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First Child Care Training (1965 to 1966)

Following a pre-training supervised placement in a large London Reception Centre for Children in 1965, the writer’s formal training began in 1966 at the North Western Polytechnic, London. This training course was then known as the Home Office Child Care Course. The British Government Department vetted the entrants and conferred the qualification and licence to practice. (In 1975 the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) took over responsibility for the course and began to award to successful students the Certificate in the Residential Care of Children and Young People). For a one-year full-time course, it now seems to have been very comprehensive. It’s practical components included mandatory first-aid training to certificate level and a residential training week of sporting activities at the National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace, London. The core subjects in the syllabus taught and lectured on were Child Development (Health), Child Psychology, Sociology, and Legal Studies. Although there were over sixty students on the course, they were broken into small groups each week for sensitivity training, or T-groups, led by practitioners trained at the Tavistock Clinic, which was within walking distance of the college. (The more detailed subject of the writer’s own Tavistock Clinic training will be dealt with below).

However, the outstanding influence on the writer at this time was Dr John Bowlby, a regular guest lecturer on the Home Office course from the Tavistock Clinic, where he was at the time Director of the Department of Children and Parents. Dr Bowlby’s work for the World Health Organisation, a subsidiary of the United Nations Organisation, had brought world attention to the adverse affects of maternal deprivation on children. Bowlby drew together all the available research on the psychological impact on children who were abandoned or orphaned during the war in Europe and who were living in institutions. He was also offered significant results of research conducted at that time in the United States of America on institutionalised children.

Dr Bowlby found a remarkable similarity in the research findings and was especially impressed by the fact that much of the research had been conducted independently and without an awareness of similar work being done elsewhere. After reviewing all this material, Dr Bowlby came to several profound conclusions. Firstly, he decided that it was no longer an open question whether maternal deprivation caused psychiatric disturbance or not. He now believed that it was

essential for mental health… that the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or mother-substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment. (Bowlby, J. 1964, p.77)

 

Secondly, he argued that

the prolonged deprivation of a young child of maternal care may have grave and far-reaching effects on his character and on the whole of his future life. It is a proposition exactly similar in form to those regarding the evil after-effects of German Measles before birth or deprivation of vitamin D in infancy. (Ibid. p.53)

 

Here, at last, was substantive and empirical confirmation of what some individuals working with anti-social children, such as Fr Flanagan, had long suspected but never been able to express with such authority. Furthermore, Dr Bowlby’s analogy between the emotional effects of maternal deprivation and the physical effects of German Measles gave the conclusions a respectability usually accorded to medical and scientific issues only. Bowlby went on to explain the ‘affectionless’ and delinquent character in some children in terms of three possible reasons:

(a) Lack of any opportunity for forming an attachment to a mother figure during the first three years.

(b) Deprivation for a limited period - at least three months and probably more than six during the first three or four years.

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(c) Changes form one mother figure to another during the same period. (Ibid. p.54)

 

During the writer’s subsequent experience as a child care worker it was standard practice for everyone concerned in the case to look to the early history of the child-in care for some evidence of maternal deprivation to explain bizarre or disturbing behaviour. (Today in the late 1990s, child sexual abuse is usually and unfortunately put forward as the sole explanation for such behaviour. While this may be true in many cases, this explanation has caused, in the writer’s opinion, the significant detrimental effects of maternal deprivation - which may also be underlying the subsequent abuse - to be somewhat eclipsed).

The effects of maternal deprivation on children who were separated from their mothers on going into hospital and/or to a residential nursery were vividly illustrated by the films made by James and Jane Robertson. The Robertsons personally showed and spoke about these films on the writer’s first training course and the films made a great impression on the entire class. The film “Young Children in Hospital” showed a two year old boy, called John, being taken to a residential nursery for 9 days while his mother has a second baby. Uprooted from home at night, the child awakens in the nursery and is alarmed and frightened by the absence of his mother. The nursery staff are shown to handle their discomfort with the pain of his protests by institutional defenses such as shift work, multiple care-taking and impersonal contact with the child. John gradually ceases to protest and then appears to give way to despair. This leads on to a position of detachment from the environment and when the mother arrives she is met by a cold, rejecting and potentially very angry son. As well as for an entire generation of people concerned with child care, here was convincing evidence for the writer that a child’s anti-social behaviour, such as anger, violence and isolation, could have had its roots in separation and deprivation at an early age. Just as significantly, the Robertson films also clearly demonstrated that a child’s apparent irrational and anti-social behaviour could be explained and understood in psychological terms. Whereas Dickens and others, through popular literature, had given children an emotional dimension, Robertson’s films, through an equally accessible medium, supplied vivid support for Freud’s thesis that children, even at a very early age, also had a psychological dimension. The writer understands that these films still continue to be shown in training situations in order to encourage students to develop insight into and empathy for the psychological world of the child. The films illustrate how care staff, in stressful situations (such as having to cope with John’s distress) tend to defend themselves against the attendant anxieties by using institutional routines and impersonal procedures. This issue will be referred to later in the study. (Robertson, J&J. 1958, Tavistock Child Development Unit).

Bowlby was especially concerned with trying to prevent the circumstances in which maternal deprivation could take place. He was not hopeful about the success of working therapeutically with severely deprived children, especially those he described as “frozen and affectionless”. However, he did concede that “others are more hopeful and believe that if the child is permitted to go back to completely babyish behaviour there is a chance of him developing afresh along better lines”. (Bowlby, J. 1964, p.57) He cited the work being done at the Children’s Village at Skä, near Stockholm,

where the children are encouraged to become highly dependent on their house-mother and are permitted to go back to such infantile behaviour as taking their food from a baby’s feeding bottle. (Ibid. p.58)

 

D.W. Winnicott’s contribution to child care theory, the next significant influence on the writer’s thinking to be discussed, was his focus on the way the detrimental effects of maternal deprivation could be redressed, especially by ordinary child care workers working with deprived children in residential care. His work profoundly influenced the practice of many child care workers and encouraged them to allow children to regress to a dependent stage. However, his preference was for treatment to take place at a symbolic, rather than physical level. This treatment aspect will be explained later when discussing Dockar-Drysdale and Balbernie. Winnicott, who died in 1971, was an English physician and paediatrician who later undertook psycho-analytic training and became world-famous as a child psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, teacher and consultant. Besides writing classic works on child psychoanalytic treatment (detailed in the Bibliography) Winnicott also broadcasted a series of talks on B.B.C. radio for parents of young children on which his most popular work The Child, the Family and the Outside World (1964) was based.

Winnicott addressed parents in a simple, kindly and respectful way which apparently modelled his own approach to young children. He re-assured parents that their babies had the inherent capacities to thrive and become “going concerns” much as daffodils bulbs were genetically designed to become beautiful flowers - all that was needed for both babies and bulbs was a ‘good enough’ facilitating environment. As the daffodil needed just enough light and water to thrive, the baby required only

a good start, and this good start is assured in nature by the existence of the bond between the baby’s mother and the baby, the thing called love. So if you love your baby he or she is getting a good start. (Winnicott, D.W. 1964, p.17)

 

During the Second World War (1939-45) Winnicott was responsible for supervising emotionally disturbed children who needed to be evacuated and billeted with foster parents. During this time he also supervised the work of Barbara Dockar-Drysdale who established in her home a play-group for children who were emotionally disturbed by the enforced absence of their parents on wartime service. This project later developed into the Mulberry Bush School (so-called because of the tree of the same name which dominated the front garden), a therapeutic community and treatment centre for very disturbed children. Mrs Dockar-Drysdale also lectured on the writer’s first training course. During subsequent training, the writer spent some time on placement at the Mulberry Bush School and at the Cotswold Community, a progressive therapeutic community then under the leadership of Richard Balbernie. Discussion on Dockar-Drysdale and Balbernie will be left till later.

During this same first training experience, the writer undertook a training placement at the Caldecott Community which was still being led by the child care pioneer, Leila Rendel, assisted by Ethel Davies. The Caldecott Community had started in 1910 in St Pancras, London, as a Day Nursery for the children of poor working women. Leila Rendel and her partner at that time, Phyllis Potter, came from radical but well-off and well-connected families whose generosity helped to finance the venture and its various incarnations which ensued. In 1917, Caldecott became the world’s first co-educational boarding school for working-class children on its move to Kent and in 1947 pioneered the United Kingdom’s first children’s regional Observation and Assessment Centre. Although Leila Rendel was a co-founder alongside Kurt Hahn of Gordonstown public school in Scotland, it was still a shock for the writer in 1966 to find cold showers and early morning runs so much part of the regime in a therapeutic community for socially and emotionally deprived children. The community was by then long established in lovely Kentish countryside in a beautiful Adam mansion. Leila Rendel believed that “order and beauty” were the antidotes to unhappiness in children. “The actual physical environment was considered to be of great importance and country living and cultured surroundings were important”. (Bridgeland, M. 1971, p.87). Although never aspiring to such gracious surroundings, (nor to the middle-class ethos which permeated the community at this time) the writer internalised from this experience a strong sense of the importance of the environment for any therapeutic setting to be as comfortable and as attractive as is possible. Leila Rendel’s achievement has been described as

a synthesis which in other spheres has baffled generations of statesmen: the integration of freedom and order. The visitor is conscious that its denizens are free. They talk freely, they play freely, the laugh freely. At the same time one is conscious that order prevails there - a kind of unforced underlying discipline. (Rodway, S. 1970 p.6)