By Nurture Not Enforcement

By Martin Wigg

Date Posted: Sunday, 1 June 2008

Martin Wigg was a care consultant, a columnist for Caring Times and the Chair of Hertfordshire Care Providers Association. During the 1970’s and early 1980s Martin was at the forefront of a national strategy to reduce the huge number of children and young people who were inappropriately placed in residential child care at that time. As the Principal of a large residential Observation and Assessment Centre, at Sparrows Herne, Bushey, Martin initiated a wide variety of innovative community based support programmes which kept children living with their families and out of residential care. He was amongst the first to use residential child care workers to work directly with the parents of children and young people in their own homes. The social pedagogue by another name was alive and functioning in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, thanks to Martin.

Martin died in March, 2009. He is greatly missed.

In this article, Martin makes a plea for the ‘truth of nurturing’ to replace impersonal practice standards and government enforced targets.


By Nurture and not Enforcement

Simon Callow recently said on TV that “You achieve excellence by nurturing” and by implication not by enforcement. He was not actually speaking in respect of child care nor indeed the care of vulnerable adults, but the sentiment undoubtedly holds true for both.

The truth of the sentiment dawned upon me many years ago when I went with a Social Worker to visit the mother of a child we were about to send of to an Approved School following the making of a Care Order. This was an act of enforcement and the ‘isolation’ of children from their communities did not seem to me to be an appropriate nor effective way of resolving dysfunctional situations. The mother was endeavouring to bring up a family of three children whilst her husband was in prison. The sadness in that mother’s eyes stirred a deep desire to find an alternative way of working.

At the time I was the Manager of a Children’s Assessment Centre in the South East of England. The methodology we developed would now be labelled the ‘person centred approach’. This was radically different to the strategic approach which was in prevalent at the time and persuading the powers that be that we should be given an opportunity to develop our practice was an uphill battle. Indeed initially we had to go out on a limb to develop the service without any approval or support from the local authority. We were able to put together a multi disciplinary team for each child referred to the Centre that included a residential social worker, a teacher, a psychiatrist, and a psychologist. We also offered an advisor service composed of the same multi disciplinary team to the social workers of the County. I have to say that we were lucky enough to have assembled a staff team that was quite exceptional and the pleasure I had from working with them has not been surpassed since.

As I am no longer involved in the direct delivery of care I consider the issue of nurture as opposed to enforcement from a different perspective. Nurturing is not about allowing children, or indeed the providers of care, to act in an irresponsible or abusive manner. It is about educating them in the principles of civilised behaviour; an abidance with the law and a care and respective for one another.

Regrettably, as service providers, we have become engulfed by enforcement to a point where innovation is virtually impossible where care is now delivered, primarily in the Independent Sector. Those who pontificate about ‘best’ practice are so far removed from the direct delivery of care that one has to question whether the ‘plot’ has actually been lost to the detriment of the quality assurance of care.

We appear to have reached a point where regulation and the enforcement of National Minimum Standards has been reduced to a tick box mentality and in extreme cases if your box will not accommodate the enforcer’s tick it is you who have failed to comply. It is my hope that  we can regain an understanding of the truth of nurturing and that we do not remain dependent upon enforcement either in the care of vulnerable people nor in the regulation of services.