DANGER TO FAITH
By Hugh Kay
THE London Government Bill, now
due for the Committee stage in the House of Commons, may have serious effects on the 2,500 deprived Catholic children now in the care of the London County Council. It is also causing anxiety to the Christian and Jewish education authorities, including the Catholic Education Council.
Councillor John Brannigan, Vice-Chairman of t h e L.C.C. Children's Committee, told me this week that the Bill, if it becomes law, will fragment the work of one of the finest social service departments in the world, and may create difficulties in safeguarding the faith of deprived Catholic children.
The main provisions of the Bill mean that: 1. The London County Council, Middlesex County Council, and 93 county and metropolitan boroughs and urban councils will disappear (the City of London stays as it is). They will be replaced by a Greater London Council, including portions snipped off from Essex, Kent and Surrey; and 32 new London Boroughs.
2. Twelve of the London Boroughs will replace the existing 28 metropolitan boroughs. To these twelve will be transferred the whole of the L.C.C.'s social services (except education). The other 20 London Boroughs will also run their own social services (including education),
3. Whereas the L.C.C. caters for 3k million people in 117 square miles. the Greater London Council will cater for 8+ million in 851 square miles. The enlarged boroughs will cater for anything from 166.000 to 300,000 people. The Greater London Council will be primarily concerned with roads, traffic, planning, overspill housing. sewerage and refuse disposal, ambulance and fire services.
As matters stand, the L.C.C.'ss policy and practice are to ensure that every child in its care is brought up in the faith of its parents. This policy is pursued with the utmost generosity.
Representatives of the Crusade of Rescue and the Southwark Continued from page 1
Rescue Society sit on a liaison committee with L.C.C. members, and, as they have to deal with only the one county administrative body, they are able to negotiate uniform principles for all the London Catholic children "in care".
If the Bill becomes law, however. they will have to negotiate with 12 local authorities instead of one, and this may open the door to a numoer of serious complications.
"The L.C.C. Children's Department," Councillor Brannigan told me, "has developed a possibly unique working example of the partnership between state and voluntary services so cogently urged by Pope John in Mater et Magistra, and we owe a great deal to our non-Catholic colleagues. "Most of those concerned with child care in the L.C.C. have Christian outlook, and they give top priority to preserving the family as a unit. It is only when all else fails that they resort to putting a child "in care". When this has to happen. great stress is laid on individual attention. and the bteg up of a personal relationshirCetween the child and the Child Care Officer immediately responsible for its upbringing."
So Catholic children are either boarded out in Catholic homes, or, when an L.C.C. Home is the only available solution, they arc also given special treatment.
These Homes are divided into "cottages", with about a dozen children in each. cared for by a "mother" and sometimes also a "father". As far as possible, the Catholic child goes into a Catholic cottage. Great pains are taken not to separate brothers and sisters.
Expansion of this service has been hindered only by the lack of suitable staff. Where are the Catholics who ought to be so keen to take up this excellent work? The L.C.C. is keenly conscious that no Home. with a capital "H", however kindly dedicated, can re place life in a normal family circle. "The first aim. therefore, is
to board the deprived child with a family ready to bestow real love and care, and to regard the child as truly one of its own. It is not always possible to do this with Catholic children, simply
because there is no Catholic family available for the purpose at the momert. Such a child must then go to a Catholic Home or an L.C.C. "Catholic cottage", which all agree is second best. This is an indictment of the Catholic community for not shouldering its social responsibilities.
In fact, the proportion of deprived children cared for by Catholic families is 10 per cent. less than the corresponding proportion for Anglicans. What worries the L.C.C. Children's Department especially is the break-up of a system which concentrates on the individual child. This principle appears from the very structure of the Children's Department.
At the top of the field workers are the Inspectorate. Under them come Area Child Care Officers. and then Senior Child Care Officers, each of whom has live Child Care Officers working under him or her. The L.C.C. territory is
divided into nine areas in three districts. all run on these fines, which allow for constant collaboration and consultation among officers of great experience. Will the new borough councils. now to take. over responsibility for deprived children, be able to take these highly trained and dedicated staffs on?
At present, I.C.C. Councillors. many of whom are professional men and women of high standing. are able to take a personal and effective part in the formation of departmental policy. The new authorities may be more subject to control by the full-time officers, a state of affairs essentially undemocratic.
It is freely admitted on all sides that some adjustment in the administration of London was necessary. In the past 80 years. Greater London has expanded from a population of 5.000,000 to one of 8.000,000.
The Greater London Council will cater for those impersonal services which, Labour M.P.s recognise, demand a wider administrative area if they are to be efficiently run. But the fundamental complaint of the Labour Party is that. in paying attention to the impersonal services. the government has allowed the demands of the personal services to take second place.
Allegations have been made that the government's purpose is politicalto break the Labour hold on London administration. But the Bill follows to some extent the recommendations of a Royal Commission, and Tory predominance in the new set-up is not assured. Labour's real grievance is far deeper than that. They argue that the needs of the person must lake priority over those of a system. They also point out that the greatly enlarged Boroughs will not serve to make the people more conscious of democratic local government.
A Catholic Labour M.P., Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey), has pointed out in the House of Commons that not only child care, but also the care of the aged and handicapped, mental patients, training and rehabilitation centres, will all suffer. All such institutions and centres are established on a functional, not a regional basis, Will the new boroughs be able to take them over?
Housing and child care problems, he showed, are concentrated more in some areas than in others. Will a borough like Bermondsey. lacking the land to build new Institutions be able to turn to another borough which has, say, an old folks' home or a psychiatric treatment centre in its territory? The answer is obscure.
In Lambeth. there are 770
children in care; in Stepney, 651; in Islington, 1,000. The Stepney children are catered for by 95 municipal and voluntary establishments all over the place. Where will they be catered for now? While the L.C.C. educational structure teovering 12 new borough) is tei be preserved for the present, what will happen to the children in the other 20 new boroughs? 1 he Catholic Education Council has made representations about this.
The boroughs may shrink. far more than the present L.C.C., from the crippling expense of new Some of them may also shrink from paying transpost costs for Catholic children who, in order to attend a Catholic school. would have to travel to another borough.
In regard to the overall implications of the Bill, Lord Longford has said in the House of Lords:
"I cannot myself remember a more controversial scheme in the administrative sphere, or for that matter in the constitutional sphere, since the House of Lords reform, now well over fifty years ago. The government. after all, arc seeking to liquidate the L.C.C.. perhaps the most famous municipal authority in the world , . . It is all too obvious how services carefully geared to London as a whole will be broken up an4 ,impaired. . . . We view this prbilosal. with intellectual contempt and with moral contempt."