Priest would like to see approved schools for some parents
By ANN KIMMEL
The statistics to prove this have not been published because the Home Office considers three years too short a time to be significant. Longerterm conduct reports are being gathered to furnish a better. . yardstick.
But social workers have racked their brains for years to try to find out why the approved schools have such a high proportion of Catholic children—a quarter of the total—and why so many commit offences again so soon after they come out.
Some suggest that prieets and nuns, who run most of the Catholic approved schools, may not have HS good an effect on young delinquents as lay people. Others blame the "instability" of many Irish families which, although lapsed, remain Catholic in name. But these are speculations, and perhaps unfair.
It is not because the Catholic approved schools are not so well staffed. The proportion is the same as in the others—one professionally qualified worker for every eight children.
Mgr. John Bennett, of the Liverpool Catholic Children's Society. feels that both preventive work and punishment should fall on the family.
"Many or the children arc the victims," he told me. "They become quite ordinary people when taken away from their wretched homes. Then they are sent back to those homes."
If he had his way. approved schools would be changed to schools for delinquent parents. He described an experiment in Holland in which delinquent families are separated from society into small colonies supervised by social workers until they meet certain standards of behaviour.
One aspect of Catholic approved school difficulties in Britain is easy to pinpoill. There are too few of them.
Catholic children have been jamming remand homes, waiting for places in the schools. They are supposed to stay there for only three weeks, but some have waited for four or five months.
This problem is being remedied as quickly as possible, As a temporary measure, many non-Catholic approved schools have opened their doors to the overflow of Catholics. and four years ago the Home Office made plans to build 20 new schools by 1967, of which 11 are to he Catholic ones. Three have already opened: one will be ready next year; the others are in various stages of building and planning.
Another way that Catholic approved schools have fallen behind the others is that very few Catholic children are "classified" before going to them. There are four classifying schools, of which none is Catholic.
Classifying schools started in 194.2 as a bridge between court and approved schools, where psychiatrists, psychologists and teachers study the child for three weeks. Then they send a detailed report with him to his approved school, recommending particular forms of treatment.
During the last decade classifying schools have exerted a tremendous effect on methods of treating delinquents. They arc regarded as the top experts and have been the number one impetus to the current swing towards more preventive work.
Because Catholic children are not usually classified, Catholic schools are unable to keep abreast of the experts' recommendations. But now the Home Office and the hierarchy of England and Wales are talking over the possibility or sending Catholic children to the classifying schools.
The Home Office has always ensured that children's religious needs are met. Classifying schools would have to agree to send the children to Sunday Mass and to provide religious instruction. There may be difficulties over attending nonCatholic prayer assemblies. But to find enough places for all the Catholics, one more classifying school is needed in addition to the present four. Although the number of qualified experts is already considered slightly inadequate to staff the present four schools they feel they could just manage to stretch themselves out for five. •
Fr. Michael Connelly, who heads the approved school sub-committee of the ;Catholic Child Welfare Council, hopes two Catholic classifying schools may be built, one in the North and one of the South. But that possibility looks unlikely.
A child is sent to an approved school RS "not quite a last resort"— hut almost, according to Miss Lucy Ware. chairman of North London's Juvenile Courts (and also president of the Catholic Women's League).
"We send him there only if he comes before us with a very long record and we have tried everything else" — meaning conditional discharges, repeated warnings, one-tothree-year probation ordere. And she does not send a child for punishment, hut only if she thinks the school will help him.
Many approved school children are retarded. Many come from families who have little or no sense of social responsibility themselves, or from homes that are broken or ruined by alcohol or drugs. Quite likely the children have never been taught any religion. Many of those who were baptised Catholics as babies have never been inside a church since.
The most important treatment at an approved school is the preparation to go home. Most Catholic schools try to have the after-care officer meet the chitd and his family as soon as he enters.
Fr. Connelly would like to start a supplementary plan for the Catholic child to have a member of his parish keep in touch with him as well.
But theories of how long to keep children in the school vary. Some people feel Catholic schools tend to be over zealous. One Catholic headmistress told me; "It takes at least 18 months to complete our training."
Another school has kept children as long as five years. Others feel children should be sent home as soon as possible after the minimum six months, so that readjusting will be easier.
All the girls schools are staffed by Sisters and most of the boys' by Brother. While some people feel they are too far removed from the Society the children know, nearly everyone praises the continuity they can offer.
Last February, however, the Sisters agreed that at least one girls' school should be run by laywomen. It is felt that too few schools have a mixed staff.
Brothers have sometimes been criticised as being too strict. If that
was once true, their approach is changing.. Br. Peter, headmaster of St. George's school in Liverpool, told me his approach is: "Giving is more important than depriving."
Nearly all the schools follow the same principle, using a set of privileges that can be given or withdrawn. These include supervised days out, pocket money and parties.
Efforts are being made to avoid approved school children looking drah. St. John's in Birmingham, for one, strongly encourages its girls to dress smartly.
Sr. Veronica, the headmistress. sends them out to hairdressers. brings in speakers on good grooming and keeps an up-to-date supply of fashion magazines on hand.
Dressmaking, laundry and cookery are important parts of girls' school training. since most or the girls marry within a year or two after they leave. A number of girls' schools also bring in speakers from the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council.
A hostel at St. John's, where the girls live while working at outside jobs during their last few months at the school. has set a pattern that a growiag number of other schools are adopting. It forms a link between the school and the child's future life.
Other schools are becoming more aware of the need to get children out during their stay—for visits to their families or to local homes and to outings and games with neighbouring schools.
A growing number of schools are also adopting the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to encourage voluntary non-competitive constructrve work that stresses service t o others.
During most of the day younger children concentrate on school work. The older ones also take classes, but their most important training is practical, and the most important lesson they learn from it is application—sticking to a day's work.
Particular skill is given in a specified trade, Catholic boys' schools vary between farming, building, carpentry and nautical training. Fr. Connelly wishes more or them concentrated on developing skills in electronics and factory work to prepare boys for the jobs they will actually be doing.
Teaching religion to teenagers who have never before had any Catholic instruction poses special problems. The De La Salle Brothers adopted a kerygmatic approach many years before the method was known by that name. And now all the schools are keen on visual aids. filmstrips, vivid stories front the life of Christ.
"The majority mop up the religious experience in their school life," Said Sr. Rose, headmistress of the recently opened Benton Grange girls school in Newcastle upon Tyne. "Moral values are taught incessantly throughout the school without the girls feeling they are being rammed down their throats."
Social workers today are hoping the number of children committed to approved schools will fall off as better means Of prevention are being sought. Shifting responsibitity to the whole family is a growing trend.