The highlight of the last few weeks was surely hosting a day’s training from Dan Hughes on the 10th February at Bridgewood Manor Hotel. This was the first event celebrating ISP’s 25th year. Dan Hughes is a world famous psychologist who is a recognised expert in working with parents/carers and young people with attachment problems. I spent two days with him in Finland last October and invited him for a day with ISP in 2012. It was just my luck that the day he offered clashed with my longstanding planned holiday to Dubai. It was the only day in the year he could offer as he has such a busy schedule so we had to go for it. Sharon May, training administrator, worked really hard to organise the conference and on the day we had the best part of 150 people attend, from all parts of ISP. It was a great success. The feedback has been tremendous. Hayley Ribey, teaching assistant, filmed the conference. She has created a 3 hour DVD which we plan to make available for those people like me who were unable to attend and for those who did and would like to revisit what he said. I’m very much hoping that we might persuade Dan to return to ISP next year. I asked Dan what the experience was like for him and this is what he said.
“It was a great experience for me. I truly enjoyed the enthusiasm and obvious commitment demonstrated by the folks that I met. You seem to have a very special group of people working with these kids/youth with trauma and attachment challenges.”
I recently came across the poem, “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte (1972).
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
I children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
In the period between Christmas and New Year, when you can struggle to find things to do other than shopping, my wife Ann started to go through some old photographs. She has a really nice black and white photo of her grandparents standing outside their cottage, with her mother and uncle as children. Her grandfather was a gamekeeper and the cottage near Hungerford was in the middle of nowhere and very picturesque. We found this cottage several years ago when her mother was keen to revisit it. Anyway Ann had the idea that the present occupants of the cottage might like to have a copy of the photo, giving them a sense of its history. With nothing better to do we decided to drive over there on New Year’s Eve. It was about a 40 minute drive from home.
We eventually found it. Although it was clearly the same cottage it had been altered considerably. It now had big wooden electrified gates. We rang the buzzer but got no reply and then suddenly the gates started to open. Ann went to the door of the cottage and I could see her talking to someone and she waived me over. The woman introduced herself as Kate and was very friendly when she heard about our mission and invited us in. I had the feeling I knew her but couldn’t place her. Was she someone I’d worked with in the past or met her on a course? Her face was definitely familiar. While Ann was talking to her about the photo I was trying to figure out who she was. Her husband joined us and he was equally friendly. They described the changes they had made to the cottage and how they’d made it as “green” as possible. Kate had a Scottish accent which was a clue to her identity and then it clicked who she was. I decided to broach this as we were leaving just in case I was wrong. They took us into a room that used to be the old hallway and said this was their music room. It was full of instruments – a drum kit and several guitars. I then knew I was right in identifying her and said, “Are you K.T. Tunstall?” She was surprised that I recognised her as she was very much dressed for comfort, far removed from her performing image. I couldn’t get over how friendly they were, given that they also wanted to protect their privacy. I have several of her songs in my iTunes library so it was great to meet her like that. What started out as a rather dreary, drizzly day, became exciting and different.
A few weeks ago in The Times (28th April) there was an article by the parenting expert Noël Janis-Norton, “Stop Shouting. Stop Nagging. How to be a calmer parent.” I was pleased to see that one of her recommendations matches what we say in our Therapeutic Child Care training.
[This is an extract from her book, “Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting: The Revolutionary Programme that Transforms Family Life”.]
Why “quality time improves their behavior”
“Make time for “special time” as it vastly reduces negative attention-seeking and sibling rivalry. Every child needs to spend time alone with each parent. The need is as strong as the need for food or water. The concept is:
One parent with one child
Doing something you both enjoy
That doesn’t cost money
That’s not in front of a screen
Daily if possible
For a minimum of ten minutes
Children need special time with both parents but they especially need it with the same gender parent – if for whatever reason a boy cannot have special time with his father or stepfather, I recommend the mother arrange for a male role model (relative, family friend, neighbour or even a teacher) to step in.”
ISP’s 25th anniversary dinner/dance was held at the Inner Temple in London on the 22nd September. It was a wonderful and extraordinary venue, fitting for such an occasion. Elizabeth Cairns and I made short after-dinner speeches. For those of you who weren’t able to be there, this is what I said.
“Thanks to Jo, Barbara, Natasha and Andrew for finding this excellent venue and doing all the work behind the scenes to enable this to happen.
A 25th anniversary do calls for a bit more than a couple of rubbish jokes, so here goes.
Let me start by acknowledging what we’ve achieved. All the registered Centres have achieved an “outstanding” grade from Ofsted. Ofsted have also graded our 2 School sites as “outstanding” and “good with outstanding features”. We have almost doubled the number of young people we look after in the last few years. And most important of all, our work makes a difference to young people’s experience of childhood and their life chances.
Behind all of our success is a huge amount of hard work, personal commitment and an amazing amount of creativity, energy and enthusiasm. And I’m just talking about the young people! Of course staff and carers play their part too. Never has it been harder for young people to grow up, especially in those families who do not have the skills, the opportunities or the resources to bring up children well.
I’m sure you know that we are facing new, real and very considerable challenges.
That means in order to remain successful we will have to rely even more on these things that have got us this far; our skills, our beliefs and our hard work.
ISP of today owes much to the original vision of its founder, Brigidin Gorman, who recently passed away. But the ISP of today is different from the ISP Brig founded. We have changed as the world has changed around us and as the therapeutic culture has grown.
However, the real danger for us, as it would be for any individual or organisation, would be to think – “we are successful, we have arrived, let’s take it easy”. We must never do that.
As ISP grows, and we need to grow to become stronger in this tough climate, we also have to face the challenge of no longer being small.
In the early days of ISP everyone knew each other and could get round the same table, so to speak. As we grow it’s important our Centre based model retains and strengthens this level of intimacy.
If ISP is now a tribe, each Centre and School needs to be a community, where those doing the caring can feel cared for.
So, my message to us all on our 25th anniversary: we have done amazingly well; we are good at what we do, but tomorrow is another day and if we want to be here in another 25 years, and we do, we will have to be as creative, committed, strong, confident, bloody-minded, awkward, funny, clever as we have been so far.
So, please raise our glasses and here’s to the next 25 years!”
(Thanks to Ian Butler for help with this speech.)
I will end with a few extracts from an inspiring paper by Sue Kegerreis, with the thought provoking title, “Getting Better Makes it Worse.”
“We all have within us a ‘cast’ of internal figures, with whom we unconsciously relate and who influence both our actions and how we feel. These might include an internal judge who makes us feel guilty and watches us critically, the internal good parent, who helps us take care of ourselves, or the voice inside which undermines our confidence by always stressing our shortcomings. Each of us will have our own distinctive collections of these ‘internal objects’ depending on our experiences and what we have made of them.”
I think it is so important for us adults to understand this in our work as carers, social workers, teachers, therapists etc. These internal voices have such an influence on what we say and do with young people, especially when we feel challenged and stressed.
Sue Kegerreis goes on to say,
“Many children with emotional and behavioural difficulties can be understood as being caught up in a psychic state dominated by persecutory anxieties. By this I mean anxieties of such a primitive and basic nature that the children feel their existence is under threat. This is in contrast to depressive anxieties caused by internal conflicts between loving and hating feelings. If persecutory anxieties predominate a child will tend to deny any bad parts of himself, projecting them into others and so experiencing himself primarily as the victim of outside maltreatment. He has no secure sense of self-nurturing, internalised from a sustained sense of being nurtured. The idea of something stable and good, whether inside or outside himself, is constantly under threat and often quite absent. He may feel that his inner world is irretrievably in ruins, and may do his utmost to reduce his outside world to an equally devastated state.
……For many children it is more comfortable to be engrossed in a fight than suddenly to wonder what one is fighting about and face sadness instead of anger.
……One girl I see is plagued by anxious, guilty feelings whenever she feels she is making progress or even having ordinary good luck. For her, it seems, the world is populated by deprived, fiercely envious people who are only waiting for her downfall. The more her life improves the more anxious she feels as she waits for what feels like the inevitable crash.
…..Mental health is not the absence of psychic pain, far from it. It is the ability to encounter it, tolerate it and develop through it. The children’s difficulties are not caused solely by the overload of such pain, but rather by the attempt, for whatever reason, to avoid it.
In a very real sense, getting better does, some of the time, make it worse. We need to be aware of what we are asking of the children when we offer them the chance of improvement. We are setting them no easy task, and the pain on the way may be enough to drive many a child back into the comparative safety of his illness.”
There are three pieces of writing about the work we do that I would like to share with you. The first is from an unusual source, the Style magazine of The Sunday Times on the 9th December. In it there was an article by Petrina Brown, “What it Feels Like to be a Foster Carer”. Here are some extracts from the article. If you would like to read the whole of it let me know and I’ll send you a copy.
“’Out of my f****** way Danny. I want the cornflakes first,’ says three-year old Frankie as he pushes past his toddler half-brother, Danny. Frankie still feels anxious that there may be a hungry day ahead and regularly attempts to fill up on whatever he can lay his hands on, even if it’s not widely regarded as food.
My new charges arrived teary and bleary-eyed as an emergency placement three nights ago, although it feels like we’ve been together for months. The separation from their mother was confrontational and violent, and since the police officers delivered the boys straight to me, they regard me pretty much as a kidnapper. From years of fostering, I know this may take several weeks to overcome. Their behaviour is what social services would describe as “challenging”.
I have wanted to foster for as long as I can remember. My father grew up in a Barnardo’s children’s home, and I think that sparked my interest. He was an identical twin and went into care before he was two. When he and his brother were five they were separated. They didn’t meet again until they both joined the army (coincidentally ending up in the same posting), and I thought it was sad that they had to grow up apart.
…..One of the hardest aspects of fostering is when the children move on. There have been times when I have breathed a sigh of relief, but usually it is sad. One placement with two siblings was particularly hard in the end. They arrived as babies and stayed for two years. I’ll never forget driving them to their new home to live with the “forever” parents. Although I new it was my duty to allow them to move on, my heart was breaking. I forced a smile as I passed them to the excited adopting couple and gently eased them away when they clung to my legs. Walking down the path, and being unable to comfort them as they cried for me, was the single hardest moment of my life.
That’s one of the downsides of fostering; you have no control over what happens to the children in your care, even though you know them better than anyone. I hope those two siblings know they are never far from my thoughts.
….For my part, as I follow my new young charges into the kitchen and persuade a ravenous Frankie to remove the cereal packet from his head, I know the day ahead will be filled with a whole new set of challenges, but there’s no other job I’d rather do.”
There has been a lot of attention in the media about the plight of looked after children and their vulnerability to exploitation. This prompted an article in The Times on the 7th November by Sylvie Carter, herself a care leaver, to write about neglect. I think it is one of the most powerful and painful descriptions of neglect I have read. The second piece of writing is extracts from, “I know that man. He bribes, then abuses you”.
““Have you ever had dirt in your nails that you can’t quite get out? Have you had something go off in the fridge and it takes a while to get rid of the smell? Perhaps you went away and forgot to empty the bins and when you returned the smell hit you.
I want to tell you about neglect, and the reason I gave you the little description above is because when you’re neglected those are sensations and feelings that get into your thoughts and direct your life.
….As a baby you never have the care that most people take for granted – a parent who bathes you regularly and changes every nappy you fill straight away. The neglected child can sit in a soiled nappy for hours, piss-soaked vests are not changed but just turned inside out and the nappy rash never quite goes away. As a toddler this baby learns to take its nappy off when it can’t bear the pain of the full nappy rubbing against the rash. He also learns to shove as much food as is offered into his mouth because living with a neglectful parent, for many reason, means regular mealtimes don’t exist. Life is chaotic and food turns up as unexpectedly as your absent dad wanting the child benefit to drink up in the pub. Your parent might only sort a meal out when they feel hungry and anyone on drink and drugs doesn’t do three meals a day.
A lot of neglected children with substance-abusing parents learn that they get attention when they perform. I remember, when my mother was wasted, her getting me to mimic an ad on the telly or a swear word that I didn’t understand. When parents are wrecked you might get some money for sweets or a swig of the medicine that seemed to make them happy, but when they are bored with you they ignore you.
The house is so chaotic and out of control that even when you’re old enough to bath yourself you can never get clean. You run a bath in a scummy tub and when you get out you dry yourself with a mouldy towel and get into dirty clothes. You learn young what it’s like to feel shitty and to dream of an escape. But you feel a terrible guilt for wanting to escape because there are snatched moments of feeling part of a family. But something always smashes it – either violence, lack of money, the gas going, a phone call or a knock on the door.
These kids soak up attention from other adults to a degree that makes them so vulnerable it’s frightening.”
The third and last piece of writing is from a short book by Dan Hughes, recently published by BAAF, “Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. It is written for carers and I would urge you to get a copy. Here is a taster:-
“Search for the strengths that lie within her and communicate your experiences of these strengths.
Your experience of your child is at its most powerful when it is conveyed in your voice, facial expressions, gestures and movements rather than simply with words.
If a child has many challenging and difficult behaviours, our tendency is to focus on them. Eventually the danger is that we will see only her “problems”, and she will become a “problem child”. Your challenge is to find – and not lose sight of – her strengths that lie under her problems, and then elicit and respond to those strengths.
Certainly, if she has strengths such as in sports, computers, a particular interest or academic subject, you need to recognise them and facilitate her progress. However, you will have an even bigger impact on her development if you are able to perceive the strengths that lie within her and beneath her problems.
These might include:
- a sense of fair play;
- compassion for someone weak or with a disability;
- gentleness with an animal;
- willingness to help a neighbour’
- a desire to be “normal”;
- efforts to “fit in” with the other members of the family;
- a sense of humour;
- a desire to learn something; or
- a desire to share a quiet moment together.
You might think that she does not have any of these strengths – but she does, or she has similar ones. She might be good at hiding them. She might fear to show them because she will be laughed at (or so she imagines, in her mind). The strengths might be there, but be small, tentative. They might be there but seen only when she feels safe – and she does not feel safe very often.
If you notice an inner strength, be sure that she sees that you notice it and have a positive response to it. You might show your response with a smile, a touch on the arm or shoulder, an expression (Ah!), or quick comment (‘That was lovely!’). Don’t overdo it or she might become anxious, embarrassed, or feel pressure from you to do it more (even though you were not placing any pressure on her). Too many words may make her uncomfortable and might make her feel that you are “reinforcing” her. It is much more likely that she will believe your bodily expressions of delight or recognition of something about her than that she will believe something that you say.”