was sometimes used for the Youth Club but that attracted trouble-makers from surrounding villages and through their disrespect for other people’s property they were responsible for the eventual closure of the Club.
Apart from the Church, the blacksmith’s shop probably had the most to offer us. It certainly had a great appeal to us all, from the youngest tots upwards. The blacksmith was a real old village character and he always had a friendly word for all of our children. He would often encourage them to stand at the Smithy door to watch him working, perhaps making an ornamental iron gate or repairing some other such item. Very sensibly, he never permitted any of us to enter the Smithy while he was working. Come to think of it, of all the villagers we met there, he was the friendliest towards us. Not that we were openly resented by the remainder – but they did refer to us as ‘the folk from up at the big house’.
To complete the village picture we naturally had a ‘pub’ and a shop-cum-Post-Office-cum-almost-everything-else. The one essential ingredient it lacked was patience and tolerance on the part of the shop assistant. Usually on a Saturday afternoon, pocket-money day, the children would make their way to the shop looking forward to spending some of their precious money on carefully chosen sweets. Alas, once inside the shop they were cajoled and hurried through their choice, frequently being forced to leave with a bag of sweets they didn’t really want. Members of staff were subjected to the same unfriendly treatment. The alternative was a two mile walk to the next nearest village. Most of us did this happily. The welcoming, friendly reception we received there more than made up for the long trek there and back along narrow lanes and across the fields.
A few, just a few, of the children had adult contacts outside of the Home. These include parents who occasionally visited. One girl of 14 used to get irregular visits from a man and his wife. I later gleaned that they were not related to the girl but were a Barnardo ‘Uncle and Auntie’.
This was my first contact with the Uncle and Auntie scheme. The thinking behind it and its underlying purpose were very good. It greatly benefited many of the children in residential care. The ‘Uncle and Auntie’, a married couple, who befriended the child, took on more or less the role of a natural uncle and aunt by paying visits to the child at the Home, by having them stay for some weekends and by welcoming them into their home during school holidays.
 A mild form of epilepsy without convulsions
To a child able to take advantage of the scheme it offered much that was just not available in a residential care home setting. Even the best residential Homes cannot provide for every physical, emotional and social need in the development of every child, especially on an individual basis. In these areas the Uncle and Auntie scheme had much to offer.
I quickly recognised the potential value of such contacts and relationships – but also realised that if they were to help in nurturing the individual child, the right match of child and befrienders was vital.
Naturally there had to be conditions and boundaries attached to these relationships. It was made clear from the outset that the adults were not to try to take the place of the child’s parents. They were, however, to try to accept the child as part of their own family and household. It was expected that the befrienders would see the relationship as long-term, even possibly permanent. This was very important since in almost every case our children had suffered at least one let-down by adults which had led to their being parted from their parents, sometimes from their brothers or sisters. A further let-down could cause irreparable damage to a child’s emotional life. On the other hand, if such a relationship was not going well from the child’s viewpoint it might be better to end the arrangement quickly or at least to reduce the frequency of visits while any difficulties were investigated.
In all cases it was essential that there was good contact between the befrienders and the member of staff directly caring for the particular child. After all it would normally be that person who knew the idiosyncrasies of the child better than anyone else. They would need to have a friendly, understanding relationship with the Uncle and Auntie.
This did not happen in the case of Milly, the 14 year old. One Saturday afternoon my wife was instructed by the Superintendent that Milly, a girl in our group, was to be attired in her decent clothes in half an hour’s time as a Mr and Mrs X would be calling to take her out.
My wife informed Milly and as I recall it the girl showed no immediate emotion. When the befrienders arrived, however, Milly was not to be found. Eventually she was found hiding in the adjacent woods and after being spoken to by the Superintendent she agreed to accompany the couple.
This kind of behaviour recurred each time the couple visited and, surprising as it may now seem, no-one had taken enough interest to ask ‘Why?’ Why was this girl reacting in this way to this situation?
In those days the easy answer was of course to blame the child and to say how ungrateful she was. How easy it was then for adults to avoid facing their shortcomings and to escape from their own errors of judgement – all at the expense of the children’s emotional well-being.
When Milly returned from her obligatory outing my wife waited for the right opportunity to present itself. In a careful, tactful conversation with Milly she was able to discover what had prompted her behaviour.
Initially the friendship had worked well; then on one occasion Milly was openly embarrassed (unintentionally, I’m sure) by her befrienders. They had met some personal acquaintances and without thinking had introduced Milly to them as “the little girl from Barnardo’s who we take out at weekends”. Milly’s background was such that she hadn’t yet accepted the fact of having to live in residential care. Being so exposed, as she obviously saw it, must have inflicted further emotional scars on her.
By way of contrast and to emphasise again the value of the befriending scheme, I recall a time when I was doing a spell of After Care work. One of my boys, who had several years of residential home experience, nearly lost his lodgings when one of those many unforeseen circumstances arose – the sort never mentioned in the text-books on Child Care.
Roger had lived and worked very happily for several years with a young family on their farm. The farmhouse was fairly spacious and at that time no problems had arisen apart from those which could be resolved by amicable discussion. Then the farmer and his family purchased a smaller farm and they all moved into a smaller house. Roger was quite content with the new arrangements and so was I. As his After Care Officer I had satisfied myself that all was well for him. So it was for about two or three weeks.
Then one evening my telephone rang. I lifted the receiver and was met by an irate female voice requesting firmly that I remove Roger from her house immediately. It was Roger’s landlady, the farmer’s wife.
I asked “Why?” and was astounded by her answer. She said, “Because Roger is dirty.” The following day I saw Roger and our discussion revealed what had happened. Due to the new house being so much smaller than the previous one, Roger was aware that every time he used the one and only toilet in the house everyone knew where he was and he felt most embarrassed because the noise of the toilet cistern being flushed could be heard throughout the house. His way of dealing with his predicament was to take the easy way out as he saw it – he just did not pull the chain when he used the toilet.
Perhaps his landlady might be forgiven for thinking that Roger was dirty. I am sure this incident would never have happened if Roger had had the benefit of spending some weekends with an Uncle and Auntie in a normal, small family environment. An example of this arose when we were presented with a pony by a very kind donor. Some of the senior children were taught to ride and to look after our new acquisition. The pony also gave a lot of pleasure to our younger children when the Home managed to obtain an old-fashioned pony-trap.
The Superintendent with another member of staff would take four younger ones at a time for a drive. This was initially seen as just a treat for the children but it also had its child-care value because it served to bring about a closer contact between the younger children and the Superintendent. He was rather a tall man and later experience taught me that small children can easily be overawed by someone who towers over them. Therefore these pony and trap rides, which reduced him more or less to their own sitting-down height, had much more value than most of us on the staff appreciated at the time.
Children are so fascinating to study and one can learn so much from them. I found it helpful to remember this:
Be patient and sincere and let the child feel your sincerity and they will trust you and be natural in your presence. This is the time you learn from them.
Unfortunately for many of the children of earlier generations, whether in care or living at home in families, years ago adults did not attach the same importance as we do today to the development of character in younger children. This must have been due to the lack of study among this age group and a general ignorance of such aspects of child development among parents and carers. Nowadays we are certainly more conscious of these vital aspects of young children’s lives.
Pets, too, have a place in Children’s Homes. They can and do play an important part in releasing some of the pent-up pressures in some children; for others they act as comforters, while yet others treat them as means of asserting their authority just as the child with the stronger character tends to dominate other children. Charlton Park was no exception to this general rule.
We had the usual popular pets – a dog, rabbits, hamsters, tame mice (although not all of the female staff were convinced they were tame!) and quite naturally some goldfish. Not quite so naturally, we also had a goat. From time to time, one or other of the children would bring in a slow-worm; the area of grass around the tennis court was a breeding ground for these snake-like blindworms.
Perhaps our most unusual pet was a little lamb. We acquired it by accident when one of the children found it, deserted and alone, after it had strayed into our woods. I must confess that when the little creature was carried into the house I thought it was dead.
Our cook, who came to the Home daily, thought otherwise. She very promptly set about reviving “Larry” – probably an inevitable name for him due to the popularity of Larry the Lamb at that time. With carefully applied warmth, Larry began to move; a little at first, then gradually more positive movements. Then, with constant care and perseverance, this very young animal was restored to life. In the early stages he would suck a little warm milk offered to him on the tip of Cook’s finger. Later he graduated to using a baby’s bottle.
For quite a while at the Home Larry was our main topic of conversation. He featured in the prayers of the younger children and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the older ones were also asking the Lord to revive him.
It was impossible to find Larry’s natural mother but even if we had set him free in the field with the ewes and with other lambs of his own age, we understood that no ewe would adopt him and care for him. We had no alternative but to make a home for him. As time passed he settled in comfortably with us. A warm corner adjacent to our rather large kitchen was turned into his retreat. Cook continued to ‘mother’ him and it wasn’t too long before he could be heard running around and he was soon showing a lively interest in his unusual surroundings. He seemed to enjoy the company of his newly-found friends. His closest friend and his almost constant companion was the children’s dog, Sandy, and we were often reminded of the old nursery rhyme as we watched them, because it was true that:
“Everywhere that Sandy went, the lamb was sure to go”
Larry would also follow the children as they went about their daily routine. One day he was discovered on the school bus and was promptly turned off by a not-so-accommodating conductor – much to the disappointment of the children. We were never quite sure how much encouragement they had given Larry to get on in the first place!
By now my wife and our two daughters had fully accepted the unconventional way of life associated with living in a Children’s Home and the other children had accepted our daughters into their “family”. We spent eighteen months at Charlton Park including two Christmas-times. We accompanied the children on one summer holiday and assisted with two Garden Fetes.
During that time there were several changes of junior staff but only a few among the children living there. The good old faithfuls, the domestic staff, remained pretty constant. Maybe this was to be expected in a way as they were recruited locally, the place was fairly remote and we were one of the few sources of employment for locals.
The quality of Child Care and the level of sincerity varied considerably between one member of the staff and another. So did their reasons for choosing this type of work and there may be a connection between these two facts.
I recall that two girls came from Holland, each having a year’s work permit. Their primary purpose was to improve their knowledge of the English language. At least one other girl came into the work to secure a home for herself.
Staff recruitment techniques at that time – in the early 1960s – left much to be desired, especially in the selection and engagement of new junior staff. Staff were grossly underpaid even by the standards of the day so it was certainly not the money that attracted anyone into the work. In most cases it was a love for little children; those who stayed in the work and made it their career usually did so from a sense of personal devotion and loyalty.
It was often said that working with and for children was more of a vocation than a career. This was probably true and perhaps this is one reason why the work had no general appeal. However, this view of the work as a vocation did not in any way impair the quality of Child Care work; if anything it was an asset.
I am convinced that this devotion, or perhaps it is dedication, is still a valuable asset to have, even in these days when we see a growing demand for everyone to hold some kind of written confirmation of their personal abilities. Unfortunately I felt at the time that such certificates did little more than say you had qualified in this or that, or had completed some course. This would put additional power in the hands of the holder who could jump from vacancy to vacancy by waving his or her bit of coveted paper in front of the employer.
Devotion and loyalty in the child-care worker most certainly afford stability – with or without a certificate of qualification. At Charlton Park we had a typical example of this dedication both to her young charges (who loved her) and to her employers. I am referring to Nursery Group housemother, Auntie Heather.
Heather’s dedication produced in her a special quality of affection and, importantly, the ability to transmit it effectually to all the children she ever worked for. She had a natural ability in the sphere of child care work, but because she had no desire to undertake a qualification course her ability, I’m sorry to say, was never acknowledged. Like many others in the same position, Heather gave much more to the service of children in care than many who did have qualifications. Through her natural kindness and her affectionate approach scores of children were helped to identify themselves and to work their way through deep personal problems.
The unique but essential element of a child care worker’s armoury which Auntie Heather possessed in abundance was the natural ability to relate her affection for the children to the children. This ability can never be taught. It is a gift from God and is not found in every child care worker – or even in every natural parent. This is a rather regrettable fact as some child care workers never really get close to the children in their care. It would be true to say that many never try to get close, and some are just not capable of doing so; some are afraid of becoming emotionally involved and thereby losing control of a situation.
On one occasion I was walking along behind two senior boys and within hearing distance of them. One, a 14-year old, had been a member of our family group for only a few months. He said to his companion, “Do you know, I haven’t seen Auntie Pam laugh once since I’ve been here.” His observant remark stopped me in my tracks as I realised that, by golly, he was right. I couldn’t recall seeing her actually laugh. She smiled - sometimes - but never laughed. She just would not, or could not, allow herself to get excited in front of the children. I believe she was constantly trying to present to the children she was paid to care for, a picture or image of herself as she imagined they wanted her to be.
We so often seem to forget how perceptive youngsters can be. It is therefore essential in this field of work to be natural, to be yourself at all times. In this way the truth will project itself, no matter what emotion or feeling is involved. Children understand this kind of truth and perhaps it amounts to honesty. Truth is perhaps the most important single ingredient in bringing about a relationship of trust and confidence between child and adult.
In all, my wife and I accompanied parties of Barnardo children on a total of ten summer holiday. The vacation from Charlton Park stands out in my memory, maybe because it was our first such experience.
Weeks and weeks before the scheduled departure date the initial preparations began. Firstly we had to locate a resort with a convenient and suitable site for our party. Of course the cost had to be carefully considered at every stage. We needed to make several exploratory visits to coastal resorts before making our choice. With an anticipated party of staff and children totalling around fifty, the site needed to be quite special. We knew that there had to be one out there somewhere, and eventually we found it and reserved it for our party.
The accommodation would have to be very carefully chosen; our party consisted of children of both sexes aged from 3 to 16 and a mixed-sex team of some twelve staff and helpers. The site chosen met our requirements perfectly. Come to think about it now, I don’t believe it could have been bettered even though it was a fair distance from the Home.
We hired the Methodist Church Hall in Selsey at a moderate fee. Selsey is a small seaside town near Chichester in West Sussex. The younger children and four staff would sleep in the building and the Hall’s spacious kitchen would provide nicely for all the meals for everyone, even though we had to have a two-sitting system at lunch and breakfast.
The remainder of us probably had the best of the deal as we slept in tents on the adjacent football ground belonging to Selsey Town Football Club. Obviously we didn’t pitch our six tents directly on the playing area, especially as it was late August and the new football season was soon to begin. In fact, on several evenings we were able to sit in our tents and watch the players go through their training. We also saw them playing practice matches. Apart from the actual pitch, the football ground was ours for two weeks which fortunately meant we were able to use the toilets and washing facilities. We also had enough space within our camping boundaries to organise our own games.
For the first few days our presence and our games used to attract the locals who, after giving us a lookover, left us alone. Well, nearly all of them. Most evenings one or two local youths would sit on the five-bar gate – our way in and out – waiting to catch the eye of one or other of our younger members of staff, and yes, probably our older girls too.
We were about a mile from the beach and depending on the times of high and low tides a daily organised visit was made for all the children. Sometimes this was in age groups, occasionally in family groupings. Even so, this was not everyone’s ideal way of having a good time. Very true, the tinies loved to be on the beach, either paddling or making sand castles. However, some of the older children (mainly boys, I recall) would almost rather commit hara-kiri than swim in the sea. Later in my child care career I came up against a similar comparison of the sexes relating to swimming. As Life-Saving Instructor in Barkingside Barnardo Village, where there was an open-air swimming pool. Our water drills and practices had to take place after the general swimming session had finished. On a cool September evening’s session, when the water can be quite cool, it was always the boys who succumbed to the cold first. The girls usually had to be called out of the pool. To cover their embarrassment, I have known boys suffer from spasms of ‘cramp’ but cannot remember one girl having to leave a swimming session because of this dreaded cramp!
Back to our summer holiday...
Our routine at the ‘camp’ was very flexible to enable us to adjust easily if necessary. Breakfast commenced at 8am and was prepared by two members of staff. An hour and a half was allowed with two sittings. Clearing up and washing up of utensils was coped with on a rota basis by senior children with a member of staff. This chore was also reserved as a form of punishment during the vacation. I didn’t agree with this point of view as several of the older boys would use this means to avoid taking part in any activity that did not meet with their full personal approval. This usually meant a member of staff having to stay behind.
As was customary in those days we used to take on holiday with us practically everything we could visualise having a use for. On this occasion I believe the only thing we didn’t pack was a telephone and even that would have come in useful many times during the two weeks. For instance, two of our six tents were brand new. On the very first night under canvas, the Superintendent and his wife slept in one of these, a continental-type. On this first night we had a torrential downpour of rain and this tent proved to be more like a colander than a new tent. In the middle of the night we found ourselves hastily rearranging tent accommodation. First light could not arrive soon enough for our understandably irate Superintendent. When it did, he was on the nearest telephone venting his feelings on an unsuspecting tent store manager.
Church Hall holidays unquestionably serviced a need – that of getting away, I suppose. They also fulfilled the younger ones’ dreams of holidaying by the seaside. The thought of somewhere new to see and something different to do was seen as a privilege and it gave them something special to look forward to. The first night at ‘camp’ never posed a problem when it was time for the under-sixes to turn in. Each one was more than happy to be tucked up on a mattress laid out across the Hall floor – but after the first helping of this the novelty wore off and for the remainder of the vacation our problem was in keeping them tucked up. After all, what else can you expect when twenty or so young children are expected to share one large ‘bedroom’?
I consider myself fortunate to have had eighteen months at Charlton Park. It was not the best run Home, I’m sure, but who is to say which Home is the best run?
Much of what I gleaned during this formative time would contribute greatly to my future basic approach to child care and the application of the skills required.
It was during this period that I became acutely aware of the true value of observing children closely. Once a month, at least, we were required to hold a fire-drill practice. The Superintendent, trying hard to conceal his intentions from everyone, would ring the bell unexpectedly in order to establish as nearly as possible an actual emergency situation. The bell propelled everyone into action with its unmistakable, rather penetrating sound. Its purpose was immediately clear. Everyone then made haste to their particular station and evacuated the building promptly.
My duty was to ensure that the bedroom floor was evacuated. This meant seeing the Nursery group clear. One little lad of 3, Raymond, would cry out, terrified, every time the alarm bell rang – even with a member of staff by his side to comfort him. So, to help Raymond to overcome his fear (as we thought) we would get him to press the alarm button to sound the bell. This often took place when all the other children were at school. It appeared to have the effect we had hoped for as he eventually accepted the noise of the bell. It wasn’t until Guy Fawkes’ Night that November that we discovered the real truth of his fear. In fact, on this night I learned two valuable things – the first being Raymond’s real problem. The second lesson for me arose from the first. It awakened me to an irresponsible action of adults dictated by stupid tradition which did not take account of the inability of young children to comprehend. They had put a ‘Guy’ on top of a bonfire and set light to him.
On approaching the boundary rope around the bonfire, Raymond caught sight of the newly-lit fire. He screamed fearfully, shouting, “The man’s burning. Daddy, Daddy...”
We learned a little later, as a result of this incident, that Raymond had witnessed a bad fire within his own home. It had involved his father and now the very mention of fire disturbed him considerably. With this knowledge we were in a position to understand Raymond better and therefore get so much closer to him.
There are many cases where an unpremeditated incident happens and has the effect of releasing pent-up problems in a child. This often occurs with an older child, frequently a teenager, who for some reason has not been able to discuss their basic problem with anyone or to come to terms with it. Sometimes the young person concerned has not even been consciously aware of there even being a problem.
Such was the case with a Grammar School girl who came into the life of my wife and myself a little later in our career and not at Charlton Park.
Sylvia, an attractive and intelligent girl, was the eldest of a family of five, all in care at the same Residential Home. At the time of my story Sylvia would be 15 years old. There was monthly contact by her mother who visited with a female friend. Sylvia’s parents were not living together; in fact, they had never married but the children were registered in his name. That was the extent of his paternal interest.
Sylvia was not a ‘Problem child’ – a cliché expression which I abhor. I personally believe it is more correct to use the term “Child who has a problem”. Sylvia was an undemonstrative type of girl who wouldn’t allow anyone to get emotionally close to her. Though not a total ‘loner’ she was inclined to be aloof from children outside her set. Then one day a friend and neighbour dropped in. She was well known for providing a home for stray cats and on this particular visit she brought along a small kitten hoping we would take it in.
On seeing this small ball of mischief, all of our children clustered round my wife, pressing her to accept this gift as they all, naturally, wanted to take care of it. Above the noise and elation, Sylvia’s voice could be heard pleading to have the kitten. Her face lit up with an excitement that we had never seen her exhibit before. Instinctively, my wife decided that Sylvia should look after it and proceeded to explain how the kitten should be reared. Sylvia was so delighted that her joyfulness induced tears which she let run freely down her cheeks.
Between sobs she explained that once before, when they lived as a family with her father, she had had her very own kitten. One night her father had come home drunk at about the time Sylvia was giving her young kitten a dish of milk. A silly argument had started and amid the dispute which ensued her father had grabbed the little kitten by its tail. In his drunken temper he had swung it against the sitting room walls with the inevitable tragic result. Sylvia had run out of the house screaming; this had been the straw which broke the camel’s back. Her mother, with the children, left the father’s home.
It is hard to believe some of the harrowing and tragic things that have been witnessed in their early years by some of the youngsters in care. In Sylvia’s case, once her sub-conscious memory was triggered, she found it easy to discharge her pent-up feelings. This brought about such a marked change for the better in her emotional and social life.
A decisive factor demonstrated by cases like Sylvia’s is the establishing of a good relationship between child and member of staff – good enough to be recognised and accepted by the child to the point where he or she is able to share innermost feelings.
Our family’s departure from Charlton Park was not originally a planned move. It followed the unexpected passing away of our Superintendent, when suddenly everything stopped and life changed dramatically. The Home was closed temporarily, pending the appointment of a new Superintendent and all the children were dispersed to other Homes on a ‘holiday’ basis. Some members of staff elected to accompany them and would eventually return to Charlton Park as part of the new team. Fortunately the closure coincided with the school summer holidays. This gave us all plenty of time to adjust because for everyone this was going to be in some way a new beginning, another way of life and another challenge.
My wife and I were offered the post of Cottage parents (houseparents) in The Village at Barkingside. ‘Auntie’ Heather of the Charlton Park Nursery group transferred with us. So did two of the children who had taken up residence in the cottage two weeks before we arrived. That had allowed the children to benefit from having a summer holiday away with the rest of the cottage children.
We had stayed behind to see all the children off, then we took a few days’ rest in the new and unaccustomed tranquillity and isolation around Charlton Park. It is unimaginable how instantly the old Tudor house lost its warmth and took on a hostile appearance just as soon as the door closed on the last child to leave.
No atmosphere remained in the house. Its strange quietness seemed to pressurise our ears and after darkness had closed in all around us it played tricks on our hearing.
The deserted long corridors, dark and empty with the bedroom doors closed, and playrooms and group-rooms likewise, all seemed unfriendly. At night in particular this could be said to have reached the point of seeming frightening.
However, for these last few days as we remained behind we were not alone by any means as the strong walls of Charlton Park were saturated with children’s laughter, their crying and the expressions of so many different moods which were echoed by ghost chantings left behind by the many children who had lived and found love within those very walls.
There is no doubt that the children’s noise had helped to make
this large, rambling house habitable and had furnished it with
its identity and the values of a good Home.
The Village Home
We left Charlton Park (near Canterbury) one beautiful August morning, the birds singing in the trees and bushes which lined the lane as we drove through the park. We were a little sad to be leaving it but full of tingling enthusiasm for our new job. At the same time we were also slightly apprehensive.
We had had several students join us at Charlton Park over the past year and a half and I could not recall one of them having a good word to say about the time they had spent at The Village. In fact, one girl had likened it to a prison – mainly because of the 7 foot high perimeter wall. I must say that I could see what she meant. Standing outside the Main Gate – which I don’t think was ever closed – the wall looked impregnable and was dwarfed and dominated by a green painted metal tank sitting high in the sky on top of a metal tower. Together they presented a rather awesome picture at first sight.
I later learnt that the green tank was not only a vital water tank for this self-contained village community but it also served as a local landmark. A few hours in The Village and we found our pessimism and any other misgivings dissipated. My previous knowledge of The Village was virtually nil. Before I arrived to take up residence as a member of a unique, large, happy “family” of some 500 children, I had only visited it once.
We were in the happy position of having a gradual introduction to our new family, our Cottage and The Village in general and to the area called Barkingside, which would be our immediate surroundings. The Cottage-parents we were to relieve still occupied the Cottage as their new appointment was not due to start for a few days.
This allowed my wife and me to work to a part-time routine during the day at the Cottage, including taking our meals there during these few days, but we slept each night at Mossford Lodge. Mossford Lodge was a rather spacious house within the 60 acres of grounds which made up The Village. This house was tucked neatly away in a corner and was partly isolated from the 60 Cottages.
Originally, Mossford Lodge had been the local community’s wedding present to Dr Barnardo and his new wife. Its many rooms were now being used to accommodate visitors to The Village Home (as it was then called) and it was also home to some members of staff not resident at any of the cottages. The bedroom allocated to us was said to have been the very room used by the Doctor and his wife. It was from those windows that the God fearing man looked out and had the wonderful vision which ultimately led to The Village becoming a reality.
Chronicles written by Dr Barnardo tell how one night he had a wonderful vision when awakening from a shallow sleep, a sleep confused by deep anxiety for the sixty girls being cared for in his first attempt at a “Girls’ Home”. This Home was, in fact, a converted coach-house with an upper floor added, and was adjacent to Mossford Lodge. It had been run on an institutional barrack-room system.
The Doctor was well aware that this system was by no means ideal but he knew of nothing better – that was until his vision began to reveal itself clearly. Then suddenly he saw the answer.
He saw cottages springing up here and there overnight like mushrooms in his grounds, with children of all ages from babes in arms to girls in their teens. He would establish in each cottage an experienced Christian woman as ‘Mother’. He would forbid uniforms and other such things that suggested institutionalism. An atmosphere of affection must be central and from it family life and love would have a chance to take root and flourish in the children.
His vision began to materialise as a result of prayer; donations were received as donors gave money for the building of cottages, often in memory of a loved one. Within six years, that is by June 1879, thirty cottages had been built. They were Elizabethan-style two storey buildings, each named after a flower or plant. The Doctor’s original scheme was achieved. The Girls’ Village Home at Barkingside was in business. As the need grew he acquired more land which eventually housed another thirty cottages, a Church for regular Sunday worship, a school in which to educate his girls, and a laundry which would take all the Village washing and where suitable girls, interested in such work, could be trained. Preparation was also made for sick and crippled members of his ever growing ‘family’. In due course a hospital was built but unfortunately not until some time after the Doctor’s death. Many of those who were known as ‘the cripples’ were far too deformed to ever be able to fend for themselves. A large Embroidery School was opened and the cripples, under expert tuition, produced exquisite needlework.
With the additional Cottages and other buildings, all built around three large greens, The Village became virtually three small villages in one. Our Cottage, Larchfield, was delightfully situated on the ‘Main Green’. Our small sitting room, which also served as the office, overlooked the spacious, well cared for green with its creosote lined running track, football pitch and adjacent precious cricket ‘table’. Naturally the latter area was forbidden territory to everyone except the cricketer during the bat-and-ball season. As I was soon to learn, the cricket pitch was in constant use each summer evening from Monday to Friday with a competitive game being played each Saturday afternoon.
Colonel S. H. Atkins was the Chief Executive and resident-in-charge, an exceptional gentleman who was extremely respected, even revered, by everyone. Just once I fell foul of the very high standards he set for himself, his staff and the children. My misdemeanour, although it can hardly be called that, was in connection with cricket. The Colonel, himself a keen, knowledgeable and accomplished cricketer, was always keen for the boys to play cricket and did everything he could to impart his enthusiasm and interest in this typically English game. He had the cricket ‘table’ laid on the Main Green and this provided a superb setting for village cricket.
Twenty detached Cottages encircled the Main Green with the hospital and its Out-patients department, physiotherapy room (known as ‘Massage Department’), and dental surgery grouped along one end of the Green. Around the whole perimeter of the Green there was a tarmac surfaced road, some fifteen to twenty yards wide, giving vehicle access to each of the Cottages.
In the background, above cottage rooftops, one could just discern the Church’s bell tower partly hidden by tall, elegant trees.
So, from Monday to Friday, evening cricket was organised for those boys aged eight and over. Each boy was expected to turn up on their appointed evening. All housemasters were expected to participate as officials, two umpiring, one scoring; therefore each housemaster was required to be present for cricket duty at least one evening a week. Personally I enjoyed this duty but I remember that on one evening I was delayed from taking my position on the field of play. This was the one and only occasion during my eighteen months service in The Village, when I was thoroughly censured by the Colonel !
As far as I can remember it, I was paper-hanging in the children’s playroom and, believing that a few minutes either way wouldn’t make much difference, I decided to hang just one more strip of paper and then dash across to the Green for cricket duty; after all, my doorstep was practically on the cricket playing area and we usually had to wait a few minutes for one or other of the boys to turn up before we could get the game under way.
Suddenly a thundering bang on our front door practically shook me off the step-ladder; the door opened slightly and to my utter amazement it was the Colonel. Colonel Atkins never wasted words, even at the best of times. In short, no more paper-hanging took place that night but plenty of cricket was played with all three of us officials firmly in our places!
After a few days at The Village, sleeping overnight at Mossford Lodge, my family and I moved into our accommodation at the Cottage. Our personal quarters were a little cramped, especially our sitting room which we shared with ‘Auntie Heather’, our Assistant Housemother. This was only to be expected, I suppose, since the cottages were originally built to accommodate only a female member of staff.
The Village had dutifully adhered to the founder’s vision of a ‘girls only’ home right up to the outbreak of hostilities at the end of the 1930s. At that time all the girls and the staff had been evacuated. With the return of peace came some new thinking and The Village underwent a revolutionary change. It was decided that The Village would begin an experiment in housing the children in ‘family groups’ with a man and wife for each Cottage as houseparents. This proved to be an ideal system for rearing children in care and provided each child with something approaching normal family life, a factor very important to these youngsters.
One of the devoted individuals responsible for initiating this new approach to child care was Miss Grace Fisher, a long-serving and very experienced group executive at Barkingside. Our Cottage was in her group. With the children back at school and our own two daughters in full time education, we settled down to Cottage and Village routine.
In a very short time we felt completely at home and were thoroughly enjoying life with the largest family in the world.
Routine in the Cottage and in The Village was very flexible. My wife’s duties mainly confined her indoors, whereas mine were probably more varied. I suppose this made my life less tedious than hers. Moreover, with the housemasters having small duties to perform in The Village, to some extent it resembled normal family life where the father would go out to work each day.
Life was not too difficult for us. Even when a weighty problem blew up, professional help and advice were always near at hand. With the hospital practically on our doorstep, including its own Out-patients department, one was able to acquire prompt attention night or day for most ailments or accidents that befell any of the youngsters.
Having access to this ‘personal’ service was an immense comfort to us when involved with caring for other people’s children. I believe it’s true to say that you may even tend to watch over them a little more carefully than your own children.
In fact, our own younger daughter, Petula, when receiving a negative reply to her entreaty addressed to “Mommy”, would often mentally transform herself to become one of the ‘other’ children by re-addressing her mother as “Auntie”. This never failed to achieve its purpose of acquiring her rightful attention. Unknown to Petula at that time, it also had the effect of bringing tears to my wife’s eyes and the thought that she could be unjustly neglecting her own offspring tore at her heart-strings.
It is quite true that there were many, many occasions when your own children had to take a back seat as it were, but with tact and logic being applied sensibly you could always turn a disadvantage into an advantage – or at least make it appear so.
One specific thing that we as parents always insisted on was that our two daughters should have their own bedroom, even when on holiday camps with all the children. By this means we were able to retain our own feeling of ‘family unity’ and we believe that by affording our daughters this privilege of being looked upon as slightly different to the other children, we were giving them an assurance that they belonged to us. This, and only this, was all we ever categorically stipulated as a requirement from Barnardo’s for our two girls.
I would like to record here that staff had to pay board for their own children, so one felt entitled to offer, occasionally, something extra or different to their own children.
There was a period, unknown to my wife and me at the time, when our younger daughter began to think that she was ‘adopted’. It happened to her at an age when she was not well versed in the true meaning of adoption. Apparently, a group of youngsters were discussing fostering and adoptions together and somehow they were successful in convincing her she could be an adopted child. I was never quite sure if, perhaps, this belief made it easier for them to share my wife and myself with her. It wasn’t until years later that our daughter told us during a session of reminiscence that she lived with this thought for ages.
Originally each Cottage was built to accommodate twenty children (girls) but this number had now been reduced to twelve, although there were two or three cottages slightly bigger than the rest and these had space to house eighteen boys and girls. Numbers were regulated by Home Office recommendations. Since we were classed as a twelve-children cottage our numbers comprised ten Barnardo children plus our two daughters. The sexes worked out evenly, six boys and six girls, with ages ranging from two to sixteen years – a rather interesting group with varying depths of intelligence, character and behaviour and from quite different backgrounds. All, however, had one essential human desire, to be accepted and ‘liked’. The job in front of us was to provide this fundamental need and then to build on it a decent Christian way of life.
My wife and I were privileged to study a potted confidential case history of what had gone before in the life of each child. This was a great help in appreciating the problems the child may have had and it helped us understand him or her and to see each as an individual in their own right. With this background knowledge we were better able to serve these children to the best of our steadily increasing ability.
We found the information invaluable as a basis for beginning to see what might be in the background that makes each child ‘tick’. Even with that knowledge, the real understanding comes from personal contact and constant observation.
Some of these children had suffered exceptional emotional and physical stress, sometimes to an almost immeasurable degree. In a few cases re-adjustment was a slow, drawn-out process. For those youngsters requiring psychiatric treatment, help was readily available as The Village had its own clinic with its own clinicians, a visiting psychiatrist and a resident educational psychologist.
Two of our ten attended for treatment and we were fortunate in that the clinic was located next door to us. The Village in those days was very much self-contained and efficiently organised to meet virtually every contingency. Apart from the services already mentioned, we had our own food store, clothing store, library, youth club, open-air swimming pool, nursery school and student training centre.
It would be true to say that the children who attended school inside The Village had no real need to venture beyond the boundary walls if that was their wish. Naturally they were encouraged to go out from time to time. It would have been too easy for a disturbed child to exclude the outside society with its noise and the things of normal everyday life. Probably this would have been used as the child’s protection in an attempt to cut himself or herself off from the past.
If The Village had any failings I suppose this could be classed as one. Even so, finding the remedy was one of the duties of the houseparents or Cottage ‘mothers’. (It may be noted here that there were still about six cottages which were each run by two female staff.) After all, our responsibility included a duty to arrange the children’s daily routine to benefit their health and their mental and social development – as any normal parent would do.
Therefore we made full use of the fact that there were opportunities for the children to join local outside organisations such as Cubs and Scouts, Brownies and Guides and several other church youth organisations. In general, most of the 500 or so children went to outside schools so they had daily contact with other youngsters of their own age. Of our ten children, three attended secondary modern school with one taking an extra year for ‘O’ levels, four went to junior schools, and one was at infant school, leaving the ‘baby’ at home. He spent his mornings at the nursery school.
In all, this meant that my wife and I were involved with five schools including the school in The Village. We felt it was part of our duty as ‘caring adults’ to show a parental interest in ‘our’ children’s education and in the life of their schools. We tried to attend as often as possible. This was always a problem during the Christmas season as functions at one school would usually clash with those at another. On these occasions we shared the attendances three ways, between my wife, Auntie Heather and myself.
I have deliberately used the phrase ‘caring adults’ instead of saying ‘substitute parents’. This is so as not to give readers a wrong impression – or an impression which I believe would be wrong. I am referring to a thought running through child care work. We are NOT substitute parents as such and the children must not see us in that role. We certainly tried not to be substitute parents, especially as most of today’s children in care have parents and part of our work is to bring about a reconciliation and ultimately restoration.
At the same time we endeavoured to produce a homely environment with a warm, affectionate atmosphere whilst still providing the timely “must...” and the occasional “don’t...” as any good Mum and Dad would aim to do.
For this reason one cannot expect the children to address you as “Mr...” or “Mrs...”, or as “Sir” or “Miss” as this not only sounds cold and unaffectionate but immediately tends to place you as someone apart. In fact, some youngsters would class it as meaning ‘authority’ and therefore see you more as authoritarian than as someone who genuinely cares.
At Charlton Park my wife and I were known to the children and staff as “Mr and Mrs Barker.” This was not our choice but the Superintendent’s. Now was the time to put this right as the choice at the Cottage was to be ours. We chose to be known as “Auntie and Uncle Barker” and this has been our subsequent practice because we believed that by allowing the children to use our Christian names we would be unfairly opening the door to encouraging disrespect from some of the children. I know this was not (and is not today) accepted universally as some child care workers believe that in today’s forward thinking world Christian names should be used.
I believe, and sincerely hope for the children’s sake, that they are in the minority, as all children need to learn to respect other people. They must also have self-respect, especially those in residential care after having had to face family breakdowns and rejection by adults. We, as adults, must help all children to acquire self-respect, especially in this promiscuous age we are now living in.
Sunday was Church Day. The Village Church – or to be more exact The Children’s Church – was certainly in keeping with the remainder of The Village. Its building in 1893 was made possible by the generosity of an anonymous lady donor. Undoubtedly, such gifts often came as answers to the Doctor’s prayers.
In his day, Dr Barnardo frequently preached from the high pulpit to ‘his’ children and members of staff. I recall the first time I was privileged to read the Lesson from that very same pulpit. When first informed, I thought of it as an awesome experience. It called for proper preparation and I put in some practice at reading in the empty Church to ensure that my voice would carry to the rear pews. Fairly soon I lost my feeling of apprehension and I welcomed this solemn occasion.
This stately Church was (and still is) near the Main Gate of The Village and only a few yards from the Colonel’s residence, known as the Governor’s House. In the days when The Village was for girls only, some beautiful stained-glass windows for the Church were paid for by the subscriptions and donations of Barnardo Old Girls.
Children and staff were happily involved with many aspects of the life of The Children’s Church. The choir was a combination of houseparents, assistants and children.
Call to Morning Service by one of the Church bells was usually tolled by one of the boys. The reading of the morning Lesson throughout the year was shared by each Cottage taking a turn to provide the reader. There was never any shortage of voluntary helpers for taking up the collection or for acting as a Server in the Church. These roles were competently executed by the children.
Morning Service was a family affair with each Cottage attending together and sitting in their allotted pew. Sunday morning was a special occasion in many ways. For one thing, it was the only time during the week when all of the children and staff came together under one roof. Surely there was never a more appropriate man-made roof for such a weekly gathering.
The experience of being in The Children’s Church for each one of these Sunday mornings can best be described as producing a feeling that was “out of this world”. The place was full of children of all ages, with each trying to sing a little louder than their neighbour. Prayers were also offered with the same zest, tinged with a personal sincerity. After the service it was a delightful experience to behold the children as they happily made their way back home through
The Village. The younger ones would be grouped around their caring houseparent who was no doubt wishing he or she had enough hands to hold onto each of those young ones at the same time. The older children could be seen either making their own way home or pairing up with friends for a stroll before dinner.
Afternoon was for going to Sunday School, the Evening Service in the Church being mainly for adults and those senior aged children who wished to attend or who had missed the Morning Service. It was expected in those days that all of the children would attend a service at least once on the Sabbath Day. Even so, Sunday was not expected to be a rigidly religious day, especially for our older children. We tried not to restrict them too much so that they would not feel (or appear to be) too much removed from their friends living outside The Village. Conversely, our friends and theirs were very welcome to attend services at The Children’s Church.
Whilst organised games were not an accepted part of those Sundays, youngsters were not discouraged from kicking a football about or swinging a bat at a cricket ball. These things were not frowned on as being ‘wrong’ for the Sabbath. In fact, for many of the boys or girls this was a way of experiencing just a small facet of normal life – especially if it came about through a family game as part of their weekly or fortnightly personal contact with a visiting parent. Far from being frowned on, such activities were to be encouraged.
Time in The Village never stood still. There was always something happening, with everyone and every age group catered for – even the very youngest. Pram pushers were employed for a couple of hours each afternoon to take the babies out; this was partly to give the resident cottage staff a short time of relief from this particular responsibility. Then, for the toddlers, a nursery school was provided and for the slightly older children there was plenty of safe playing area. As each child grew older the range of available activities and opportunities became longer.
Soccer was a natural for most of the youngsters, especially with more than one pitch at our disposal. Saturdays in the winter were usually very busy days. Each week would see both pitches in use during the morning with a senior and a junior team either playing an organised game or just playing for enjoyment. During the afternoon Bill Parris (another houseparent) and I would run a game of ‘deck-hockey’ on the school playground. It was never intended to be a competitive game but nonetheless the children played with great gusto – at times with too much of it – and at the conclusion of the session we would usually spot someone limping home to nurse a bruised shin or knee.
Saturday evening activities were usually for the senior children. The Youth Club offered various items of interest. Another building, the Embroidery School, was now used as a Social Centre rather than for its original purpose. Here one could find lessons in ballroom and modern styles of dancing being taught by two of the houseparents.
Monday to Friday evenings were by no means times of inactivity. In some corner or another of The Village several devoted members of staff would be organising or helping with such stimulating and instructional activities as Choir practice, Bible Study or working for their Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards. Another houseparent, Harold Miller, himself a carpenter and joiner by trade as well as a teacher, would teach woodwork to those youngsters, mainly boys, whose interest lay in that direction. In this he was helped by a colleague, Mr Foley.
For those wanting something more energetic there were such games as netball, handball, badminton and (in the summer) tennis. We had no indoor tennis courts but when the weather would allow, the two outdoor courts were always well used by staff and children. Like the cricket nets they were situated in a serene part of The Village, a little way from the cottages and therefore offering a temporary ‘escape’.
As one would expect, in the summer months The Village swimming pool was the centre of much activity. This was also where staff would, quite literally, see more of each other as they had to accompany their non-swimmers and be present at the pool when they were bathing. Children who were not able to swim two lengths of the pool – that is, sixty six yards – fell into this category. Once they had learned the basic skill of swimming and staying afloat, these children practised most zealously to obtain their coveted ‘S’ badge which was proudly worn on their costume. The badge not only gained them access to the pool unaccompanied by a member of their own cottage staff but it also allowed them to swim in the deep end.
Two male houseparents were in charge of the pool, at least one always being on duty there during opening times. He had complete responsibility for the safety of those using the pool unaccompanied. It was also the bounden duty of these men to see that the pool was periodically cleaned during the swimming season as it did not at that time have an automatic filter plant. Eventually a filtering system was installed, enabling us to have the pool open seven days a week throughout the swimming months from May to September.
Many of the ‘accompanying’ staff members would, in my opinion quite rightly, join their youngsters in the water as an additional safety measure; this had the added advantage of allowing them to encourage water-play by the children, leading to increased confidence in the water. Some staff were also able to teach their charges to swim. For all of us the aim was to see as many of the children as possible learn to swim well. To this end, the Chief Officer’s wife spent many untiring hours teaching the basic movements of swimming to non-swimmers resulting in many of them becoming competent swimmers.
Two of my main sporting interests at that time were football and swimming and it was my good fortune to be actively involved in both during my service in The Village. It was quite natural then that I shared the running of the pool and the associated activities like life-saving tuition with another housemaster. But first I had to qualify as an instructor. Once I had done so, the number of young swimmers who took the time to prepare themselves and to pass the examinations in life-saving was most encouraging.
Looking back now, perhaps I did not fully appreciate the real value of our ‘S’ badge at that time. A few years later I became fully aware of it when a ten year old girl was admitted to our Home. From her treasured possessions she proudly showed me two or maybe three certificates she had gained at her school for swimming. One was for being able to swim fifty yards. My immediate response was admiration for my new acquaintance but something very interesting emerged when we went for our next weekly dip at our nearest swimming baths some eighteen miles away. The girl was unbelievably afraid of the water and took about half of our swimming session before she would even attempt to swim a stroke.
I thought at first that her fear might be due to one of several basic, simple causes. Perhaps it was her first time in a large public swimming pool, combined with the noise echoing from her fellow swimmers. Possibly it was a fear of being pushed under the water by another child or even fear of being splashed. The mass of water around her, instead of the familiar portable school pool, maybe. Did she feel unsafe at not being able to put her feet firmly on the bottom at any time? Any of these could have undermined the girl’s confidence.
Her ‘fifty yards’ certificate which looked so nice framed and hanging on the wall over her bed, at that moment did not seem worth the paper it was so boldly printed on. As a swimming and life-saving instructor I applaud the good work going on in school learner pools all round the country. On this day I could not help feeling that before a proficiency certificate was handed out, the child should take the test in an ordinary sized public swimming pool.
Sporting activities featured prominently in our children’s out-of-school hours. One of the events we all looked forward to each year was the Inter-Homes Sports meeting. It was always a big attraction and it was one day in the calendar when children and staff from Branch Homes up and down the land came to The Village and joined in a happy day’s competition of field and track events. Trophies for individuals and winning teams were keenly and closely contested. Occasionally the members of staff acting as officials would forget what they were doing in the excitement of cheering on their own contestants!
As the day approached, a build-up of excitement could be felt. It was a memorable day in The Village year and I’m sure it must have had a high place in the annual calendar of activities at the Branch Homes taking part.
Competitors living in The Village would be out on the Green practising each evening and dutiful housemasters were to be seen coaching children from their own cottage. The non-competitors, regardless of age, were caught up in the stream of growing excitement as they too could be seen in little groups organising their own races with their own sets of rules! There was a special reason for my wife and daughters and me to look forward to this day. For a brief few hours we could be reunited with some of the children from Charlton Park at Canterbury. The occasion will have provided many other people with opportunities for reunions with friends at other Homes where they had worked or lived.
Alas, this happy and unforgettable day in the Barnardo calendar suffered the same fate as many other things when there was a change of national policy by the organisation.
What was considered by the children to be play-time was work-time to a great extent for us. Frequently, playing was (and is) a pleasurable chore even if it did have its dull and anxious periods. Indeed, playing with children is not easy; incredible as it may seem, many adults just cannot play with children. Not only do some adults find it difficult, they have no concept of the value, or potential value, of play to a child. I would go so far as to say that many parents actually doubt or underestimate their own value to their own child(ren). They seem only too willing to surrender to someone else their precious right to pass on to their children their gift of knowing how to behave socially and morally.
On the other hand the interested child-care worker can turn play-time into a very successful medium for teaching these things and for giving an understanding of the meaning and the value of togetherness. Sharing play-time together also helps the child to understand that they are important to the adult. Every child should have the opportunity to feel needed. For one thing, this provides an opportunity for the child to begin learning something about responsibility.
Certainly the senior child-care workers in The Village were well aware of the value of well-spent play-time and it was therefore natural that young students were helped during their initial training to learn the skills of using this time properly and profitably. During their two month preparatory course at The Village the young female students were required to work, I believe, four weekends. This was to give them contact with the children under the experienced eye of the Cottage houseparents. Towards the end of their course they would each escort one child in an organised group, with other students and children, to a play area at Hainault in Epping Forest, a short bus ride from Barkingside. Under instruction from the course tutor they were given an insight into some basic ways of playing games.
For some of these girl students this was a telling time as reality glared coldly at them. They often came to the course with a rosy, imprinted picture of perpetually smiling children, nicely dressed, clean and well behaved. This image was very soon shattered. Many students have packed their bags at this stage of the course and headed for home.
I suppose that reality can sometimes be an unfriendly experience but certainly in child-care work it is most important to be aware of the unpleasant aspects early on, in order to avoid embarrassing situations in front of a child or group of children. These give a child the impression of incompetence on adult’s part.
It was not only young students who attended courses at The Village. Houseparent Group participation always provided interesting questions and answers. Hearing that other cottage staff had problems similar to your own, and listening to how they resolved them, gave one comforting reassurance which stimulated us and urged us forward – sometimes with a new and better approach. Personally I found these group meetings and in-service discussions invaluable. Occasionally outside speakers from different walks of life would come and give a talk or presentation. We found that they had at least one aim in common with us – that of working towards a better life, a better future, for the child in need.
We thoroughly enjoyed our eighteen months in The Village. During that time we made many friends and we brought away many lasting memories. Our departure from The Village was timed very conveniently. This was at least partly due to good planning on our part. It was planned in the sense that my wife and I had been appointed as the new Superintendents at the Branch Home in Bedford (Howard House). It was also convenient timing in the sense that it coincided with our elder daughter leaving college and our younger daughter transferring from junior to senior school.
For us the pendulum was beginning to swing back as this new appointment was taking us homewards and nearer to where our relatives were living at the time.
This new post promised a very interesting and personal challenge. It involved more children than our Cottage family - thirty to be exact, with seventeen boys and thirteen girls ranging from three to fifteen years of age. We were to be given the opportunity to put into practice, without direct supervision, all we had learned at Charlton Park and The Village. We had learned our trade in the best school there was – Barnardo’s Village.
New houseparents took up residence at Larchfield Cottage in due course, then my wife and I looked out our packing cases and suitcases, made our farewells and were on our way.
17 Cardington Road
Bedford was not a strange place to us – certainly to my wife who had spent most of her war service stationed * only a few miles from the town. In some ways it was a homecoming for her.
We arrived in a boisterous week but a most absorbing one. Summer Term had ended so the children were not at school. They were patiently waiting for the coming weekend when everyone would be going on the annual two-week holiday.
For my wife and me there needed to be a quick hand-over. There was just one week before we left on that holiday with all the children and the other staff. It was to be an ‘exchange holiday’ as we were going to stay in the Felixstowe Branch Home and the staff and children from Felixstowe would take over our new Home.
The outgoing Superintendents of the Bedford Home stayed on for our first week in post to acquaint us with the Home’s procedures and to introduce us to the children and the other staff. We could not have known it at the time but several of them were to live with us for the next six years.
That first week at Bedford seemed like a very long one to us with so much to learn; I’m sure it must have been the same for the children, although for a different reason.
* It can now be added, following government disclosure 50 years later, that Jeff’s wife, Hilda Jane (‘Jean’) Barker (nee Hilton) was based at STATION X (Bletchley Park) near Milton Keynes, Bucks
Eventually Saturday morning was upon us and members of staff were hard pressed to contain the children’s excitement. With breakfast over, we watched as the forty two seater coach pulled up outside the open gateway in front of this fairly large house.
Transferring our luggage from the house to the coach proved relatively quick and easy with so many willing pairs of helping hands. Within half an hour of the coach’s arrival we were all comfortably seated on board and we were on our way – Felixstowe bound.
I must admit that when first told that we were to take the whole household on holiday after only a few days at Bedford I had been somewhat sceptical of the idea. After all, no-one knew us and we didn’t know much about the staff or any of the children. However, it turned out to have been a fine piece of planning – I’m sure it was more than just good luck!
With administration duties reduced to an absolute minimum during the holiday we had, thankfully, much more time to devote to personal contact with the other staff and the children during these important first two weeks on holiday together. We played a lot of games and spent most of the daylight hours in each other’s company, whether for swimming, beach-play, walks or outings. All of this time together provided each of us with a unique opportunity to observe and study each other in a relaxed, happy setting.
The fact that we were leaving one Dr Barnardo’s Home and taking up residence in another had no detrimental effect on children or adults. If anything, at least the members of staff welcomed the prospect. This exchange of Homes offered a number of advantages compared with holidays ‘camping’ in a borrowed Church Hall – even though that type of holiday can be great fun even if very hard work.
During those two weeks I suppose we were all to some extent on our next-to-best behaviour. I was mentally congratulating myself on the fact that the holiday had passed without undue incident – and then a small crisis occurred. During the packing of bags and the tidying up of bedrooms ready for our return journey, a member of staff found several small articles missing from one bedroom. Rapid action was needed because the lost property belonged to one of the children who at that moment was with the other party returning home from Bedford. Without too much formality the trinkets were found and replaced but a problem still existed which would need priority attention back in Bedford. This eventually proved to be a case of a child acquiring a few ‘inexpensive’ presents so as to buy friendship at school.
The children’s holiday behind us, we prepared to settle down to our new life with its challenges and problems.
Howard House, in Cardington Road, Bedford, was officially opened as a Dr Barnardo’s Home on a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon in June 1930 before a large gathering of townspeople and visiting representatives. The house was named after the donor whose family had owned it for some sixty years. It was a beautiful Victorian mansion, ideally situated to give children and residential staff the best of two worlds. Within a few minutes walking distance of the house one could be in Bedford’s shopping centre or in our local church. Both Junior and Senior were also close at hand and virtually across the road from us was the delightful River Ouse. Cinemas, the local football ground, railway and bus stations, our doctor’s surgery and the local hospital were all within reasonable walking distance.
There was a front garden running the full width of the house and measuring about ten yards in depth. Outside ran a busy road with the Dame Alice Harpur Trust School on the other side of the road. A tall privet hedge along the front boundary provided partial relief from the roar of passing traffic. The sound of traffic there was not enough to disturb or interfere with our busy life but it was sufficient to keep us pleasantly aware of our nearness to life ‘outside’. To step into the back garden of Howard House was like being in a different world with its own brand of atmosphere and more than its fair share of serenity in a natural country setting. There were several trees, some too high for even the bravest of our children to climb, and an acre of rough field partly surrounded by bushes. Also behind the building was a well cultivated, spacious lawn edged with well kept flower beds. Apart from the day of the annual Garden Fete, this conserved area was out of bounds to all children. I was told that one reason for this was to help maintain good relations with neighbours. Apparently, some time before our arrival, there had been differences - with the children being blamed.
It was not my practice to exclude children from temptation; any signs saying “don’t do that” or a “don’t go there” are invitations to a contrary child. Equally I do not believe temptation should be deliberately put in a child’s path. It is something that a child should be taught to understand and to live with.
Later on, we made practical use of the lawn by purchasing netball posts and with creosote markings made a netball pitch to the delight of everyone – well, with possibly one exception. We turned the field into a football pitch for winter use and in summer it was ideally suited to a number of uses. One corner in particular was reserved from Whitsun weekend onwards for us to put up our four tents and we rebuilt the camp kitchen. We used the field in this way until the onset of inclement weather.
Originally, Dr Barnardo’s had opened Howard House to provide yet another ‘first’ in Child Care – a residential school for backward children. It served this purpose for twenty six years. It took on a new role in 1956 when it became a Home for ‘normal’ children. Of the thirty children in residence when we took over, only one attended a special school. Each school-day morning a coach would call with an escort to collect Ian who attended the local education authority’s school for the Educationally Sub-Normal (ESN). I have never approved of this description. To the best of my knowledge it was never widely accepted. Certainly it did nothing to give proper credit for the very good work being done by extraordinary teachers. To my mind it was also wrong to label these unfortunate children with the tag ‘ESN’.
In our two previous Homes we had the occasional difficult boy to care for and to work with but Ian was a new experience for us.
With all the children safely back at school my wife and I began looking in detail at our new home to acquaint ourselves with every nook and cranny. Even though it was not our policy to make rapid changes, we did want to make the best use of all rooms and any other space to benefit everyone living at Howard House.
Only two unusual and interesting features remained as reminders that for a time the House had been used as a school.
Indoors, we still used the original cloakroom with its back-to-back numbered coat hooks arranged in equally spaced rows. My opinion, not shared by other members of staff, was that this was an outdated arrangement and I wished to put the room to some other use. Nevertheless it was a valuable asset to us, especially as provision was made for all thirty children to hang their top coats and school blazers on personal hooks. In addition, convenient lockers had been built at the base of two walls to take Wellington boots and school shoes. We were thankful to have it. It had at least one other important use. Important that is in a very personal way to certain children. To them it was at times a kind of retreat – a place to run and hide, perhaps a place to shed a tear in private or somewhere to go to escape from another, perhaps annoying or teasing, child.
The other unusual feature of the property was a classroom, converted from an original stable block. Of recent years it had served no really useful purpose so when the offer of a billiard table came our way I gladly accepted. Starting with this very welcome and useful gift we gradually built up our own Youth Club by using the old schoolroom.
A lot of planning and serious deliberation had obviously gone into adapting Howard House, a private residence, to become a children’s home. The result was that it worked exceptionally well for our three group system. Each group was reasonably provided for so that each could work as a unit with its own multi-purpose room. All three of these were situated on the same level - the ground floor.
On the second floor, grouped very conveniently, were the children’s bedrooms and not far from them down a short corridor, each group had its own bathroom. Children’s toilets with washbasins adjacent were also thoughtfully sited – on the ground floor, near the back door which led into the outside playing area. This easy access to toilets meant that the children could use them with the minimum interruption to their play time and without too much interference to any game being played.
Inevitably, sometimes even that short distance was too far for some of the younger children and a report would reach me that one of the younger boys – yes, it was always a boy – had urinated in the bushes.
One can very seldom attain perfection and this was the case with our group system. After tea-time each evening, with members of staff going off-duty it was just not possible to maintain the system completely intact. One group’s ‘Auntie’ would be seeing another group’s children to bed as well as her own. Even though it interfered slightly with the normal group arrangements it was not altogether a bad thing. I say this because since moving to Howard House I had noticed that there was a tendency for group ‘Aunties’ to sometimes ‘favour’ their own group’s children, even perhaps to be over-defensive of them, especially if another group’s ‘Auntie’ had valid cause to correct one of them. It was soon clear that this was not a healthy state of affairs as it caused resentment between members of the same staff and this would naturally have a spin-off effect on the children.
The resulting ill-feeling between colleagues was in danger of spilling over and causing difficulties between children. All it took to resolve the situation was for all staff to be aware of the results of this unintentional favouritism and to move from the three-families-in-one-house arrangement to being one larger, happier family with staff working on an inter-group basis. After all, we were a family with thirty children and this was their home – a fact that was sometimes easy to overlook among all the pressures of everyday life. The occasional reminder was not only necessary from time to time, but it was also good for all of us.
Basically the group system was to give each child a framework for identifying themselves with a particular group housemother. Also in a group situation most children found it much easier to relate – although this did not mean that every child would make that all-important ‘Mother-link’ within their own group.
In fact, we had one boy at Howard House who made that link with a member of the domestic staff. We were very fortunate in Bedford to have a very low turnover of daily staff and this was of benefit to the children in many ways.
This continuity among these good ladies contributed towards the sense of permanence and stability for some of our youngsters. There were, and there always will be, children who need to be constantly reassured of being secure. Continuity of contact is vital for all children. It is especially important to the child with emotional problems.
Though I was not directly involved, I had been made painfully aware of this fact while I was in The Village. There was a certain youth who I came to know through his keen interest in swimming. He was described as a ‘problem child’ and understandably so when you know that he was transferred from one cottage to another during his adolescent years because of his anti-social behaviour. Move after move was only adding to his problems. What real chance had he of feeling wanted?
My wife and I would not agree to any child in our care being moved until we were absolutely sure that the move was in the child’s best interest. On one occasion we were asked to take a young boy at the tender age of two and a half years. He had already experienced two foster home breakdowns; neither of them was of his making. Only a few weeks after this boy had joined us our group Executive mentioned that a further fostering was being considered for him. This would have meant not only another change of adults in his life but yet another change of home surroundings.
My wife and I were allowed to put forward our view of the proposal and I am happy to say that it was accepted by the executive. The fostering idea was shelved. The senior staff’s decision in this case was the right one for this particular child but it may have been taken only because we put our foot down firmly against another change in his life so soon after the previous changes. In my view the final decision was in the child’s interest on this occasion.
We sincerely felt that it was necessary for this boy to have a period of successful, stable contact with professional adult carers and with children he could relate to as equals in a residential setting. To some extent he was crying out to be rehabilitated; he wanted desperately to belong to someone or something. I’m sure his two previous sets of foster parents had tried too hard to please him and had smothered him with superficial affection. Being a knowing child, all this did was to give him a false impression of normal day-to-day life with its natural consequences. He had not been allowed or able to develop his natural character and he started to become very demanding. I am sure that the foster parents in this case were not aware of how their attitude would affect the boy but it is clear that it must have created severe behaviour pressures for him. It was no wonder that the fostering had broken down but we should give due credit to the welfare visitor who recognised the seriousness of the situation and recommended the child’s removal from the foster home.
He stayed with us for some five years after that and during this time, working closely with his new Welfare Officer, we helped him to find his true mother and experience the love she had for him.
At Bedford my wife and I had roles which were quite different from those we had in our two previous Homes. This meant that we learned knew skills and acquired extra knowledge. For example, we were now more involved in the fostering process as one of our responsibilities was to make recommendations for or against fostering for those of the children in our care who were eligible to be considered.
Perhaps I should say here that not all children in residential care are automatically eligible for fostering. Each child and his or her circumstances are considered individually – even when consideration is being given to the fostering of two or more children from the same blood family at the same time. Some children are not suitable for fostering or are not compatible with available families; others cannot be recommended for reasons of family ties – especially where a parent or relative pays regular visits and there is a good contact with a sound relationship established, possibly forming the basis on which a ‘new life’ can be built for the child.
Some parents do not want their child to be fostered. Sometimes this is regardless of the fact that no personal contact takes place between the parent and the child. There are also those children who come into care on a ‘short-stay’ basis.
One of the essential skills in dealing with proposals for fostering is to be as sure as is possible that the child is ready to accept it and that the prospective foster parents are right for him or her.
With certain children it is wrong to delay too long. In these cases there is every probability that the child will become too firmly set in ‘Branch Home routine’ and then will not, indeed cannot, accept a foster home. One example of this was a boy of ten who had experienced fostering which had not worked out. He came into Branch Home care. The time that followed was a valuable period of readjustment for him and eventually at a case conference it was thought that he was ready to accept another fostering. A potential foster family was found and we set the wheels in motion to bring child and prospective family together.
All fosterings are special but for certain reasons this was an extra special one. Therefore it was unanimously agreed that the contact build-up should not be rushed but allowed to develop in the child’s own good time.
Any kind of introduction is important because it is the first step in a possible relationship. The first of almost everything for a child is important to them. It was our practice to adopt exactly the same introduction procedure for fostering as for the ‘Aunties and Uncles’ scheme. With the Welfare Officer’s visit to the prospective foster family’s home completed and with the befrienders’ references checked and found satisfactory, the next stage was a visit to our Home. Usually this would be our first time of meeting the couple. Since it was our intention to introduce these good people to the child as if they were our personal friends, most of the time on this initial visit was given to us all (the couple, my wife and me) getting very well acquainted with each other.
Subsequent to this meeting, their first contact with the child would be in our company. We always strove to make this seem as natural and casual as possible. We would wait for the right moment to introduce the couple, not to the child individually, but collectively to the group of children which included the potential foster child. This was done for a very specific reason; it gave the couple an opportunity to opt out of the arrangement before any real personal contact had been made. In this way we were able to prevent the possibility of yet another let-down for a child and the consequent disappointment he or she would suffer. I am happy to record that, in fact, I never witnessed a withdrawal ‘at the first fence’. I did, however, experience a case of rejection on the second contact visit to one of our children. In this instance it was quite a long time before we felt the child was ready to try another contact.
So, with the introduction satisfactorily over, we would deliberately bring the child and the befrienders close enough together that they could find each other fairly casually. We always hoped at this stage that they would form a link strong enough for a good relationship to be built on. We had no standard set of arrangements for this meeting of child and adults. It depended mainly on what the child was doing at that time. With a little helpful manipulation and a hint or two, the child would ‘spontaneously’ invite the couple to join in.
In the case of the child in my example, we had successfully completed the preliminary stages. As we had hoped, the child invited his future befriender to play on his side in a game of football already under way. It was a game among a number of our own children. (At this stage we would think of this man as his ‘Uncle-to-be’, with a view to becoming a foster parent.) ‘Auntie-to-be’ was invited to watch him play. With the initial contact and the all-important ‘link’ now made, the association went from strength to strength. After several visits at the Home we decided it was time to try him on a short weekend with his new ‘Auntie and Uncle’.
On his return to us he was closely observed over a period of at least two weeks by his group aunties and ourselves for any abnormal reaction. During this time he also received mail from his new-found friends. At our suggestion, this was a picture postcard because it had space for very few words, it could be read quickly and easily – it could even possibly be memorised by the child. The picture, too, would have some significance to him. Perhaps he would retain it in his mind and see it as yet another nice thing to connect him with his Auntie and Uncle.
Naturally a reply from him would be eagerly awaited by the couple. His group auntie would help in this, either by prompting him to write a reply or by helping him to write one at his own request. In either case the words used would be the child’s own and again the letter would give helpful insight into his reactions to the visit and to the couple.
Before a further weekend stay was sanctioned, we would expect at least one more visit to him in his own secure surroundings – but on this occasion it would be a very personal invitation from the boy himself.
We were reasonably pleased at the way the relationship appeared to be developing. My wife and I were content to allow the development to be gradual. Unfortunately the prospective foster parents were not quite as happy as we were. Maybe it was only natural that they were keen to include the boy as a member of their family as soon as possible. Eventually a case conference was called and a date decided upon for the boy to transfer to his foster parents. It was timed to fit conveniently with the foster parents’ annual one-week’s holiday abroad. The foster child, as we may now call him, would spend a few days holiday at his intended new home and then accompany his new substitute parents on their holiday. On their return he was to come back to us for two or three days to be kitted out with new clothes and he would then take up residence with his new foster family. A very neat and tidy arrangement, acceptable to everyone involved. Unfortunately, like so many good plans, it came unstuck at the eleventh hour.
In this particular instance I’m sure it was for the best. It had to be, I believe, because it arose through a very sincere decision by the boy, made from his heart.
As scheduled, our young boy returned to us and was totally absorbed in the detail of his holiday abroad, enchanting the other children with his graphic recital of facts. But somehow he was different – much quieter, his attitude distant and withdrawn. However much he tried to tell us he was alright, a change in him was obvious but even he could not put his finger on his immediate problem. I had discussions about him with his group Auntie and my wife. My wife then arranged a tea-party-for-two in our sitting room on the following day. During this intimate and private party he broke down and in tears said to my wife, “Auntie, I do not want to live with those people.”
There and then he was reassured that if he did not want to live with his new Auntie and Uncle he did not have to do so.
From that very second, negotiations for the fostering were stopped. However, further investigations were necessary and with no time being wasted another case meeting was urgently convened.
 The Dame Alice Harpur School subsequently acquired Howard House when it ceased to be a Barnardo Home
 not his real name
 Charlton Park, Canterbury and The Village, Barkingside
 more fully described in SJ Barker’s ‘Caring for Other People’s Children’ (Memoirs of Charlton Park, Canterbury)