The Loss of a Champion
by David Lane
 




With the death of Barbara Kahan on the morning of Sunday 6th August, children and young people have lost a champion.

Throughout her life, Barbara battled on their behalf. She worked directly with them. She managed services for children. She created development plans for the Government, and influenced legislation. She conducted numerous inquiries into bad practice, notably with Alan Levy in the Pindown investigation. She wrote articles, including pieces for this magazine. She edited the classic text Growing Up in Groups. She defended good-quality residential care against its detractors. She was unfailingly supportive to people, arguing for higher standards of practice in childcare and social education. She was equally unflinching in being tough on bad practice and people who did not come up to the mark in her opinion. She was compassionate without being a soft touch.

Barbara had a long career, but she never retired. Even from her hospital bed, she was telephoning and asking for working papers to be sent in for her to comment upon. Although troubled by asthma, she continued to take on major responsibilities well after she had finished salaried work, playing key roles in voluntary organisations. She had to pace herself more, but in terms of her professional impact, she was still in her prime.

Barbara's sudden departure is a real loss which will be felt by many people, including children and young people, professionals and individual friends. She had no surviving family but, like Mr Chips, she had thousands of children over the years whom she helped either directly or indirectly.

 

Barbara was the sort of person who affected the lives of those she met, often by challenging them to bring out the best in themselves. In this edition, Keith White writes about Pandita Ramabai, another champion, who helped women and children in India to achieve their rights. The history of social action has many names of this sort, each making their own contribution and changing the face of the services or of the society which they found. They are found in every country - Pestalozzi in Switzerland, Makarenko in Russia, Bettelheim in America.

Individual people like these do make a difference. They change our ways of thinking. They help to motivate us by their charismatic examples. They advise us and help us to understand and face the personal challenges ahead. It is all very necessary to have policies and systems, theories and curricula, but in the end, the effectiveness of childcare and social education as far as the children and young people are concerned depends upon the people who work and live with them, their commitment and motivation, and how they relate together.

People like Barbara have a personal impact on the people they meet, as well as an influence on systems and legislation, and it is something for which we have to be thankful. Our greatest tribute to her memory will be if we too battle to preserve children's rights and foster their development.

As for Barbara, she has probably already been appointed by Saint Peter to investigate some dodgy applicant trying to make it through the pearly gates, and is giving him a hard time by asking him how he treated his children.


Anyone who wishes to make a personal contribution about their memories of Barbara and her achievements is welcome to send them in for inclusion in children.




 

Dr Barbara Kahan OBE : Funeral

Barbara Kahan's funeral took place at 12 noon on Wednesday 16th August 2000 at the parish church of St Peter in the village of Cassington in Oxfordshire. The church is a Norman gem, but it is small, and so the occasion was limited to the family, a few close friends and colleagues and the people of the village, who filled the church.

Addresses were given by Michael Chisholm, Vladimir Kahan's step-son, and Professor Norman Tutt, who had been close to Barbara for many years, having worked with her at the DHSS. (Norman Tutt's contribution is given below.) Both addresses - and the service as a whole, which was conducted by Rev. Matthew Sleeman - were very moving, and highlighted many of the achievements and sides of Barbara's personality which made her so special. Jean Packman read Shakespeare's Sonnet LX to reflect Barbara's interest in English literature and Olaf Rock read a poem Farewell my friends by Rabindranath Tagore. Barbara would have enjoyed the choice of Fight the good fight as one of the hymns.

A memorial service will be held in two or three months' time, and details will be carried in this magazine when they are known.



Address at Barbara's Funeral
Given by Pofessor Norman Tutt


Barbara (BJK as she was affectionately known by many) was always two people. There was the physical Barbara, short with owl-like glasses and hair always drawn back in a severe bun. As a friend of over thirty years I never once saw the physical Barbara "let her hair down". Barbara had an unusual relationship with her body - no doubt stemming from her often bed-ridden childhood dogged by asthma. She referred to her body as an unreliable vehicle incapable of containing the enormous energy, commitment and intellectual curiosity of the spiritual Barbara. A sort of ageing Morris Minor driven by a formula one racing driver.

One of Barbara's favourite books in recent years was the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, a man with whose compassion and rejection of bitterness she could identify. In this autobiography he wrote "a man who takes small steps only travels a short distance". The physical Barbara could only take short steps, on many occasions eschewing even a stroll around Cassington because of her asthma.

Meanwhile the spirit of Barbara strode across oceans and continents and scaled soaring peaks in an extraordinary intellectual journey from the daughter of a railwayman in a small Sussex village to being honoured with the Order of the British Empire and as a Doctor of Law at the University of Victoria, the other side of the globe on Vancouver Island.

Diana and I, whom BJK always referred to as "ungrown-up teenagers" were privileged to accompany Barbara as her honorary family to the ceremony at Victoria University. It was on that occasion that the two Barbaras were most apparent, On a stage set appropriately with a throne and lectern made by First Nation craftsmen, a particular delight for Barbara with her love of colour and modern art, in a packed auditorium of some 2000 people
Barbara rose to speak.

The physical Barbara clad in academic gown and doctoral cap looking all the world - in her words - like a little mushroom - could barely see over the lectern. And yet that huge auditorium could not contain Barbara's spirit as poignantly she described the
personal significance of the graduation ceremony. She had been barred from such a ceremony from her alma mater, Cambridge, when she graduated because she was a woman. An inexcusable wrong redressed by the University in 1999 on a day which held
such importance to Barbara. The spirit of Barbara that day in Victoria inspired an audience of young graduates in another continent by showing them the heights of achievement to which they could aspire and conquer.

Although Barbara travelled extensively her spiritual home was always in Cassington. In the home and garden she had created with Vladimir. The only time she was at rest was when seated in their conservatory surrounded by geraniums, reading a book. Barbara and Vladimir never had any physical children of their own but they were and still are the spiritual parents of countless numbers of the succeeding generation. Many of her spiritual
children are here today. As my spiritual mother Barbara taught me:

to always question received wisdom and ask why?

to always do what I believed to be right and bear the consequences

and at the lowest point of my life she, like all good mothers, had faith and confidence in me.

As importantly she taught me to enjoy olives, garlic, spicy food
and good wine.

Barbara loved her work but most of all she loved Vladimir and soon she will be joined again with him for eternity.

In her diary Barbara, always the rationalist, had drawn a seesaw with the heading "the seesaw of daily life" On the upside were, typically, work, books, friends, energy and good food, on the downside were loneliness, ageing and death.

Today the physical Barbara has finally .succumbed but not without a fearsome battle to survive. The spiritual Barbara lives on amongst us and within us. Thank you Barbara for what you gave to so many of us.


 
 



THE BARBARA AND VLADIMIR KAHAN TRUST

Readers who knew Barbara Kahan and admired her contribution to childcare may be interested in the following information about the Trust she established.

The objects of the Charity are "to further research training or development in any area or field involved in the care of or in assistance to children and young people who have special needs, socially, educationally, mentally, emotionally or physically and/or who have suffered any harm or ill treatment including phisical abuse, sexual abuse and other forms of ill treatment which are not physical."

Help, when available, will be given through financial aid, "or in any other way as the Trustees shall in their absolute discretion think fit, to individual disadvantaged children or young people."

Trustees include myself, Professor Norman Tutt, Alan Levy QC and Dr Jean Packman. Until the estate of Barbara is finalised, the Trust is not able to accept applications, after which there will be a public announcement. In the meantime, anyone wishing to make a donation in memory of Barbara can do so, by cheque to "The Barbara and Vladimir Kahan Trust", c/o Dr Chris Hanvey, September House, 19 Hempstead Lane, Potten End, Berkhamstead, Herts, HP4 2RZ.

It is hoped that through the Trust, the passionate commitment that Barbara felt to children and young people will live on in her memory.

Dr Chris Hanvey

 
 

E-mail received 17 August 2000


It is difficult even now, after attending her funeral today, to grasp that Barbara is dead. My most recent contacts with her by telephone in the last few weeks have been as lively and as demanding as ever. It was never any use to ring her with a half formulated idea or a sloppy bit of reasoning. You had to have done some serious thinking and marshaled all your arguments before thinking of picking up the phone.

At the funeral today people spoke of her influence on the lives of so many - children in care, friends, the children of friends and so on into the future generations. I was reminded of the very practical impact she had on a number of staff with whom I worked in Leeds Social Services Department. Several cohorts participated in the Open University P 653 Course in the construction of which Barbara had been an influential figure. I can still hear her voice on the audio tapes, articulating so clearly, talking about what young people really looked for in a member of staff and much else. A significant number of those staff members, who had not had brilliant educational opportunities in their school days and who did not see themselves as academic, have since gone on to achieve the Dip SW. Their lives and the lives of the children for whom they were better equipped to care for after studying the OU P 653 material have been touched by Barbara's great commitment to see staff better trained, but in an accessible and practical way.

On a more personal note I remember 'the look'. Barbara would look quizzically over or around the frame of her famous spectacles. Sometimes it was doubting, sometimes sparking with anger, sometimes despairing, but so often there was a twinkle, which when accompanied by her chuckle was a tonic in itself.

Kathleen Lane
Secretary FICE UK

 
 

E-mail received 14 August 2000

Barbara & Vladimir Kahan were associated with Bessels Leigh School,Oxon (boarding school for disturbed boys) from about 1964 when it was set up under MIND.

Vladimir was Consultant Psychiatrist to the school and was invaluable in its development and essential staff training.

Barbara,although not on the board of the school until the late eighties,contributed greatly drawing on her vast experience as Children's Officer in Oxfordshire. Like Vladimir she was extremely supportive and a calming influence during the inevitable crises in such an establishment. A phone call would help solve many of my school problems.

Her dinner parties were legendary for their intellectual stimulation and humour. I thought she handled Vladimir in a balanced way,"restraining" him when necessary but respecting his vast knowledge.

Her dynamism contributed to the further development of Bessels Leigh School as Chair of the Governors in the nineties when the ambivalence towards the running of boarding schools for children with special needs proved so difficult.

Brenda and I valued their friendship and will miss Barbara.

Stewart K Brindley
Rydal, 8 Aber Drive, Llandudno. LL30 3AN.


 
 

Barbara Kahan - An Appreciation from Rowan Dickman, Treasurer of the ICSE

I cannot say that I knew Barbara that well socially, but as a fellow Director of the ICSE, I had worked with Barbara over the last four years, aiming for a goal that we both shared.

When David Lane rang me to tell me that Barbara had passed away, I felt a great sense of sadness and loss. My sadness is because I selfishly wanted to have more time working with Barbara. When I met Barbara, four years ago at the start of the ICSE, I realised how little I had achieved, seen and done in the field of childcare. It was always a privilege to meet with Barbara, because I was always aware that I was working with someone who had been a pioneer in the early days of the service. However, Barbara was always modest about her achievements and had an uncanny knack of making me feel that she valued my input.

My sense of loss is also selfish. Barbara has always been a stable and important presence in the ICSE. Barbara was always pragmatic but coupled this with a sense of passion about whatever she undertook. My immediate response when David rang me was to say "That's it", we have fought a good fight for four years but it just wasn't to be". However, my vision of a childcare service has not changed, and having seen Barbara only a few weeks earlier, I know that Barbara's vision had not changed either. Therefore, we need to keep working towards these aims in her memory.

I realise that this is not just my loss. I feel that the service and the children that we look after have lost a great champion with a wealth of experience. Many of the policies of the school that I work at have been taken and formalised from Barbara's book, Growing up in Groups, and I am sure that many agencies and establishments up and down the country have welcomed Barbara's help and input.

I never got the chance to thank Barbara for the privilege of working with her over the years, so the best I can do is to say here, "Thankyou for the insight, experience, humility and most of all, setting an example that we should all follow".


 
 

A tribute from Mairi Youngson,
Chief Executive, Waveney District Council

" Barbara was someone whom I met only later in her life. She had nevertheless been a presence on my horizon, a signpost and an inspiration over many years, as much in her capacity as role model as in
any other. I held her in great admiration.

Suddenly in 1991 I was thrown into a professional maelstrom, or did I throw myself? I needed high calibre help in a high profile situation. Barbara was willing to help, but with such modesty. So I got to know her. Her strengths, her knowledge, her judgement and most of all her kind support to me were wonderful. She allowed me to borrow her wisdom, to use it and then to learn from her myself.

She remained a mentor and I was so pleased to have known her. I always felt a little in awe, as different generations should, and was never quite sure of approaching her in case of being intrusive. I was of course always warmly welcomed. She had time for me and always joined me in as her equal. What a gift.

Thank you Barbara for your help, your humanity and your genuine friendship. I will always recall your very fairly devilish smile and your openness. The world benefited from you and we shall miss you; but somehow not too painfully for your spirit seems to remain with me. You were such a good teacher I no longer have to have your physical answers to my questions, I just ask them and know what you would say.

Good thoughts to you.

Mairi "


 
 

E-Mail from
Prof. Jim Anglin, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, B.C. Canada

I was shocked to receive the e-mail message from David Lane and a letter from Norman Tutt informing me of Barbara's death. With her indomitable spirit, I just assumed she'd live forever!

I first met Barbara when she was touring North America on behalf of the Gatsby project. (What an exotic name for a training initiative!) It was her exposure to our distance education B.A. program for child and youth care workers that convinced Barbara that such an initiative was indeed doable in the U.K. as well.

Subsequently, I was hosted by Barbara on several occasions over the years in her wonderful home in Cassington. (I do hope that her marvelous library will be kept intact somewhere accessible to child care afficianados.) It was also my privilege to nominate her for an honourary doctoral degree here at the University of Victoria. We had a wonderful week in Victoria with her along with the Tutts and the Zacharias', all her very dear friends, when she received the degree. She gave the speech to convocation, and the University President leaned over to me and said "A very worthy recipient, a fine
choice!"

Barbara frightened and inspired me. In her presence, no matter how hard I was working, I always found myself thinking of things I WASN'T doing for children, and feeling somewhat guilty! She taught me the proper standard for our services for children: "If they're not good enough for your own children, then they're not good enough for any children!"

I will always be grateful that Barbara crossed my path, and I know that many children will have better care now and in the future because of her commitment, courage and charisma.

As David Lane says in his editorial, she will be a formidable stand-in for St. Peter. And who knows, she may even get to be acting CEO up there on occasion as well... who better!? She will be sorely missed on both sides of the Atlantic.


 
  E-mail received 17 August 2000

You asked for personal reminiscences about Barbara Kahan. I'm afraid mine is more of a happy but irreverent thought, generated when I heard of the deaths over the same weekend of Sir Alec Guinness and Sir Robin Day. I mused that should they find themselves in a queue at the Pearly Gates together at least they could all three enjoy some lively conversation while they waited in each others company.

Kate Jervis

 
 

E-mail received 19th August 2000

I first met Barbara Kahan in 1950 at the Dudley County Borough Children's Department where I had been sent for three months on-the-job-training by the University of Birmingham Child Care program. She had a comparatively small staff, but the place was a hive of industry. The first job she gave me on the morning of my arrival was to read a large file she handed me. She said, almost casually, that she would review the case with me that afternoon. I cannot recall ever having had a grilling, before or since, like the one I had that day. At the end of two hours I was exhausted, thoroughly wrung-out, and determined never to try to flub my way through anything with her again. I was convinced that the defendants at Nuremburg, just a few years earlier, had had an easier time under cross-examination than I had experienced during that case discussion. She knew she had caught me napping. More distressing yet, she knew I knew too.

My short spell at Dudley convinced me that if I was to achieve any degree of satisfying success in child care, I had to try, somehow, to get on her staff. During the next year and a half, during which time I worked in the Nottinghamshire Children's Department, we kept in regular contact. A short while thereafter I applied for and was appointed to a position in Oxfordshire where Barbara was by then Children's Officer. I stayed in Oxfordshire until my wife, our two sons and I moved to Canada in 1956. Our stay there was one of the happiest of times. My wife, a home economist by profession, was asked, soon after our arrival, to temporarily look after one of the children's homes at Shillingford. She, too, held that position until we moved to north America.

It has been said in some of the accounts of Barbara's professional life that she collected a few enemies during her tenure in Oxford. That is true. People who are determined to effect change, especially in government, can expect that. It is well to record however, that during that same time she acquired a mass of devoted friends who, under her guidance and direction, came to realize and appreciate the opportunites which existed for innovative improvements in the whole area of children in the care of local authorities. Her so called enemies were the disciples of laissez faire, who were well content with the shambles which had arisen through the long held and slow dying philosophies of the old Poor Law. They were her enemies because she threatened them. She reeked of change, and they didn't like it, especially in a woman.

I recall one County Councillor who became very angry when I suggested that the children in the homes at Shillingford should be allowed to go to Brighton for a two-week holiday. The man almost had a seizure, but was quick to point out to me that next to the homes was a large field and that the best thing I could do would be to organized what he described as a "month of sports." That, he insisted would do the children a lot more good, would tire them out and get them into bed earlier at night so that they wouldn't be a nuisance to the local villagers who, he insisted, were fed up with having them around anyway. I happened to recount this exchange to Barbara some time later and suddenly the money was there for the holiday in Brighton. The effort she had to exert to effect all that must surely have guaranteed her another blot on her copy book.

Barbara's office in Oxford had one wall covered in maps on which pins of various colours were stuck to indicate locations of foster homes, children's homes, nurseries, a remand home and other county facilities. Although we teased her a great deal about these maps - which had to be kept up to date - she didn't mind and indeed seemed amused when someone said her office looked like the command headquarters of some army brigadier. That was the point at which she acquired the name the "Brig." Thereafter, that was her name, and in the forty odd years since, I have rarely, if ever, called her by her real name. She was, to me at least, the Brig, and that is how I will remember her.

It was never possible to bamboozle her, and only fools tried. She taught us all the importance of total comittment to what we were about. She kept us so much on our toes that our standard question seemed always to be : what next?

She was for ever shooting for the horizon, intending to reach it. Of course, when she did, she spotted the next one beckoning to her, out there, in the distance, and that one, of course, became her next challenge.

She leaves the world a better place for having been who and what she was, and we are lucky to have known her and to have been able to share in her ambitions for those children she thought might yet lose their rightful place in our society. That she will rest in peace I am confident, but not necessarily in the kind of peace we might suppose. I have an uncanny suspicion that, in very short order, paradise is likely to get the biggest shake-up it has had in centuries. Someone up there would do well to look out!


Lewis A. Henbury
Saanichton
Vancouver Island
British Columbia
Canada.

August 18, 2000.



E-mail received 21 August 2000

Dear Editor

I just wanted to say that Barbara was an inspiration to me and gave me the strength and ambition to move on in my career in social work. We worked together whilst she acted as consultant in a residential school in Scotland, sorting out problems! The children in that school were much better off for her involvement although they probably never realised it. I certainly benefited greatly from this wonderful lady.

Thanks

Anita
NSPCC
Cambs-Pboro



E-mail received 5 September 2000

"Bobbie and Jim Zacharias had met the Kahans about 35 years ago while on a trip to England with their children. Our close relatives, Bubbles and Dick Zacharias, had met Barbara and Vladimir at a dinner party months before while they were vacationing in Rome. It seems that the Kahans were doing all their travelling by motorcycle, and with that intriguing fact, coupled with the interest in their challenging professions, it was recommended that we look them up.
Laurie, upon sighting Vladimir in his gleaming Bentley, when coming to pick us up, immediately dubbed him as Goldfinger, from the movie of the same name. And when we pulled into the driveway of their 12th century dwelling, it was called the Oxfordshire Castle, missing only the chains and moat around it. We and the children were enchanted by them, and their picturesque house and garden. Thereupon ensure many meetings, exchangingh visits between our countries for a long period of time, comforting Barbara when she and we lost Vladimir, the children growing up, Jody seeing Barbara often during her year's stay in London, Barbara being our guest at a time when we held a Japanese wedding at our home with our friend's son and his Japanese bride, Jim and I having the privilege of seeing Barbara receive her doctorate in Canada and meeting her wonderful friends and associates there.
Barbara was a delight, with her sparkling wit and her appreciative, ever-ready sense of humour. Always there, always sensitive, aware of the smallest nuance. My how she could write, how she could think- no wonder she understood so much about children's needs, for people in care!
Barbara was our treasure, the treasure for us all.
May she rest in peace, and be rejoined in happiness with her beloved Vladimir"

Bobette Zacharias and the Zacharias family


 
 

E-mail received 7 November 2000

Barbara Kahan was an inspiration, her life a dedication to the improvement of the lives of an infinite number of people. Her life was an example of high achievement beyond what she could have imagined.
My first recollections of Barbara was around twenty five years ago when she was a sort after speaker and talisman at public meetings and conferences. At that time I didn't know who she was apart from the fact that her contributions were all worth listening to and she "wrote books", and I always wondered why she always attracted a phalanx of delegates and fellow speakers eager to listen to her observations at the end of formal proceedings.
I discovered the answer when I was privileged to be with her at meetings and discussions around the ICSE. The ones that she was able to attend were the most productive, but only just, for when she was not there everyone was conscious of what her contribution might be, and the fact that she would scrutinise and question the report back of what took place.
Her sheer ability to cut through the nonsense, even though that nonsense might look the easier or most popular way, made her name a revered one, though that is the last thing she was aiming at.
At a personal level she was totally uplifting and a key inspiration in keeping me going through incredible difficulties in my last publishing project. Unfortunately ultimately, Barbara and other good colleagues could not stop the snowball of malevolence from crashing down of the mountain, taking me and the hopes of many others with it.
Even after the fall, the memory of Barbara Kahan is instilled in me, and is carried on in the hearts and work of many, including the development of children.uk, expanding a beam of influence far longer than a lifetime.

Tim Woodward

 



Transcript of the obituary by Terry Philpot in the Guardian Newspaper, 9th August 2000

Barbara Kahan

Childcare pioneer whose 'pindown' scandal report prompted residential care reform

Across the last half century, Barbara Kahan, who has died aged 80, had a decisive influence on local authority children's departments and their successors, the all-purpose social services departments. She also played a seminal role in the chequered story of residential care for children and young people, and, in 1991, with Allan Levy Q,C, published The Pindown Experience And The Protection of Children.

Barbara chaired the National Children's Bureau from 1985 to 1994, was director of the Gatsby educational project from 1980-91, and was a member of the 1969-73 Finer committee on one-parent families.
She had an unwavering faith in children, their potential, and in the need for first-class services to care for them.
Her report with Levy was the fruit of their investigation into so-called "pindown" abuse at four children's homes in Staffordshire between 1983 and 1989. Under the regime, which was later ruled illegal, more than 150 youngsters, some as young as nine, were isolated in a bare room, wearing only nightclothes, for periods ranging from one day to nearly three months.

Labelled "brilliant and exhaustive" by the local MP, Mark Fisher, Kahan and Levy's report focused on the neglect of residential care by management, which had allowed the abuse to flourish. It also led to a series of government inquiries into residential care, which have culminated in current initiatives, like Quality Protects, aimed at transforming children's services.

Barbara was born the daughter of a railwayman in Horsted Keynes, West Sussex. It was a Methodist and Labour-party supporting
home that revered books; her grandfather, (also a railwayman) read to her everything from fairy tales to The Pilgrim's Progress and the Bible.

With her mother, she participated in good works including the workhouse Christmas pantomime and she never forgot the plight of strikers and their families during the 1926 general strike. In the 1930s, at Barbara's prompting, a refugee Jewish girl went to stay with the family, and became Barbara's "foster sister".

In 1939, Barbara won a scholarship to Cambridge. She graduated in English and took a social science course at the London School of Economics (then in wartime exile in the town). While at Cambridge, she helped re-starL the university Labour club, worked for Richard Acland's leftist Commonwealth party, which flourished during the second world war, and joined the Peace
Pledge Union.

After working from 1943 to 1948 as a factory inspector, Barbara became a children's officer in Dudley, from 1948 to 1950. She then moved in Oxfordshire, where she remained until the children's department Was absorbed into the department of social services in 1970. Children's officers were a remarkable group of (mainly) women, who, against institutional odds, pioneered a service which proved to be one of the most far-reaching social reforms of the immediate post-war years.

Bliss it was to have been alive when the children's departments were created, and Barbara could also savour the very heaven of being so young an appointee. But the beginnings were unpropitious. She had one room and piles of public assistance files. After six weeks, she was permitted to appoint a 17-year-old secretary. She shouldered a caseload other own, as well as managerial responsibilities. Nor was she past taking a child home for the night when no other place could be found.

She was certainly an innovator. In Dudley, she opened the local authority's first children's home. In Oxfordshire, corporal punishment in homes was abolished in 1951, and imaginative fostering was introduced 40 years ago, special rates were paid as an incentive for people to take difficult children. Preventive work was the cornerstone of childcare policy, staffing ratios were high, and there was close liaison with families.

 

 

Barbara believed that young people in trouble needed help not punishment, and that the distinction between deprived young people and young offenders was artificial. Both in her Oxfordshire work and in her extra-mural activities, with bodies like the Association of Children's Officers (of which she was president in 1964), she helped pave the way for the 1969 Children And Young Persons Act, which regarded young people in trouble as deprived, not depraved. It was partly what a colleague
called her "obsessional antagonism" to approved schools that helped bring about their abolition.

Barbara always sought to unite children with their families whenever possible; this was remarkable at a time when the axiom was to separate a child from its "bad" family background. Her practice was strongly influenced by the child-rearing theories
of George Lyward, David Wills, John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott, and her own husband, the child psychiatrist Vladimir Kahan, whom she married in 1955.

Barbara was not always the easiest of employers, but she was a nurturer of talent. Many academics and directors of social services could thank her for the start and encouragement they received in Oxfordshire. A vocal advocate of social services departments, she came to regret that their generic approach squandered the specialist skills built up in children's departments. Sadly, she never became director of social services in Oxfordshire; fighting her corner had left her with too many enemies.

From 1970 to 1971, she was deputy chief inspector of the children's department at the Home OfTice. In 1971, she moved to the Department of Health and Social Security as assistant director of the social work service, where she remained until 1980.

 

Barbara remained a proponent of residential care for children long after this approach had gone out of fashion; her belief was that it foundered for lack of advocates among directors of social services. This view was perhaps a necessary corrective to the disfavour in whicih residential care found itself with both statutory and voluntary agencies. Her most concrete memorial will be her work on "distance learning" for the professional group she regarded as the most neglected residential
childcare workers.

She had discovered the idea in Canada. Thus it was, in 1980, that she became the Gatsby Project's director, and only staff member. The ideas it promoted were ones she had long cherished - recognising the specialist skills of residential staff, raising their status and expanding their training. In 1991, the project was absorbed into the Open University.

It was an irony for so powerful an advocate of residential care as Barbara that, in recent years, she was employed as an
expert witness for solicitors representing those who had been abused in the very system of care she had so long supported. Among her publications there was Growing Up In Care (1979), a pioneering work in allowing young people to give their views.

From 1983-1990, Barbara was professional adviser to the House of Commons select committee on social services. Among her many other appointments was that of vice-president of the National Children's Bureau, for the last six years, and a life fellowship of the National Institute For Social Work.

Barbara enjoyed good food, wine, gossip, argument and books, and was an accomplished amateur musician. She maintained that her husband had been the making of her culturally. With his death in 1981, something went out other life, which she attempted to fill with an almost desperate hunger for work. While she never suffered fools gladly, and often exhibited little patience with those whom she perceived to be her intellectual inferiors, for her friends she was delightful, amusing and stimulating.

"The trouble with her," an Oxford councillor once complained of Barbara, "is that she is always on the side of the children." There could be no greater praise.

Terry Philpot

Barbara Joan Kahan, social worker,
born March 18 1920; died August 6 2000




 

Transcript of the Obituary in The Independent
10 August 2000

BARBARA KAHAN was a leading figure in the world of child care for many years. As a children's officer, a senior civil servant, as co-author of the Staffordshire "Pindown" report, and as chair of the National Children's Bureau she made an enormous contribution to children's services especially in the field of residential care. She built up a huge amount of knowledge and experience which she drew on in running organisations, doing consultancy work, sitting on a number of prominent committees and writing and lecturing extensively.
She was born Barbara Langridge in 1920, the daughter of a station-master in Sussex. She took a degree in English at Newnham College, Cambridge, and followed this up with, a postgraduate diploma in social science at the LSE. Later in life she was to be granted a further degree from the Open University and an honorary doctorate from the Victoria University of British Columbia. In 1943 she began work as one of HM Inspectors of factories but by 1948 she was installed as a children's officer in Oxfordshire engaged on what was to be her life's work.

The year 1948 was a crucial time as Parliament, following the Report of the Curtis Committee, passed the Children Act. an important piece of legislation which in part made provision for the care and welfare of children who were living away from their parents in residential and foster care. Barbara Langridge put all her considerable ability and energy into this aspect of child care. In particular she was absolutely committed to seeing that where possible children were not sent into the penal system and to approved schools. In 1964 she was made President of the Association of Children's Officers. In 1955 she married Dr Vladimir Kahan, a well-known child psychiatrist. It was a very happy marriage.
Until his death they shared interests in travelling, music (she was a talented pianist), art, the theatre and entertaining a wide range of friends. They bought a house in Cassington, Oxfordshire, which they extended and turned into a fine home with a beautiful garden. In 197O Barbara Kahan made a career move from
local government into the civil service. Her success was reflected in her appointment as Deputy Chief Inspector in the Children's Department of the Home Office. Before child care was taken over in 1971 by the then Department of Health and Social Security, to which she was transferred, she became also a
member of the important Finer Committee on One Parent Families.

Kahan retired from the civil service in 1980. She was a person of great energy and purpose, and there was no question of a quiet and uneventful retirement Indeed the next 20 years produced a great output of work and wide recognition of her almost unique contribution. She was made an honorary member of the Association of Directors of Social Services, a Life Fellow of the National Institute of Social Work and served as professional adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on Social Services between 1983 and l990. She ran the Gatsby Project devoted to the development of residential care for children between 1980 and 1991 and chaired the Wagner Development Children's Group between 1990 and 1993.

In l985 Kahan was elected chair of the National Children's Bureau and she was influential in building up the organisation and significantly expanding it She was passionately interested in her work at the NCB and initiated, amongst other things, a successful residential care development project She served until 1994 when she became a Vice-President. The Bureau owes a very great deal to her out- standing contribution to its work. Alongside her many activities Kahan also produced a stream of publications. She wrote a number of books on residential care for children culminating in Growing Up In Groups in 1994, a major contribution to the literature.

I first met Barbara Kahan in 1990. After being anointed chairman of the Staffordshire "Pindown" Inquiry into an unlawful regime of isolation and humiliation in children's homes, I was given a list of names from which to recommend another member for the inquiry team. Fortunately, I chose Barbara
Kahan. It was the beginning of a year's work together and the production of the report The Pindown Experience and the Protection of Children (1981).
Lt was also the beginning of a long and happy friendship only ended by her death. The inquiry, the first major one into residential care, gained immensely from her great knowledge, her practical experience, and her wise assessment of people and events. The work of the inquiry involved long hours and periods of intense pressure and activity. I learnt with some surprise that my colleague was then 70 years of age. She was to keep up the same pace for the next 10 years of her life: acting as an expert, lecturing, writing, conducting enquiries, sitting on committees and dispensing good advice.

When the history of childcare in the 20th century is written, Barbara Kahan will be seen as an important figure. For just over 50 years she was totally committed to improving children's services and ensuring that children living away from home were property cared for. Many people and organisations owe a very great deal to her abilities, energy, caring qualities, courage, and in the last analysis her humanity.

ALLAN LEVY

Barbara Joan Langridge, Child care consultant and social worker; born Horsted Keynes, Sussex 18 March 1920; HM Inspector of Factories 1943-48; local government children's officer 1948-70; Deputy Chief Inspector, Children's Department, Home Office 1970 - 71, DHSS 1971-80; Director, Gatsby Project 1980-91; Professional Adviser to House of Commons Select Committee on Social Services l983-90; Chair, National Children's Bureau 1985-94, Vice-President 1994-2000; married l955 Dr Vladimir Kahan (died 1981); died Oxford 6 August 2000.

 

 

Transcript of the obituary in the Times (London)
10th August 2000

BARBARA KAHAN Barbara Kahan, OBE, social worker, was born on March 18, 1920. She died on August 6 aged 80

In 1991 Barbara Kahan and Alan Levy, QC, published the so-called "pindown report" into abuse in children's homes in Staffordshire. This detailed horrific abuse by the staff and neglect by management, and caused a national scandal. A more general inquiry into the sorry state of residential care was then commissioned, and produced equally disturbing findings, all of which played their part in the present alarm about the widespread mistreatment of children. The current attempt to improve such homes, entitled "Quality Protects", reinforces the lifelong belief of Barbara Kahan that it is essential for both children and society that they should be staffed not by people who would otherwise be stacking shelves, but by properly trained, remunerated and esteemed specialists. During her career as a children's officer, residential care became less and less popular with local authorities and voluntary agencies, which came to favour adoption or fostering (partly because they are assumed to be cheaper). But Kahan pointed out that all too often these arrangements break down, and argued that good residential care might well be better for children than a long series of disappointments in foster-homes. Yet she saw preventative work as the essence of her practice in Oxfordshire's children's department. She always tried to keep families together, which was itself unusual at a time when professional wisdom dictated that some children were better off without their families so that they could start again in adoptive homes or residential care. More recent statistics show that Kahan was right: children whose parents stay together do better at school, have fewer behavioural and mental problems, are healthier, earn more and even live longer than those whose families break up. For this reason the 1989 Children's Act gives local authorities a primary responsibility to keep families together wherever possible. Barbara Joan Langridge was born at Horsted Keynes, West Sussex, into a modest Methodist railwayman's family with a respect for education, a strong sense of social justice and a taste for Labour politics. In 1939 she won a state scholarship to Cambridge, where she read English. When she graduated she switched to the London School of Economics (billeted in Cambridge during the war) to earn her social science diploma. She worked as a factory inspector before finding her métier as a children's officer, first in Dudley from 1948, where she opened the authority's first children's home, and then in Oxfordshire from 1950 to 1970. She abolished corporal punishment in Oxfordshire homes in 1951, and pioneered imaginative fostering schemes. Kahan herself had a deep rich voice which must have been immensely reassuring to a nervous child. When she became engaged to the child psychiatrist Vladimir Kahan, who had been born in London of a Polish-Latvian shipping family, he took her as a pillion passenger on an extended motorbike tour of France, to prove her mettle. She must have passed the test, for they were married in 1955. Kahan was one of those who urged that children in trouble were not depraved but deprived, and she pushed for the Children and Young Persons Act of 1969, which instituted the welfare model of help rather than punishment. As delinquency rates have risen, this philosophy has come in for much criticism - culminating in John Major's petulant remark "society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less" - but Kahan remained an unabashed liberal. She also lobbied for the replacement of approved schools or Borstals by the less prison-like residential community schools. In the 1960s she campaigned with the Association of Children's Officers to bring together what were then three separate operations - the children's, mental health and welfare (old people) departments - so that for people in trouble there would be "one door on which to knock". This was done with the creation of local social services departments in 1970. It turned out, however, to be a mixed blessing, because specialised training tended to be replaced by a bit of one thing and a bit of another, topped up with a dose of sociology. Kahan came to feel that the skills of childcare workers had been lost in these all-purpose agencies, and that too few people were dedicated to the needs of children. As a manager she knew how to bring on gifted staff, many of whom went on to direct social services departments. Her relentless defence of her own department's interests in Oxfordshire had not always been popular, and probably denied her the chance to become the county's first director of social services. But she was appointed deputy chief inspector of the Home Office's children's department in 1970. The following year she became assistant director of what was then the social work service at the Department of Health and Social Security. Retiring from that in 1980, Kahan became director of the charitably funded Gatsby Project. At the time only 20 per cent of those caring for the 30,000 children then in residential care had had any training at all. The Gatsby Project instigated long-distance training for residential childcare staff, the most undervalued group of social care workers. It was so successful that in 1991 it was taken over by the Open University, although even now less than half of those in such homes have been trained. The medium was new, but Kahan had long promoted the idea of better training for residential staff to develop specialist skills and enhance their standing. Barbara Kahan was a member of the Finer committee on single-parent families, 1969- 73, and a professional adviser to the Commons select committee on social services, 1983-90. From 1985 to 1994 she chaired the National Children's Bureau and she was its vice-president at the time of her death. As well as the pindown report, she published Childcare Research, Policy and Practice in 1989 and Growing Up in Groups in 1994. She was appointed OBE in 1990. She had a gargantuan appetite for work, but enjoyed many other things too, and was amusing and provocative company, as eager to swap gossip and argue as she was to discuss the latest novels. She and her husband had a great love of music and had two grand pianos end to end in their drawing room, on which to play duets. Her husband died in 1981. Money from her estate is being used to establish a trust to support children in care or leaving care.

 

 Return to Front Page
www.childrenandyoungpeople.com