A plaque in the grounds of the offices of Caritas Care in Preston commemorates 100 years of service to children.
This feature illustrates the organisation's ability to trace its roots back to the philanthropic activities of notable Preston Catholics at the end of the 19th century and in particular their efforts to establish St Vincent's home for boys which was opened in 1897. A parallel, but less well documented historical link, recognises the 'concern of a small number of ladies in Preston who towards the end of the last century sought to help girls who through social pressures and unsatisfactory living conditions were in what in those days was accepted to be moral danger.'
One of the earliest initiatives was the establishment of St Joseph's in Mount Street Preston run by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. Religious orders were to play a crucial part in the work until late in the twentieth century. The latter part of the nineteenth century saw numerous large institutions established in what is now Lancaster diocese, many of them with the aim of rescuing Catholic children from non-Catholic organisations. This aim was to remain at the heart of the organisation well into the twentieth century.
Lancaster Diocese was established in 1924 when parts of Newcastle and Hexham Diocese and Liverpool Diocese were brought together into the configuration which exists today. Ten years later, in 1934 the Lancaster Diocesan Protection and Rescue Society was formally established. It is interesting to revisit its original objectives and the minutes of the first meeting held on November 8th record that the work to be done was threefold;
- To assist young women who having made their mistake and got into trouble, were frequently prevented by their very fall from freeing themselves from the company that had destroyed them and so were condemned to a life of degradation and ruin unless help from outside was forthcoming.
- To protect, by the provision of hostels, girls who would otherwise have no home or place of recreation to go to.
- To make adequate provision for the needs of those children who, owing to home conditions, have little or no chance of getting a fair start in life, much less of running straight later on.
This last was considered to be both the most difficult and the most important. The society ran two homes in Preston, St Margaret's Hostel on Deepdale Road, and St Teresa's Home in Stanley Street. However, it was emphasised in the initial annual report for 1935 that these served the whole of the diocese and indeed that they responded to the needs of women in a range of ways including, but by no means invariably, by arranging adoption for their babies. From its inception therefore, the agency has continuously sought to meet the challenges presented by the geography of the area it serves and two years later in 1937 a Cumbria and Westmorland section of the society was established. After the society gained approved adoption agency status in 1943, an office was opened in Carlisle in 1944 to serve the north of the diocese.
The 1950s and 60s which saw the establishment of the Welfare State, were not an easy period for the society. Changing ideas about the care and welfare of children led to the demise of the large children's homes and institutions and new laws and obligations placed pressure on the society. New Boarding Out Regulations at this time reflected Home Office policy that children should be cared for in families. The society reported that 'there is no universal agreement that this is necessarily practicable or always desirable' and expressed concern about the tightness of the regulations as presenting a hindrance to the achievement of these objectives. The society was concerned that local authorities and the Home office seemed to see the society as 'merely another organisation doing welfare work' whereas the annual report emphasises that 'it must never be forgotten that the first purpose of the Society's existence is the preservation of the Catholic Faith of children who are in danger of losing it through no fault of their own' Whilst critical of the policies of statutory bodies to board out 100% of children in care, the society emphasised that it 'must not give grounds for any suggestion that voluntary societies are satisfied with second-rate standards of child care.' Responding to the challenge, by 1956 they had received Home Office approval for the establishment of two small Children's Homes provided St Vincent's, by this time three quarters empty and running at a loss, was closed. One of the two replacement homes, converted at the time from Sacred Heart presbytery, ultimately became the head offices of the agency on Tulketh Road in Preston.
Throughout its history, changes in Local Authority practices have been particularly significant in shaping the ways in which the work has developed and prompting reflection on the agency's purpose. As the Lancashire Diocesan Protection and Rescue Society noted in 1965, 'The aim of a voluntary organisation should not be to compete with statutory provision. Unless it can provide something better or at least more acceptable it should move into other fields.' History shows the society succeeding in doing both, by building its reputation and expertise in caring for children and diversifying its activities to provide adult and community services.
The pressures and challenges presented by legislative changes over the last century should not be under-estimated and the agency has adapted particularly rapidly over the last twenty years. This period has been marked by growth and diversification, which has changed the shape and nature of the organisation. In 1981 the agency was incorporated as a limited charitable company changing its name to 'The Lancaster Diocesan Catholic Children's Society' and the organisation embarked on a phase of increasing professionalisation. Although the focus of the agency remained on adoption, other services were developing in the diocese. Initiatives including a pastoral service to deaf people and a day service for people with learning disabilities were established in the early 1980s. Community development activities provided support for a number of projects and together these activities laid the foundation for the agency's current twin strands of adult and community services and children's services. A further diocesan survey of social needs conducted in 1986 recognised these developments and acted as a catalyst in the metamorphosis of the organisation and its registration as a charitable company under the name Catholic Caring Services to Children and Communities in 1987. Although the agency's role as an adoption agency remained important it was no longer seen as exclusively a child care agency.
Throughout its history a priest had run the agency, until 1987 a resident priest. The appointment of a director who also had responsibilities in a parish, Father Bernard Woods may be viewed as a crucial transitional phase. The advent of a non resident director released much needed space enabling a building to emerge which not only provides a day centre on site but also a range of modern offices to accommodate staff in Preston. But although the centre of gravity is in Preston, the organisation continues to reach out into all parts of the diocese with offices in Barrow and Carlisle and projects in places as diverse as Lancaster and Workington.
Debates during this transitional period focused on how the Catholic nature of the organisation and its relationship to the diocese could best be maintained in a climate in which the increasingly professional nature of social work and need for appropriate qualifications were emphasised. The inappropriateness of continuing to rely on religious orders and priests to carry out much of the work now became evident and the organisation appointed its first lay director, Jim Cullen in 1993. The name was refined to its current form, Caritas Care.
The changing role of local authorities which required them to act as purchasers rather than providers of services in the 1990s, stimulated voluntary organisations such as Caritas Care to offer a not for profit alternative to the private sector. Efficiency, cost effectiveness and accountability all required competent administrative and managerial systems and good data management. Technology was introduced in the early 1990s and financial procedures improved. As the agency's workforce expanded so too did the demands for systems to manage this and there has been an ongoing bureaucratisation within the organisation with clearer systems procedures and management structures established.
Over recent years the emphasis on providing services for Catholics has altered to recognise that disadvantaged people are of all faiths and none. For example, literature advertising for adoptive and foster parents welcomes enquiries 'from families, couples and individuals from any background and religion, particularly those from ethnic minorities.' The current Mission Statement stresses making a difference to those who are disadvantaged and reads,
'Inspired by Christ's message of hope we strive to make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people, families and adults experiencing disadvantage.'
The letterhead for the organisation visibly places the emphasis on Caring in the agency's name. And yet, for many people, the consistency of the agency's values and their personal beliefs remains very important. Need is recognised as making no distinction on the basis of religion. The idea of rescuing souls as well as bodies now seems strange. But the commitment of the agency to the inherent value of human beings remains as undiminished as is its commitment to the continuing challenge to work with and for poor and marginalised people.
Caritas Care therefore is an agency with a long history, a demonstrated ability to change and adapt and the will to continue to do so. In joining in partnership with it whether as an employee, a service user, a volunteer, a funding body, or in a project partnership you are becoming part of its present, its future and ultimately of course, of another phase of its history.
Dr Joy Foster
Department of Education and Social Science
University of Central Lancashire