THE term " Problem Family " is
one which has become more and more familiar in social writing of recent years. It is a term which always gives me a sense of uneasiness. To whom are they a problem ? To themselves or to the community ?
Whatever the answer. the fact must be faced that in most urban and even in sonic rural districts there arc families with difficulties so severe that unless they are given help of a sufficiently fundamental nature the ultimate rest* win be the breakup of the family and the removal of the children to institutions at great cost to the community and probably at the
expense of greater psychological
harm to the children than the physical misery which they had hitherto suffered.
One's uneasiness arises from the fatal ease with which labels can be attached tra individuals ot families who do not conform to the ' accepted pattern of society.
KENT County Council appear to . he approaching this problem with a real sense of compassion and a realisation of the needs of , families which have presented , apparently insoluble problems to social workers approaching them , individually in their own special I spheres, These include midwives who have found the conditions under which they have had to deliver babies almost impossible. t h c health visitors who have had to try to help mothers to nurse babies who are constantly ailing and often have to be removed to hospital with severe dysentery and other troubles because of the neglect of the most elementary hygiene. and the school officer who tries to enforce more regular attendance at school.
At a greater distance, there is the teacher who realises that the children are suffering because of their parents' apathy and possibly because they are shunned by the other children on account of their poor appearance and even offensive condition.
A1.1 of these things add up to
the same sad story : a mother who has lost the ability and possibly even the will to cope with the family because of ill-health brought on by problems too great for her to deal with. The principle underlying the attempt to solve the problems is " a little help is worth a deal of pity."
The report on the first six months' working of the Child Help Service proves it to have been a very worthwhile experiment. Carefully selected domestic helpers go into the homes to work with the mother, to teach her and to study the problems which have " got her down" and help her to solve them herself.
Success depends upon the personality of the helper chosen, her ability to teach and facility in gain
ing a good relationship with the family. Experience has shown that the best type of women to employ on these cases arc middle-aged married women who have brought up children and belong to the same broad sOcial group as the family they are trying to help.
IN the 18 families so far helped
the prOh1CM5 hitVe proved IO he very similar. A complete lack of domestic sense on the part of the mother, invariably due to her own background and upbringing, inability to manage finances leading to a deeper and deeper involvement in debt and hire-purchase agreements, which in its • nun causes chronic worry and consequent ill-health.
A complete lack of self-respect in the mother makes her unable and unwilling to approach doctor and clinic. The family also suffers from the lack of the most elementary domestic equipment, such as pots, pans; bedding or even chairs to sit on.
In three cases where the families are large the domestic help has hcen continued. In one case the family finances have so much improved under tuition that the father willingly pays the whole cost, and in another where there is only a small wage on which to keep nine children the family regularly pays the assessed amoudt. In the third case, where there are also nine children. there is no charge for the nine hours' domestic help provided as the father is in hospital.
T a crowded lunchtime meeting
arranged by the Design and Industries Association. Mrs. Shepherd, secretary to the Consumer Advisory Council, was bombarded with questions about the degree of " consumer protection " the public might hope to gain from the Council. The brief answer to that. Mrs. Shepherd replied, is that it depends on the degree of ,co-operation the Council obtained from the public. So long as people merely grumble and do not complain to the manufacturers of goods that do not live up to their advertised standards, there is little that any organisation can do.
But all manufacturers realise that their ultimate guarantee of success depends on public satisfaction, and if sufficient people complain or refrain from buying inferior goods, they will soon attend to deficiencies. Very often the Consumer Advisory Council, when they draw attention to deficiencies, are told : " But we have had no complaints about this."
A SKED whether the Council ' could help buyers to obtain
the replacement of unsatisfactory goods. Mrs. Shepherd said it generally could do so, through it was sometimes a long process.
The three organisations which at present provide some sort of outside guarantee of goods are the Good Housekeeping In with its seal, • Consumer Research with its publication " Which " and the Consumer Advisory Council with its publication " Shopping Ciuide." The Consumer Advisory Council accepts group subscriptions of 105. Its address, which I forgot to mention last time I talked about it, is 2 Park Street, London, W.I.
nN November 30 an afternoon for parents will be held at the Grail Headquarters, 58 Sloane Street, London. S.W.1. It will commence at 2.30 with a talk by Dr. W. I.. Lightfoot on " The Emotional Problems of Childhood," tea at 4 o'clock, and then a talk by Fa L. Hanlon on "Teaching Religion in the Home." The cost will he 5s. If you would like to attend will you please drop a line to the C.M.A.C., 38-39 Parliament Street, London, S.W.1.