This brief description of the importance of food in the overall therapeutic philosophy of the Community, is written to clarify some points brought up in the report of the Social Services Department Inspection Unit 1994.
I attended many meetings of the ‘Household Resource’ group as well as acting as consultant to the staff and boys, which involved meeting individual boys and their carers and lunching regularly with them over the last ten years.
ONE. Any organisation which has the care of children should pay attention to nutritional and hygienic principles and to careful budgeting. The Household Resource members of staff have learnt how to do this within each house and with the recognition of two principals: firstly that each house should achieve an atmosphere of homeliness, warmth and pleasure over food (to be as much like a good and normal family as possible), secondly, that the boys are of mixed ethnicity and religions and have been accustomed to varying food habits. Very few of the boys before coming to the Community have had regular cooked meals, sitting down with a family, but have rather been offered scrappy and irregular meals. Food given regularly and at a table may be a strange experience.
TWO. Feeding is used consciously as a very important part of the therapeutic treatment programme. The children have all been basically deprived of normal nurturing by truly committed parent or parents. They are, beneath a fairly tough exterior, still at a very early stage of development where feeding becomes, literally, the staff of life and security.
If the children can re-experience a proper infancy and childhood, which of course includes feeding, then progress can be made toward integration. The children’s food, therefore, is very carefully thought out: it is given frequently and regularly (including sometimes a night feed) and in the form that gives the child the feeling of being individually cared for in a family atmosphere. Some children find it hard to take this form of nurturing and it may be some time before they can eat, for instance, toast and tomato ketchup. Some achingly ‘empty’ may eat far too much and become overweight. Skilled staff can assist these children to understand what food represents to them and to help them to find other ways to fill the gap.
The writings of D.W. Winnicott, Barbara Dockar-Drysdale, Richard Balbernie and of John Whitwell and Pat Hancock have illustrated this philosophy and their papers are available. The paper on ‘The Importance of Food in Relation to the Treatment of Deprived and Disturbed Children in Care’ by Pat Hancock, Sally Simmons and John Whitwell, in Appendix 4 of the Inspectors Report, illustrates clearly what has been said.
I have nothing but praise for the way in which the staff, with a limited budget, have bound all these concepts together to produce such a good healing process for the children.