15 MAY 1941, Page 13


SIR,—The timely article and correspondence in your columns should arouse from their lethargy those Government Departments which have it in their power to check the present tendency of so many of our youngsters to acquire the invidious label of "young delinquents." Action has been delayed all too long, and my experience over a quarter of a century as a member of the staff of the Children's Branch of the Home Office, with a more or less close contact with the Board of Education and the section of the Ministry of Health in dealing with neglected children, has, to my regret, con- vinced me that nothing effective will be done until an overwhelming public opinion has compelled action; the senior administrative officers of a Government Department hold firmly to the old tradition that Government should not educate public opinion or initiate legislation particularly in questions of social reform Yet these bodies possessing, as they do, detailed accurate information as to the prevalence of neglect or delinquency, are in a position to act and the first to point out that prevention is better than cure; to wait until the damage is done is surely unwise.

The "Chairman of Quarter Sessions" in his article criticises the present treatment of young offenders in approved schools, and Miss Cicely Craven in her letter follows suit, but from personal in- vestigation over a period of many years, I thoroughly indorse the views expressed in your last issue by that experienced and humane headmaster, Mr. James Carson, as to the wonderful work and excellent results of the_ training given in these schools. The treatment, how- ever, of the offender is not the urgent problem, but rather the steps which should be taken to prevent the downfall of our boys.

Miss Craven is on much sounder ground in reminding us that Sir Herbert Samuel, Home Secretary in the last war, when a serious increase in juvenile crime occurred, accepted the advice of that en- thusiast, the late Mr. C E B. Russell, and called together, as a committee, the heads of the juvenile organisations making for the welfare of young people, and asked them, not to make a prolonged in- quiry, but to act at once as a stimulus to further activity to prevent, rather than punish, incipient crime. A large measure of success attended their efforts.

Boys commit mischief because they find nothing else to satisfy their desire, particularly in these days, to be up and doing; their fathers are perhaps on service or employed long hours in munition- or other work, and of even greater import, is the fact that their mothers are also working away from their homes with the result that home-influence is lost or diminished and the boys must find their opportunity for activity and adventure, in increasing measure, in the street. They possess courage and spirit which, failing a reasonable outlet, develops into raids on unprotected shops, houses and bakers' delivery-vans. Both the "Chairman" and Miss Craven are right in suggesting that steady work under sympathetic supervision is the solution to the problem. The experience of the senior approved school is that a boy with a really bad record of delinquency responds very quickly to the opportunity of work in a carpentry- or engineering- shop or on a farm or garden provided the equipment is thoroughly good and the skill and experience of the instructors is such as to call forth admiration and respect. Even repetition-work, in spite of its monotony, will grip so long as it demands skill and thought on the part of the worker. Provide such opportunity and the majority of the boys will work hard, return in the evening to their homes with a sense of having done their bit and mischief will appeal to a much lesser extent. Hostels as suggested may be necessary in some cases, but unless the head and matron are carefully selected the very danger of contamination which so obsesses the minds of Miss Craven and " Chairman " as occurring in an approved school may, as was the case in some hostels for munition-workers in the last war, be very serious. Again, too, save us from the " Howards Homes" suggested in the Criminal Justice Bill to be carried on by our very wooden Prison Commission rechristened or otherwise.

The immediate problem of providing buildings for workshops, re- creation and dining-rooms and possibly dormitories should not prove to be insurmountable—a disused factory, warehouse or temporary buildings could be adapted quickly and well equipped. Boy-labour without exploitation, would (urn out a Large mass of munition-work as in the last war, sufficient to justifyem recalling from the services instructors for the purpose. Let the Home Secretary geek the advice of Mr. Basil Henriques, The Wardens of Toynbee Hall, and similar experts on bor and their difficulties, and give them a reasonable amount of freedom to do scmething at once; further, let him see they are not obstructed by the methods so aptly described by Charles Dickens as "The Circumlocution Office," applicable today in large measure to the procedures of some Government departments, as many experts and enthusiasts have discovered to their sorrow.

Here is an opportunity for enlightened and constructive experiment. Who will grasp it?—Yours faithfully,


Formerly Chief Inspector of the Children's Branch of the Home Office.

3 Haldon Terrace, Dawlish