During the Christmas holiday there was an interesting article about Camila Batmanghelidjh the founder of Kids Company in The Independent’s magazine. One of the points in the article that interested me in particular was the assertion that persistent neglect is more damaging to a child’s emotional development than abuse.
Batmanghelidjh shows me [Deborah Orr] a couple of photographs of brain scans, one of a cared for child and one of a neglected child. She traces her finger round the periphery of the brain of the neglected child, where a white line representing absent neural development can clearly be seen. ‘Neglect – continuous lack of love,’ she says, ‘deprives the child of a personal soothing repertoire.’
Suddenly, it’s obvious. A cared-for child has the resilience to recover from abuse, and the hope – the ability to trust – that allows him to turn to another adult for help in escaping it. A neglected child, even if he is never exposed to active and deliberate assaults, physical or mental, is more entirely alone, marooned by his inability to express his own hurt, or understand the hurt of others.
Mostly, however, Kids Company children have been both neglected and abused. The exposure of underdeveloped brains to the chemicals released by active fear, quite naturally produces what society understands to be the anti-social, feral child. There is only one way for this complex emotional deficiency to be addressed – and neurological research suggests that the human brain can develop a ‘soothing repertoire’ until it is about 27 years old. That one way is, quite obviously, to apply the care and warmth that has so far been absent, or insufficient, in a life, and to undo the damage caused by trauma using therapy.
In my view this is what therapeutic child care is all about, applying the insights from therapy to the care and warmth that is needed.
I’ve done a bit of travelling since the last newsletter, going to Dubai, Carlow near Dublin and Brittany. I hadn’t been to Dubai for over a year so I was interested to see how the building site was developing. It would be no good having a sat-nav in Dubai as the roads keep changing. February is probably the best month to go there as it is just beginning to warm up without being too hot. I was longing for some winter sun so I would have been quite content sitting in a car park absorbing vitamin D. The recession is definitely having an effect there. There is less building taking place and it is now forbidden to make adverse comments about the economy in public, so you know it must be bad. Dubai is renowned for the biggest, tallest whatever. I can also verify that it has the longest traffic jam of poo lorries anywhere in the world! I went out of Dubai with my son-in-law to go to a plant souk and we saw, for miles ahead, a line of orange tankers carrying sewage. Apparently there are so many a driver has to queue for 24 hours before his lorry can be emptied.
I went to Carlow to speak at a conference at Carlow College on the 9th March. The subject of the conference was, “Making all the Difference: A Therapeutic Community Approach to Residential and Community Care”. My co-presenters were also from England, Linnet McMahon (author of the Handbook of Play Therapy) and Deborah Best (who taught on the MA in Therapeutic Child Care Course at Reading). If you are interested you can see my paper on my website www.johnwhitwell.co.uk in the Papers section. Carlow College is a fine old building. The conference took place in a newly renovated large hall and the painters and decorators were literally walking out as we were walking in. I have to say I think there was more interest in a therapeutic approach to child care than would have been the case in Britain – it was standing room only!
Here is an extract from Linnet McMahon’s book:-
The child needs sensitive and responsive care, with attention to reliability and continuity in managing the events of daily life, from waking and dressing, to play or school work, food and mealtimes, travel and other in-between times, bath and bed-times. We need to provide complete experiences with attention to the child’s experience of their beginnings and endings. Provision of good sensual experiences – warmth, comfort, food, good touch – helps restore a child’s blunted senses. The whole task is too great for one worker or carer, although their contribution may be significant. Provision for each child needs to be contained and managed through a network of external and mutual support and help for the child’s carers. This therapeutic work can take place in any setting – local authority children’s home, foster or adoptive home, and it is not the exclusive preserve of ‘therapeutic communities’, although the model which they provide may be useful. Although the broad pattern of work is planned, much day to day work is spontaneous and ‘opportunity-led’ (Ward 2007), seizing the moment for a helpful response rather than an unthought possibly angry reaction.
As I was driving in this morning before writing this editorial I realised I was without a joke, not only for the editorial but also the end of term assembly. Then my prayers were answered and I received an email from Lorna with a whole load of Tommy Cooper jokes.
Two Aerials meet on a roof – fall in love – get married
The ceremony was rubbish but the Reception was Brilliant.
Man goes to the docs, with a strawberry growing out of his head.
Doc says, ‘I’ll give you some cream to put on it.’
‘Doc, I can’t stop singing the green green grass of home.’
‘That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome.’
‘Is it common?’
‘It’s not unusual.’
A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet.
‘My dog’s cross-eyed, is there anything you can do for him?’
‘Well,’ says the vet, ‘let’s have a look at him’
So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then checks his teeth.
Finally, he says, ‘I’m going to have to put him down.’
‘What? Because he’s cross-eyed? ‘
‘No, because he’s really heavy’
‘Doctor, I can’t pronounce my F’s, T’s and H’s.’
‘Well you can’t say fairer than that then’
I have recently joined the band of people who have been with ISP for ten years or more. Inevitably this makes one reflect on how it has been. The first couple of years were very hard but from that point on it felt as though we were winning the battle to improve the culture. I recently went to a meeting which consisted mainly of people who work or have worked in therapeutic communities for children and it reminded me why I decided to leave that environment and the possibilities I saw with ISP. I think therapeutic communities were amazing places in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s doing some very innovatory and successful work with children who had been thought of as unhelpable. They were real communities where grownups and children shared in their lives together. One of Bruno Bettelheim’s books was called “Home for the Heart”.
Paradoxically as the treatment became more sophisticated these communities started to wane. I think this was because they started to lose some of the basic elements which underpinned the sense of community. There was pressure to reduce the working week for staff, so that shift-system working became the norm which reduced the continuity of care for children. This really mattered for children with attachment problems.
The other change was that for staff the work became non-residential. Children’s Homes and therapeutic communities became places where you went to work rather than lived your life. This was done to improve the lot of grownups but led to a disinvestment on the part of grownups and it was the children who lost out. When the work is truly residential it matters to everyone what the culture is like because you are living as well as working in it.
What I saw in ISP was the potential for therapeutic foster care because carers were able to provide the continuity of care that emotionally damaged children desperately need and everyone is under the same roof truly sharing a life together. Add to that some understanding of the nature of the emotional damage and the conditions that need to be created to facilitate emotional growth and you have all the ingredients that made therapeutic communities so successful in their heyday. So after ten years I’m pleased I made the change and have played a part in steering ISP along the therapeutic fostering route.
On the 1st April I was invited to the launch of a book about a therapeutic community in Russia. The invitation came from David Dean who I came to know when he ran a therapeutic community in Scotland on the Black Isle called Raddery. Since retiring he has regularly gone over to Russia as a trainer and consultant but I was never really sure what he did so I was intrigued to find out what he’d been up to. The author of the book, Dr Dimitry Morozov, spoke for about 45 minutes on how their community Kitezh was established. It was an amazing story of courage, commitment and pioneering zeal, which I had not encountered for a very long time. The only way they could obtain any money from the Russian government was as registered foster carers so they became a community of foster carers and with the children in placement built their own community together. Clearly “health and safety” had to be liberally interpreted but the gains in creating a real sense of community were enormous. Here is an extract from the book:-
The basic unit of Kitezh is the foster family. In 2003 there were ten families. All of the families share a common financial source, legal protection, household management, and a united approach to education. Every adult fulfils a variety of responsibilities in schooling our children and maintaining the community while serving simultaneously as a foster parent. Adults with various technical and professional skills, working side by side with the children in doing day-to-day tasks of the community, provides maximum efficiency in using our limited human and financial resources.
Our greatest challenge has been to combine in one holistic organisation the family, a school, a social structure and a non-government organisation that must be run in accordance with the laws of state organisations with whom we are obliged to cooperate. Our system is a form of synergy that combines love, trust and family warmth with the necessity to go to school and fulfil societal obligations. Within this complex milieu, the family, with all its psychological nuances, goes about its day-to-day life in accordance with its first priority of educating and developing children who were robbed of their biological parents and placed in harsh circumstances…….
We started to build our therapeutic community and take in children inspired by the idealistic concept that a child needs nothing more than love from his new parents and a normal environment with kind and intelligent people. True to Russian custom, we plunged in headlong, only later learning the practical aspects of raising children as we went along.
We came to realise that common sense and life experience alone were inadequate in working with children with developmental problems. It was necessary to seek a more reliable model for foster parenting. We were fortunate to discover appropriate theories and specialists who could show us a better approach to putting theory into practice. We have yet to discover, however, an all-encompassing theory to shield us from the multitude of problems we encounter…….
David Dean, the founder of Raddery, a unique school for troubled teenagers in Great Britain, helped us convert to a professional psychotherapeutic organisation. Among the measures we have implemented, thanks to David’s guidance, are daily teachers’ councils, community therapeutic meetings and play therapy sessions….
If you would like to know more about Kitezh have a look at their website www.kitezh.org They are supported by a small charity based at Findhorn in Scotland called Ecologia Youth Trust, www.ecologia.org.uk
As I know very few of you read The Independent I’m on safe ground bringing something to your attention that you won’t have already seen. The title of the piece is “I almost died trying to reach Europe” and was written by Justice Amin aged 20.
I was raised in a small town on the Ghanaian coast. My uncle worshipped a clay idol. I refused: I am a Muslim and pray only to Allah. I had seen pictures of Europe on television. There were universities and jobs, and James Bond. I loved James Bond. I ran away and headed northwards on buses until I arrived at the orange city of Agadez, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. There were hundreds of others like me. Bedouins were packing them into huge desert trucks and jeeps. I paid a driver 300 dollars, but instead of taking us into Libya, he abandoned us at an isolated village. It was a month before the next truck came along.
The next driver took us to Algeria. The final 70 miles we crossed on foot. After two days we began to find bodies. Some were sitting upright, propped against rocks. We checked their water bottles but they were empty. They were young men heading for Europe like me.
I spent a year in Tripoli, saving money to pay for the crossing to Europe. When the call came I was nervous. The boat was like a rowing boat with an engine. The organisers were drunk and shouting at us to keep quiet in case the police came. One of my friends got scared and tried to run away, but they pointed a gun at him and pushed him back to the boat.
None of us could swim. We had no idea how far it was, or how to steer the boat, and it was one of the most dangerous routes in the world, but I believed God would see me through. When the boat began to let in water, there was screaming and praying: people thought evil spirits would take us. But God led us to a fishing net. When our boat capsized, all of us managed to scramble on to it. We clung on for three days until day and night became one and the cold and the waves were all that kept us conscious. Some of my friends tied themselves to it; many times I thought they were dead. And then an Italian warship appeared. They took us into their small boats and sailed us to a door in the ship’s side. Many of us could not walk.
I’ve lived in Italy for two years, and rely on a charity to feed me. I visit the job centre every day, but there is a recession and vacancies go to Italians first. I still believe I’m lucky; some other survivors live in train stations and search for food in bins. I thank the Italian navy for rescuing me. But most of all I thank God. Before I had nothing. Now I have hope.
After reading this understated account I felt a huge amount of empathy for economic migrants who had previously represented a vague threat in my mind. I doubt that I would have had the courage and remain hopeful after what this young man went through and continues to go through.
In May I read an article in The Times by Gaynor Arnold whose debut novel, “Girl in a Blue Dress”, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008. She is also a Social Worker and following the Baby P case and the consequent negative media attention towards social workers, she wrote this article about her career in social work. Here are some extracts.
When I started in 1969, the emphasis was on preventive work: I dealt with families whose difficulties arose from basic poverty. I used to visit them frequently and knew them well. The department I worked for was small, there was almost no staff turnover and you kept the same cases for years. It was not all roses though. Sometimes it was hard to see improvement when I processed yet another boy through the approved school system, collecting yet another runaway or tried to regulate another debt acquired by a family with 32 outstanding court orders. But when I went back to “children and families” work five years later, I found a more structured world of priorities and time limits. There was far less preventive work, far more court work; far more young people with extreme behaviour and an explosion in the number of sexual abuse cases.
As time went on, I spent a larger proportion of my week with police officers investigating cases of abuse, and it was difficult not to feel like a police officer myself. Verbal abuse was common, and several colleagues were physically assaulted. One, in Birmingham, was murdered.
I wonder how I coped. I think it was because I had good managers and good colleagues, and we were a well-staffed team. We also knew the importance of having a sense of humour, and at lunchtimes there would often be hysterical (and very un-PC) laughter ringing around the office.
I no longer work directly with families but I know that, nationwide, social workers are dealing with even more extreme situations, often due to drug misuse. In some areas there are reports of them being threatened with dogs and knives…..
It is hard for a social worker to go into unpredictable situations day after day and challenge parents on the care of their children. Yet we do. And one reason why social workers fail some children may be this very ability to establish a rapport with difficult and abusive parents.
Many of the parents we deal with have been abused and neglected themselves, so they are in some ways just as needy as the two-year-old we have gone in to protect. It is hard to focus on “the child” in situations where everyone exhibits childlike behaviour and the social worker is the only caring figure around. The neediness of the adults is obvious. And many of the parents we deal with are very young – it may be only a week since they were officially children themselves yet, if they have a child of their own, that child must be the focus of our intervention.
This is a continual challenge in social work: trying to meet the needs of both parties through intervention with the ones who can talk. If hostages can learn to empathise with their captors, how much more likely is it that social workers will empathise with the needy parents they see every week, even to the extent of taking on their anxieties and priorities? This is why good supervision from experienced managers is so vital, because managers are not caught up in the dynamics of need and can keep the social worker focused on what is important.
…….universal vilification [of social workers] won’t help recruitment. And unless we accept that social workers cannot prevent human wickedness – that sometimes they fail and make mistakes – nobody will want to do the job. And all children will be considerably less safe.
If there is one good thing to come out of the fiasco of MP’s expenses and the negative media attention they have had to endure these past few weeks, it is the possibility that they may be less quick to jump on the bandwagon vilifying social workers. Or am I being over-optimistic?
In a previous editorial I wrote about how the heart went out of residential work with the coming of shift work and staff who were non-residential. This was followed by a piece written by Helen Southerden supporting what I was saying and explaining this was why she turned to fostering having previously worked in a therapeutic community. Not surprisingly therefore I was very interested to read an article by David Akinsanya, a journalist who presented Channel 4’s recent “Find me a Family” series, who had himself been in care. The article was in the latest edition of “Outlook”. Here is an extract:-
I was having a conversation and someone mentioned Hemsby in Norfolk – immediately I heard the word I remembered the wonderful holidays we had at Pontin’s holiday camp there in the 1970s. It reminded me of what a good early childhood I had in my [children’s] home. Through networking sites I am in touch with people who shared my childhood – other people who were in care. We remember being loved and well cared for by residential staff – this is before strict rotas and the scandals of the 1980s being exposed. Aunty Betty (who cared for me and many others) and her type went out of fashion. She had a room on site and only went home every now and then. The cooks and cleaners were caring for us as much as the other staff. We went to school smart and were involved in as many activities as any middle class family – days at the seaside, museums, holidays and great birthday parties.
These homes were replaced by bigger homes with qualified social work staff – youngsters who had just left university. I was a victim of this change. Having led a somewhat sheltered life where we had to say please and thank you and do as we were told I was dropped into an 18 bed home for teenagers. It was chaos and I began a decline into crime and glue sniffing, something Aunty Betty would never let happen. No-one knew how to control me and my behaviour only got worse and worse. The continuity that had kept me in check and the fact that staff knew me and what made me tick had gone. I know there is good and bad residential care……
He goes on to make a plea for residential care still having a place for those young people who otherwise would bounce from one placement to another. Although most of us would agree that a family is the first and best option for the care of a child, a good children’s home is a better option than being bounced from one family after another for as many as a dozen or more times.
I recently acquired a booklet, Care Stories, which accompanied a training film for those working with looked-after children and young people. There is a section on The emotional impact of being a foster carer by Robin Solomon and Beth Miller. Here is an extract:-
Being a foster carer is demanding in many ways and one of the hardest parts can be the strong emotions experienced when being with a particular child. Sometimes when a child displays disruptive, aggressive or rejecting behaviour their carer is told “it’s nothing personal”. Of course it is very important to hold on to the way children have been lastingly affected by earlier experiences and how this may explain otherwise puzzling behaviour now.
But the impact of what happens as a result of past experiences can feel very personal indeed. As one foster carer put it, “It’s in your home, it’s in your family, it can even feel like it’s who you are.” Carers are sometimes told they must be ‘professional’ at such times and this can be taken to mean keeping feelings private or even trying to pretend we don’t have them. But ignoring feelings like this doesn’t help. Being able to talk about them with other people can be a relief, and help restore a sense of perspective.
I think the point being made in this extract is really important and confirms the value of the work being done in the ISP centres when groups of carers get together to share experiences and feelings.
On the 16th October I attended a conference at the Tavistock Clinic on “So What Makes it Therapeutic ….? Observation, Analysis and Intervention in Residential Child Care Practice and Training: A Working Conference”. It was organised by Adrian Ward (lecturer in the Adolescent Dept of the Tavistock Clinic) and Stuart Hannah (Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist). One of the reasons behind the conference was to explore whether the current interest in Social Pedagogy could add anything useful to residential child care (and this includes fostering) or whether the real motive is to replace the more expensive therapeutic child care, as practiced in therapeutic communities, with a cheaper alternative. The following description of Social Pedagogy is an extract from www.childrenwebmag.com.
Social pedagogues are trained to have authentic and mutual relationships with the children and young people with whom they work, while using the relationship to work purposefully and therapeutically, in the broadest sense. One of the differences of emphasis that seems to make this approach attractive to residential workers who have taken part in the English pilots is that it affirms the positive care role of the worker, as opposed to the risk-averse-dominated UK approach, which seems to view personal relationships as potentially suspect. In contrast the pedagogues are expected to manage their relationships and use them positively and professionally.
The use of the relationship seems to be an aspect of social pedagogy which is different in some degree to the way that professional relationships are understood and have evolved within a UK social work context. Two particular conceptual frameworks have been well-received by participants in UK pilots so far.
1. Head, hand and heart: the idea that the worker is supposed to engage in all domains; practical skills and activities (hands), thinking critically and analytically (head), and recognising and affirming the place of emotions, feelings of care and concern (heart). Within social pedagogy these aspects associated with “heart” are recognised as crucial to the care and development of the child, rather than being seen as risky and to be avoided.
2. The ‘3 Ps’: Private, personal and professional: another conceptual device used by some of the pedagogue trainers, acknowledging different aspects of the self: private, personal and professional. Again the distinction between the private (the part of you which you generally do not share with service users or bring to work), and the personal part (which you do share and bring to work), seems to be helpful. It enables residential workers to see a valid theoretical basis for the ‘personal’ aspects of the job.
Another marked feature of social pedagogy, and one which distinguishes it from British social work, is the emphasis on the use of activities; both outdoor recreational activities and sports, and indoor recreation using all types of creative activities. During their training social pedagogues will spend considerable amounts of time learning to use a wide range of creative and recreational activities with children and young people. Social pedagogues are not expected to be experts in any activity but rather to be willing to use their interest to engage with children as part of the care process.
It seems to me that fostering at its best is practicing social pedagogy. I think it’s a pity, having been involved in child care for forty years, that we have to turn to the Danes and Germans to find what we have lost in our profession. I remember the Danes coming to English therapeutic communities in the 1980’s because they wanted to learn from us. However, I feel pleased if, by any route, we can get relationships back into the centre of our work and be less risk-averse.
At the conference I wasn’t merely a passive participant. I had a job to do running one of the workshops, both in the morning and in the afternoon. I didn’t know who was going to be in the workshop until I arrived. There were some formidable people on the list for my workshop: John Diamond (CEO of the Mulberry Bush Foundation), Ann Harrison (National Programme Manager for Social Care CWDC), Tim Loughton (MP and Shadow Minister for Children), Jonathon Stanley (Manager NCERCC), Alan Worthington (ex-Director of Thornby Hall), Kevin Gallagher (Chief Exec of Bryn Melyn Care Ltd and Chairman of the Charterhouse Group), to name just a few. I was relieved and disappointed that Tim Loughton left the conference after delivering his speech. It would have been interesting to “get up close and personal” with possibly the next Minister for Children. His disappearance didn’t affect the quality of discussion we had.
I had an interesting experience last week. An ex-colleague of mine from the Cotswold Community days, Christine Bradley, has raised money from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and other sources, to make a film “Growing up in Care, Bearing the Unbearable”.
This programme seeks an insight into the world of emotionally fragmented children and young people – children who may have suffered abuse in various forms or those whose inner turmoil has affected their ability to grow up in a family setting. They may have been rejected and misunderstood, they are troubled and troublesome, they challenge the very basis of society’s values. They are at times, bearing the unbearable.
The plan for making the film, which took place at Maidstone Studios last Thursday, was for a couple of people, with experience in a particular field, to be interviewed together by Julie Peasgood. She is quite well known from live TV programmes and Alan Titchmarsh’s programmes. Anyway I found myself on a two-seater leather couch with Robert Tapsfield from Fostering Network. He had also worked with Christine in Wandsworth many years ago. Basically she had called in a lot of favours. This was the first time I’d been on a TV set so I was fascinated with the process, seeing how the autocue works etc. I had a make-up person touching me up, so to speak. I said if she could make me look ten years younger I’d give her a job for life! She said they didn’t teach miracles on her course!
I think Robert and I acquitted ourselves quite well. He fielded the political questions and I focussed on therapeutic child care. It should be ready in February.
I am reading a very interesting book about France, recommended by Elisabeth Cairns. It is “The Discovery of France” by Graham Robb. It has helped me to realise that the defence of the French language derives not simply from external threats to it, eg, U.S. slang. It is also, it seems to me, a reflection of the many languages that used to be spoken in France. It was an important part of France’s fairly recently history to establish the French language throughout the country. Here is a fascinating extract about a most unusual language that is no longer used.
Even if a place was know to outsiders, its language might remain a secret. The Pyrenean village of Aas, at the foot of the Col D’Aubisque, above the spa town of Eax-Bonnes, had its own whistling language which was unknown even in the neighbouring valleys until it was mentioned on a television programme in 1959. Shepherds who spent the summer months in lonely cabins had evolved an ear-splitting, hundred-decibel language that could be understood at a distance of up to two miles. It was also used by the women who worked in the surrounding fields and was apparently versatile enough in the early twentieth century to convey the contents of the local newspaper. Its last known use was during the Nazi Occupation, when shepherds helped Jewish refugees, Résistants and stranded pilots to cross the border into Spain. A few people in Aas today remember hearing the language, but no one can reproduce the sounds and no recordings were ever made. If such a remarkable language escaped detection, many other quieter dialects must have died out before they could be identified.
The other fascinating thing I came across in this book is about human hibernation. It is amazing to think that survival in the winter meant literally curling up and shutting down as a human being.
Human hibernation was a physical and economic necessity. Lowering the metabolic rate prevented hunger from exhausting supplies. In the Nièvre, according to the diary of Jules Renard, ‘the peasant at home moves little more than the sloth’ (1889); ‘in winter, they pass their lives asleep, corked up like snails’ (1908). People trudged and dawdled, even in summer. They ate more slowly than modern people. Life expectancy at birth now seems depressingly low: in 1865, it was a few months over forty years in only twenty départements; in Paris and Finistère, it was under thirty; the national average was thirty seven years two months. Life expectancy at five was fifty-one. Despite this, complaints about the brevity of life are far less common than complaints about its inordinate length. Slowness was not an attempt to savour the moment. A ploughman who took hours to reach a field beyond the town was not necessarily admiring the effect of morning mist on the furrows and the steaming cattle against the rising sun, he was trying to make a small amount of strength last for the working day, like a cartload of manure spread over a field.
There are times when I could imagine a bit of “human hibernation” would go down well – a chance to catch up on all those films you’ve been meaning to watch and novels to read. Enforced hibernation would not be fun.