The Trouble with Teenagers – A guide to caring for disturbed adolescents

By Melvyn Rose.


By Barbara Kahan, OBE, MA (Cantab), M(Univ) co-author of The Pindown Experience and the Protection of Children.

You can read this book in two hours or so, which means that even busy managers as well as tired residential staff have time to do so.

It is worth finding the time because what the book does is to remind us, at a period when such a reminder is needed, that the kinds of experiences which have led to disturbed and unmanageable adolescents behaving as they do, are unlikely to be changed, except for the worse, by the current cry for tougher measures, more security and market forces being introduced into child care.

The great sadness is that the vivid stories which Melvyn Rose relates are of a therapeutic community which no longer exists. The tragic ending of Peper Harow is a subject for another study but the fact that it is no longer there, does not negate the lessons which can be learned from its experience. To suggest that its inability to continue belies its claims as embodied in the stories and the teaching derived from them, would be to take too facile a view and deliberately to ignore a rich vein of necessary knowledge and skill.

What Melvyn Rose is now proposing is that ordinary schools, and not so ordinary children’s homes in local authorities and elsewhere, should benefit by some of the experience struggled for and achieved in Peper Harow in its heyday. As in Healing Hurt Minds by the same author, down-to-earth information and advice are given as to how to start setting up a therapeutic environment.

One of the caveats is that this cannot be done overnight. But with an understanding of the needs of young people, the book offers a message of hope: “…if local authorities can devote the ongoing time and attention to thinking about the psychological needs of young people in their care as well as the problems of their behaviour, they should be able to develop truly effective therapeutic structures in the difficult but potentially most rewarding residential sector”.

It has been an unfortunate feature of the child care world for more than 20 years that the therapeutic communities have been used by local authorities to sort out their most “difficult” children but they have not sat down together to hammer out what they needed to learn from each other. Even in training, the therapeutic 2 of 40 communities have largely carried out their own in-service development. Local authorities have neither participated in it nor tried to get their own staff trained on more psychodynamic lines. This has left therapeutic communities very vulnerable to economic blizzards and the local authorities open to the charge that they were only containing, not caring and healing children and young people who needed both. There have been many lost opportunities in the separatism which has characterised the relationships between the two systems.

However, it would be too easy for critics to ask why Peper Harow does not still exist if it had been so effective. When some of the most expert and highest quality hospitals are faced with closure; when the price of care is often put above its suitability; and when local authority budgets are being squeezed harder and harder, that question does not deserve an answer.

What this book deserves, at the very least, is that a little time is given by people working in this field to refresh their commitment to the needs of gravely hurt and disturbed young people who are currently not catered for.

Research demonstrates clearly that harsher methods do not work. As this book reminds us, the young homeless have often been in care and we also know that too often deprived children end up in prisons and as patients. Trouble with Teenagers is a positive publication which will be useful to students, managers and practitioners as they continue to try to meet the needs of adolescents.
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