Journal Article

A Certain Moment: Some Personal Reflections on Aspects of Residential Childcare in the 1950s

David Webb

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 40, issue 5, pages 1387-1401
Published in print July 2010 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online May 2009 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
A Certain Moment: Some Personal Reflections on Aspects of Residential Childcare in the 1950s

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The paper's point of departure is the residential care of children—and especially girls and young women—during the 1950s. The approach of what was then known as The Church of England Children's Society is reviewed in light of its origins in Victorian philanthropy, and this is linked to the author's memories of the life of a person responsible for running one of the Society's homes. Her working life stretched from when the Society's founder was still an influential force to the late 1950s by which time the foundations for the ‘modern’ approach to looked-after children had been laid. The moral certainties that underpinned the approach at the home are considered, including the merits of such clarity, despite these appearing to contemporary eyes so limiting. This ‘backwardness’ is set alongside the concerns that are voiced today about the widely seen failings of modern residential care, particularly for girls and young women. Drawing on the work of Gramsci, the paradoxical inversion of the ‘reactionary’ past and the ‘progressive’ present are considered in terms of a contrast between an earlier clarity borne of faith and conviction and a contemporary hesitancy towards the enforcement of norms and values that are unendingly contested.

Keywords: The Children's Society; History of social work; Residential child care; Young women in care

Journal Article.  6210 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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