The Homer Lane Society - An experimental venture

Submitted by Reddebrek on August 19, 2018

ALTHOUGH HOMER LANE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST to explore the possibilities of a therapeutic environment in the treatment of maladjusted children and young people, he left very little in the way of writing or systematic research. His work has, however, inspired many notable experiments, and his ideas have been developed. A. S. Neill and David Wills, among others, have recorded much of their experience, and the principles of their work have received wide publicity and tentative acceptance. But they are still far from being put into general practice to any great extent, nor have they been developed very fully in the light of the considerable increase in our knowledge, particularly over the last ten years.

We have therefore two aims, to advance this work in a practical way, and to provide an opportunity for further research. It is hoped that the Homer Lane Society will enable people working and interested in this field to exchange ideas and experience, through meetings and lectures. The Society will sponsor research and the publication of literature. Its primary objective, however, is to support the Homer Lane Trust in establishing a community for the treatment of emotionally and socially disturbed children.
The trustees will include David Wills, Frank Dawtry (Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers), John Cross (warden of a Children’s Reception Centre), Cynthia Cross a,nd Roy Frye.

A special feature of this community will be the high degree of flexibility in its organisation. In addition to a nucleus of experienced teachers and child care workers employed within the community, the children will have the invaluable benefit of relationships with other adults. These would be people involved in the community socially and financially, but by following their own occupations outside they would maintain vital links with local people and extend the interests and experience of the whole group. If a house can be obtained with large enough grounds, certain adults could be employed on a small holding or similar project. This also opens up possibilities for older children in exceptional circumstances, who need to continue in the group for a time, giving them the opportunity of working alongside other adults for the benefit of the community.

It is not possible in so little space to elaborate very fully but a system of “shared responsibility” will be evolved as a basis of the therapeutic environment. Shared responsibility avoids the necessity of the adult constantly appearing in an authoritarian role; it is the keystone of the “Homer Lane method”. Community problems are discussed by the whole group, and the children therefore feel a greater sense of participating and belonging. Rules are made or changed with everyone’s consent and because their purpose is understood, are more willingly kept. When the punitive element is avoided, children can be frank about themselves and each other without fear of censure. They are stimulated to look for the causes of their behaviour, and to understand and help one another, feeling that the adults are “on their side”.

Once the community is operating children will be selected according to their estimated capacity to integrate with and benefit from the existing group. There will be a maximum of thirty children not younger than nine years old, most of whom should have a good chance of being rehabilitated to family life or a reliable substitute. For this reason, contact with the families during the child’s stay, and adequate aftercare are considered very important.

The Trust has already about £1,000, convenanted subscriptions of about £500 a year and a nucleus of people who could partially staff the community. Those concerned are prepared to work hard and plough back a proportion of their income in order to see their ideas and aims realised. As the capital outlay will be very high, we would be very pleased to hear from anyone who could make a donation or covenant subscription; or at the appropriate time, when we are securing a property, could offer us a loan at low interest, or better still, interest free. When we acquire a suitable property, we will welcome anyone willing to share in the work of converting it to our requirements. A subscription to the Society will enable members to keep in touch with progress made. Enquiries about any of these should be made to: —

Roy Schama, (Hon. Treasurer, Homer Lane Society),
91 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, London, N.W.3


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