Like individual humans, organisations have a lifespan.They are set up, they grow, they mature, they decay and they die. Some last a long while; others have a short life-span. Iceland’s parliament, the Althing, was founded in 930 and is still going. Hitler’s Third Reich was intended to last for a thousand years but it outlasted his death in 1945 by only a week.
This month has seen the end of an organisation which has achieved a lot in the course of its existence – the Social Care Association – and the rebirth of another, the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care. The reasons for these changes tell us a lot about the current state of thinking about services for children and young people.
To deal with the SCA first, it was founded as the Houseparents Association in 1949, when the first batch of qualified residential child care workers decided to continue their links on completion of the Home Office course. The following year it was renamed the Residential Child Care Association (RCCA) and it retained that name until the early 1970s. At that point, with the introduction of the Seebohm Report and Social Services Department, the name was changed first to the Residential Care Association so that residential staff working with adults could join, and then to the Social Care Association, so that care workers in other settings could become members. The Association has therefore had a life of over 30 years as SCA.
In that time it has achieved a lot. At its peak it had several thousand members. It has provided training. It has developed professional policies and practice guidance. It has published books. It has represented members when facing employment problems. It has undertaken consultancies. It has represented the social care sector on quangos and in meetings with government.
Overall, perhaps partly because of the absence of other organisations but more importantly because of its members’ professional knowledge about the sector, it has had more influence than a body of its size and resources would usually have. It has boxed above its weight.
Why has the SCA gone under now?
The simple answer is that it ran out of money; membership fees and the income from consultancies was insufficient to pay for the staff, premises and so on. But underlying the gradual rundown of its resources were other problems.
The first is that many organisations have suffered loss of membership during this period. In the days of RCCA all its work was ground-breaking. Before the Castle Priory Report, for example, there were no accepted systems for calculating staff. By contrast, the work done in recent years by organisations such as the Children’s Workforce Development Council and the Social Care Institute for Excellence – well staffed and funded by the government – has been far beyond what the SCA could have undertaken.
The second is that with the growth of independent consultancies and, in the last few years, the cuts in budgets, there have been far fewer opportunities to achieve income. Yet the expenditure had to continue if services were to be provided to members.
The third is that the SCA emerged from the RCCA and RCA by a logical progression for very good reasons, but the outcome was an organisation with a much more nebulous identity. As the RCCA, there was a membership of just over 3,000 in one specialist field where the workforce must have been about 12,000, so that perhaps one in four residential child care workers were members. The broader remit of the SCA must have meant that over a million people could have joined – home helps, care assistants, day care staff and so on – so that the percentage who were members dropped dramatically. Furthermore, the broader identity was problematic; the potential members would not have described themselves as social care workers and may therefore not seen the SCA as being for them.
The fourth, linked with the third, is that as an umbrella organisation which had absorbed several specialist professional bodies, the SCA should have given greater priority to the specialist interests of sections of its membership, so that there should have been a group focusing on mental health social care, for example, another on work with young offenders and so on. Despite some efforts, this approach did not take off, and the SCA’s programme of professional activities was often very general, such that workers with specific interests did not see it as their home organisation.
The fifth is that people do not join organisations as much. Especially now that there is electronic networking it is not necessary to go to meetings, have AGMs, constitutions and offices with paid staff in order to get support and help; one just gets in touch. Over recent decades employers have provided more training, advice and support than in the days of the RCCA, when one had to turn to peers.
Whatever the reasons, the SCA has gone. Because of the need to sort out its finances, the SCA’s name cannot be easily used by a successor organisation. It is therefore finished (though there may be is a wake for the band of members who have made up the core of the SCA over the last few decades).
The fact that the SCA has gone does not mean that the sector no longer needs a professional lead. Where will it come from?
There are still the trades unions, but they do not represent professional thinking, and there are several smaller organisations working in the child care field, some with specific remits.
There is Children England (the former National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations) which has nearly a hundred and fifty voluntary bodies as members. It has a good track record for focusing on professional issues within the voluntary sector.
The Institute of Childcare and Social Education was set up a couple of decades ago to encourage the registration of child care workers, but the parliamentary support for the idea dwindled when the General Social Care Council was set up, and since then the ICSE has been fairly small. It could act as a focus for child care workers, and because it was acting in part as the SCA’s child care arm, it is now considering its future.
The Planned Environment Therapy Trust is active in its sphere – therapeutic care for children and adults. Because of the work it does with children it could play a bigger role in relation to residential child care. Under its Chief Executive, Richard Rollinson, it has been considering what role it should play and what should be the scale of its activities.
The Residential Forum straddles all four countries of the UK and all client groups in considering residential services. It has produced publications in the past but it now focuses on bi-annual workshops by invitation only.
The York Group has held occasional conferences by invitation, and one is planned on 17 December, but it seems unlikely that they will be frequent or lead to other activities.
The Independent Care Homes Association is active, and since private children’s homes are now in the majority, it is influential in the field, but it represents the proprietors’ viewpoint, not professionals as a whole.
The National ChildMinding Association has a very large membership, mainly of childminders but with a substantial minority of nannies, the common factor being home-based child care. It is looking to expand its membership across a broader section of child care workers. At the same time the Pre School Learning Alliance has announced that it is intending to recruit childminders. These are two large organisations which serve the early years sector.
The Child Care History Network has two main aims – to study child care history, as the name implies, and to see what lessons history can teach us for current practice. It is not likely to take on a broader role.
Finally, Jonathan Stanley has announced the re-establishment of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care. This was originally government-funded and sited at the National Children’s Bureau, but when it lost funding, the NCB could no longer afford to provide the service and it was closed down. Its loss was felt keenly in the service, as it had developed a valuable network, providing information. It remains to be seen what sort of organisation Jonathan Stanley can establish.
What do you think?
Where should things go next? Does the workforce want any organised support beyond the organisations mentioned above, or do professionals no longer want to contribute to the development of the services? If something is wanted, should it have a broad identity across client groups, across different settings, and across the UK, or should it be narrowly focused, so that its members share a common identity and common interests?
If the demise of the SCA leaves professionals unmoved, the gap will close over and life will carry on. But if Jonathan Stanley’s wish to re-establish NCERCC strikes a chord, or if some other organisation adopts a more active role, maybe something new will arise from the ashes.
What are your views?