Can we ever get the balance right ?

By Cynthia Cross

Date Posted: December 15th  2012

Following a distinguished career in residential child care we believe Cynthia Cross tried to retire but rumours abound that she may well still occasionally exercise as a freelance child care consultant and trainer. She is a valued and generous contributor to the goodenoughcaring Journal. We are honoured that Cynthia has agreed to join our editorial group.

Can we ever get the balance right?

by Cynthia Cross

Bill was 14 years old when he came to live in the residential establishment where I worked in the 1960s. He had been in care most of his life and had been on remand several times for extended periods. The most important things about him in his case notes seemed to be his many delinquent acts, that he was psychopathic which he was not, and that he refused dental treatment, which given my experience with him, was certainly true.

When I developed a special relationship with him, I went to the dentist and he observed me in the dentist’s chair, trying to show him that it didn’t hurt. I then let him hold/nearly break the bones in my hands while the dentist looked into his mouth.

Bill had been brought up a Catholic, and we facilitated him attending Mass locally every Sunday morning. I am an agnostic and find it difficult to accept that anyone should feel that the have to show unthinking obedience to another human being, be it the Pope, the local priest or any other person said to be in authority.

After a while, Bill stopped going to church and left his Missal in my room. I said nothing about it for some time, but when I mentioned it Bill said ‘Oh that’s where it is!’ I said to him that he needed to be careful about abandoning his religion without putting something else in its place. I also said that I had very clear beliefs which dictated how I behaved to other people etc.

I was quite a political person at that time and encouraged Bill to do a project about Apartheid in South Africa. I was appalled to find out that his teacher had suggested he was being fed propaganda.

When Bill came towards leaving the establishment he decided he did not want to go home anymore. I did not comment on this decision but thought he was right and could cope with himself but not his ‘mad’ parents. Bill spent quite a lot of time reading out loud to me chapters of Andrew Crowcroft’s book The Psychotic: Understanding Madness, again I just listened.

When Bill left he went to live locally and most evenings he was sitting in my room when I finished work. After some time I said to him although I wanted to see him I thought we should come to some arrangement about when and how often this should be. It would be nice to think that this was because I thought it was best for him (which I think it was) but actually I just got fed up of never being able to relax.

I then did not see Bill for some weeks and I felt worried and guilty. But eventually he turned up as a skinhead. I thought what have I done! Soon after he went off to live in London. Some years later he told me he was terrified by the other youths and the level of violence.

Over the next few years he kept in touch and came to see me when things were going OK and he felt good about himself. By that time I was also living in London. One day he visited me and while I was making tea I heard him say to a colleague of mine, “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think, Cynthia Cross get out of my mind.” I supposed I was meant to hear, and maybe it was said for effect, but still it was a bit frightening. I have always been afraid of influencing children to take up my somewhat non-conforming views when they had not the inner security to cope with some of the repercussions.

After a number of jobs and a period on probation for a minor offence, Bill got a reasonably good job, settled down with a gay partner, plus several cats and 2 dogs. He also bought a house.

All went well for some years until the firm he was working for crashed; he was without a job and diagnosed as HIV positive.

At this point he made contact with his family. His sister had died 2 years earlier, but his parents amazingly were still alive and together. Unsurprisingly they did not want to know him, however he made a good relationship with his sister’s two girls, who had been in care after his sister died. His nieces were at his bedside, together with his partner when he died of AIDS.

During the last part of his life he got a lot of support from a church, although it was not Catholic. His Christian funeral was well attended and he was buried in a wild part of the cemetery and a tree was going to be planted over his grave.


Chris Williams writes :


Reading this article in combination with the one Tracey Jarvis has written really highlights in different ways how children who have been in care are so often cut adrift by the care system at a time when they really need someone to keep caring about them. I believe there are some child care authorities who would think that Cynthia Cross’s approach was unprofessional and inappropriate. That’s very sad.


John Stein comments:

Please keep writing. Your writings are so powerful!