ISP Newsletter Editorials – 2013


When the furore occurred a few months ago about the impending death of Ash trees I read an article which contained the following extract from an essay by William Fiennes, “Why the Ash Has Black Buds”. It made quite an impression on me so thought I would share it with you.

“The trees have always had some idea of what happens to them when they die. In forests they saw their neighbours toppled by wind or age and rot into earth, and their roots sent up descriptions of peat and coal in vast beds and seams. Later, when humans came along, trees saw the stockades, the carts pulled by horses, the chairs and tables set out in gardens, and quickly put two and two together. Trees growing beside rivers saw themselves in the hulls and masts of boats, and trees in orchards understood that the ladders propped against them had once been trees, and when men approached with axes to fell them, the trees recognised the handles……”

As I’m writing this it feels as though concern for the plight of Ash trees has fallen off the agenda. There is very little in the media about it right now. I guess that says something about the nature of media attention, a storm and then a lull until the next storm.


The big news story since the last newsletter is the sale and transfer of ISP to Partnership in Children’s Services (PICS). I don’t propose to go through all the reasons for this change as that has been explained in a document already widely circulated. The management group has had the benefit of meeting Gary Cox (CEO of the PICS group) and Sir Gerry Robinson (Chairman of the PICS Board) at Fedan Hall, Teynham, on the 7 May 2013.

We heard how the PICS group would grow as other organisations are acquired over the next few years. This group will provide services for children at the quality end of the market. ISP is the second acquisition, the first one being Fosterplus. Both Gary and Gerry emphasised how important it will be for ISP to retain its separate identity and culture. This was in response to a concern that the organisations acquired would become lumped together in an amorphous mass. There was also a concern that the drive for profit would diminish the quality of the services that we provide for children. Both Gary and Gerry were emphatic that providing a quality service is the main priority and that if we get this right a profit will follow. It’s that way round. I hope over the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to meet Gary Cox at your centre and maybe Sir Gerry as well.

I think that as the PICS group grows there will be the possibility of cross fertilisation of ideas and practices between the various organisations. I’ve already experienced a taste of this when I had the opportunity to attend Fosterplus’ annual conference in Scotland. It took place at the Dynamic Earth centre in Edinburgh on May 20. It was a fabulous venue and a very well run conference. I realised that this was something we could learn from Fosterplus.

The lecturer for the day was Dr Dan Siegel who is currently clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) School of Medicine where he is on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and the Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. I found him to be an extremely good and engaging lecturer.

I was struck by his assertion, which is backed up by research, that the most significant factor in enabling good outcomes for children is when the adults caring for a child (either birth, adoptive or foster parents) develop an understanding of their own childhood. This is linked to a state of mindfulness, which is being intentional in what you do and being present for your child. Present in this context means being attentive, tuned in, rather than preoccupied with other things. I found it interesting that he put much emphasis on the need for adults to connect what is happening in the here and now with what has happened in their past. By doing so, we become the authors of our own life story.

On a similar theme I was really pleased to listen to a radio programme, “From Donald Winnicott to the Naughty Step” on Radio 4 on the 4th May. This is a summary of the programme.

“Seventy years ago the psychoanalyst and parenting expert Donald Winnicott first broadcast his idea of the ‘good-enough mother’; the mother who wasn’t perfect and was free, to some extent, to fail. From 1943-1962 he gave some 50 BBC broadcasts. Aimed directly at mothers, they had a profound impact on popular ideas about motherhood. Winnicott’s pioneering talks came after the rigid, traumatising regime advocated by Frederick Truby-King – babies fed every 4 hours, left uncuddled in prams outdoors. Anne Karpf argues Truby-King is the spiritual father of the much discussed contemporary ideas of Gina Ford, of Supernanny and the naughty step.

By contrast, Winnicott believed that “It is when a mother trusts her judgement that she is at her best.” In his work he took the radical step of talking to mothers directly through the radio.

Winnicott explained a baby’s development in vivid, non-clinical language; he avoided exciting guilt or anxiety in ‘the ordinary devoted mother’ without access to help or therapy. He broadcast anonymously but received sacks of letters. When his talks were published, they sold over 50,000 copies, and influenced Dr Spock.

Winnicott invented a new language in which to talk about babies and with the help of the BBC he created a new way to talk to parents about parenting. His talks touched on many subjects: step parents, saying no, feeling guilty, the development of a child’s sense of right and wrong, why babies cry, weaning, the baby as a person, and what we mean by a normal child.

His brilliance was to build up mothers by breaking down the idea of motherhood. By unburdening women of inherited notions of perfection he helped them to become better mothers. He argued that failing was in fact a necessary part of parenting, and through the failure of the parent the child realises the limits of its own power and the reality of an imperfect world. And he questioned the assumption that professionals always knew better.

With a proliferation of parenting manuals and TV shows today, Winnicott’s message seems to have been lost. Many parents and in particular mothers still feel guilty about not living up to an ideal for their children. Anne Karpf argues that today mothers need Winnicott more than they ever did.”


The day before the Fun Day several ISP therapists got together for a study day. This is quite important for therapists who often work in isolation and aren’t part of teams in the same way as other professionals. We had some useful discussions and in particular the part that “love” plays in our work. Just after this day I came across an interesting item with the title Love is an action word. In the book “How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children” Dr Gerald Newark defines the five critical needs of children – and parents, too – as:

  • The need to feel INCLUDED
  • The need to feel RESPECTED
  • The need to feel IMPORTANT
  • The need to feel ACCEPTED
  • The need to feel SECURE

“Perhaps you have asked yourself, “What about love? Why hasn’t love been included as one of the five critical needs of children?” It was omitted purposefully, not because it lacks importance – on the contrary, it is extremely important – but rather because the word “love” has lost some of its force and meaning through overuse and misuse.

In many cases, saying the words “I love you” has become trite, meaningless, or confusing. In a scene from the movie Nuts, a conversation takes place between a mother and her estranged daughter. The mother says to the daughter, ” You know we love you sweetheart, don’t you? Didn’t we always tell you we loved you?” To which the daughter replies angrily, “Love? What do you know about love? You told me you loved me, but you never showed me you did.” Yes, there is a difference.

There are parents who abuse or neglect their children and then say, “I love you”, thinking it makes up for their behaviour. Too often, love is equated with saying “I love you”…….. Most marriages break up because spouses stop treating each other in a loving way.

Most parents love their children or so we assume. However, we cannot assume from this that most parents act in a loving way. Dr Newark’s answer to “What about love?” is that loving your child is essential and saying “I love you” is important, but neither is sufficient unless you act in a loving way. That is why he defines “acting in a loving way” as relating to children in ways that make the child feel respected, important, accepted, included, and secure – that’s the best way to say, “I love you”.”


The Chairman of ISP’s Board, Ian Butler, was on television in a programme on BBC4 on the 29 October, “Disowned and Disabled. Nowhere Else to Go”. If you missed it, it is well worth watching on BBC iPlayer. This is a description of the programme:

“Sixty years ago, the care of children who were orphaned or abandoned by their parents was based on the Victorian poor laws. Most disowned kids were sent to orphanages, huge institutions run with strict discipline and little love. Others were sent away to former colonies or farmed out to unregulated foster carers where their care was hit-or-miss. Single mothers were forced to give up their babies for adoption. Some unwanted children found loving homes, while others experienced hardship and bullying – or worse.

However, all that was set to change. After the Second World War a devastating national scandal, coupled with the rise of the welfare state, led to a new commitment to put the interests of the child first. Many orphanages were closed, foster care was regulated and child welfare services were improved.

But, as this documentary shows through searing interviews and case studies, it’s clear that the process of change was fraught with difficulty and disaster. Despite the best efforts of social workers the difficulty of caring for children without parents grew. Although care homes closed, many of those that remained were in meltdown as their staff grappled with the troubled teenagers in their charge. Shocking methods ensued such as isolation, lock-up and even drugs, as the staff struggled to stay in control. And child abuse came into the public consciousness when it emerged that returning children at risk to their birth parents could lead to disaster.

This film follows the stories of several individuals who experienced the care system after the war. It shows how, despite many scandals and much suffering, putting children first has become a trusted guiding principle in solving one of society’s greatest challenges: how to care for those without loving parents.”

Ian speaks to camera on three occasions during the programme to explore the historical changes that have taken place in the social care field for young people.

A longstanding member of ISP’s therapy service, John Hills, had a book published earlier this year, “Introduction to Systemic & Family Therapy: a User’s Guide”. It was recently reviewed by Yvone Farley. Here are some extracts of the review:-

“This book may be billed as ‘an introduction’ but really it is so much more. There is much wisdom and vision here, drawn from the author’s four decades of ‘experiential learning’. …….The book takes an existential stance, inviting readers to be aware of the whole ‘human condition’, the given experiences around which we must shape our own stances, attitudes and responses. As Hills says, systemic thought has ‘a contribution to make to every aspect of the human services professions’, the only limitation being ‘the organisation’s awareness of its usefulness’ and, of course, a belief in ‘the possibility of change’.”


One of the most interesting things I’ve done since the last Newsletter was to go with Mark Thomas to the launch of Food for Thought at the University of Stirling on the 19th November. As you probably know, Mark and I run a training course for ISP on, “The Emotional Significance of Food”. If you’ve done this training you may remember us saying that very little is written about the emotional and symbolic significance of food in bringing up children. Much is written about healthy diets but considering that feeding and attachment formation are so inextricably linked in early childhood, it’s hard to find relevant material. Consequently, we were excited when Gary Cox (CEO of PiCS) told me about this launch and he arranged for Mark and I to attend. We were not disappointed and it was certainly worth the hassle of travelling to Stirling. I was surprised to hear that Stirling University had been researching practices in relation to food, particularly in residential care, for several years. Here is the introduction to the launch.

“The Food for Thought resources provide residential staff, foster carers and their managers with tools to look at the way in which food and the practices around it are being used in the care of children and young people.

The resources are based on research which showed that food can be a useful lens to look at how care is being delivered, received and experienced by both children and adults. It highlighted that, far from being simply about nutrition, food can hold significant symbolic value. In other words, how food is purchased, prepared, delivered and consumed has important social meaning. Such practices and experiences of food can come to stand for a wide variety of thoughts, beliefs and feelings. For example food can be a powerful way of showing care for others; it can give out very clear messages about how people are feeling at certain times and how they relate to others. It can help with children’s recovery from past hurt and be a nurturing as well as expressive medium for children and their carers. Food can be used by children and adults to convey difficult feelings and thoughts. Food helps in the creation and maintenance of relationships and can make an important contribution to feelings of belonging and identity. The simplest of activities, from baking a cake for someone’s special event, to knowing how they take their coffee can be harnessed by adults and children to powerful effect.”

All of this was music to our ears. It was even better when we realised that there are resources and tools to be used by carers, and available without cost, on the Food for Thought website, Mark and I will certainly be using some of this material in our training. We also want to maintain an ongoing working relationship with the university. We have a link on ISP’s website with Food for Thought and that has been reciprocated.

Here is another quote which I really like:

“In research conduced in three residential care homes in Scotland, several children suggested that knowing how somebody likes their food or drink and paying attention to detail, such as how you like your cheese on toast, helped children feel cared about. It was also a useful way for children to show care to others, for example, through offering someone a cup of tea and remembering how they like it. Food interactions were tangible illustrations of holding somebody in mind and respecting them as a person.”