The concept of “children’s rights” is something that some people find difficult, and many people fail to understand. It is easily trivialised, and yet it addresses issues central to the safety, well-being and development of our youngest citizens, and indeed our society as a whole. Children’s rights and interests are often forgotten and the very rationale for the Convention on the Rights of the Child was that children require special protection: while children possess human rights just as any other human being does, they require additional measures to guarantee enjoyment of those rights. As the preamble to the Convention states, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection”.
This statement has been endorsed by almost every nation in the world – the Convention remains the most widely ratified human rights treaty. Whereas adults have comparatively ready access to legal redress, complaints mechanisms or other procedures or forums in which to air their grievances should their rights be infringed, such procedures often explicitly exclude children, or at least are rendered inaccessible or inappropriate. The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the fundamental human rights that all children around the world, without discrimination, are entitled to. It sets out minimum benchmarks in rights for children rather than ‘best practice’; countries are thus encouraged to exceed the standards laid out in the Convention, but should not fall short of its basic requirements.
The CRC was passed by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and ratified by the UK in 1991. In addition, the UK ratified the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2003, and has signed, but not yet ratified, the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Ratification commits the UK to bringing its law, policy and practice into line with the Convention. Whilst not directly enforceable in UK courts in the way that the European Convention on Human Rights now is, it should be noted that the European Court of Human Rights increasingly makes reference to the CRC in its judgments as a common standard amongst member states and section 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 obliges UK courts to take account of European jurisprudence in making their own decisions. Furthermore, domestic courts in the UK are also beginning to make reference to the CRC in its own right in their judgments.
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) is a Council of Europe instrument setting out civil and political rights and freedoms. Ratified by the UK in 1951, the ECHR was only incorporated into domestic law in the UK via the Human Rights Act 1998. While children’s rights are not explicitly referred to in the ECHR, the rights that are set out apply just as much to children as to adults. As a result, public authorities in the UK must comply with the ECHR when acting in respect to children.
Setting a context: An overview of the development of “therapeutic” group care for young people, drawn from a review of related literature and legislation. Most children are nurtured and reared in the social grouping which is the norm for their cultural setting. History also tells us humankind has cared for many other children who, at some time in their childhood find themselves excluded from their social and cultural norms. For these children the wider community has in some manner tended to their physical and emotional needs, and absorbed their often troubled and troubling natures. To this extent humankind has always attempted to create a “holding” environment for children in difficulty. This capacity to hold and contain troubled or troubling children with the intention of making them feel better, or to “cure” their problems, may in retrospect now be considered, disregarding what was the prevailing zeitgeist, “therapeutic” in nature and so fall into the ambit of what was later to become psychoanalytic theory. The other extreme of the “containing” spectrum – the incarceration of young people as a means of meeting the perceived needs of the wider community – is also encompassed by psychoanalytic theory, particularly where it relates to projection and splitting.
Though this kind of care consciously given – that is physical and emotional containment which provides no opportunity for personal growth – would currently be frowned upon by most of those charged with providing residential care for children and young people, it is important to acknowledge that as an unconscious process it is alive in even the most sensitive of group living settings. These positions do represent two extreme bands of a spectrum, and a brief sojourn through the history of residential group care for children is illustrative of the variously shaded forms such care has taken and demonstrates a complexity of reasons for providing it. Children who have not been able to live with their nuclear family have been cared for in their extended natural families, in foster families, in boarding schools, in apprentices’ houses, and in large residential asylums for people of all ages, such as the workhouses. They have been provided for in juvenile penal institutions and in mental health institutions, as well as in children’s homes.
At various times the reasons for providing a containing environment have included the need to respond to poverty, and neglect, the need to correct delinquent behaviour through education and training, the need to punish criminal behaviour, the need to contain or cure mental illness, the need to shield from the delicate and denying eye of the general public the often unpleasant observable symptoms of all these states of being, and, sometimes it has been provided in order to offer nurturing and healing care for children made unhappy by loss, separation, and, abuse in all its forms. (Sharpe 1985) In a large measure caring responses to the social, behavioural and emotional problems of unfortunate children have been based on understanding children’s behaviour as a conscious reaction to their environment, and so provision has been until relatively recently, rationalised in a way which would place it within the methodological territory of what are now considered behaviourist, cognitive and social learning approaches. It follows, given its place in chronology of the art and science of human behaviour, that psychodynamic theory and practice with their focus on the unconscious processes, did not play a substantial role in the field of residential group care for children until the 1950s.
There were of course some notable exceptions: Homer Lane at the Little Commonwealth during and after the First World War who based his work on Freudian principles; (Bazeley 1948) in Europe Aichorn (Aichorn 1951): the teaching of A.S. Neill, at Summerhill School from the 1930s, who used Freud and Reich as theoretical bases for the education of young people.(Neill 1962) During the 1950s in the United States of America the work of Fritz Redl at the Pioneer Project, Detroit, using “the life space interview”, and Bruno Bettelheim at the Orthogenic School creating a therapeutic milieu, Chicago, based their work on Freudian and neo-Freudian theory; (Redl 1966: Betttelheim 1974) while at the same time in England, David Wills’ Hawkspur Experiment, and Fred Lennhoff’s school for “exceptional children” at Shotton Hall also espoused Freudian principles. (Wills 1960; Lenhoff 1960) At the Mulberry Bush School and subsequently at the Caldecott Community and the Cotswold Community Barbara Dockar Drysdale began to develop her own theoretical position which was greatly influenced by D.W.Winnicott. (Dockar Drysdale 1990)
In the United Kingdom a powerful, legislative impetus was given to the provision of therapeutic child care by the implementation of the 1969 Children Act, following the abolishment of the Approved School Order. On their closure, Approved Schools, institutions which had been juvenile penal establishments approved by the Home Office became designated, virtually overnight, Community Homes with Education under the auspices of the new local authority social services departments. This legislation was borne out of an era now often criticised as having been to excess, politically, educationally and socially permissive. (Sharpe 1986) It was a time for instance when in the field of therapeutic care for adults with mental health problems, inclusive and more democratic methods of patient care as promulgated by R.D. Laing became influential. (Laing 1961) In the field of child care, the new children’s community homes were to be places where the care and nurturing were based on the building up of trusting relationships between the young people and staff, and places where within safe socially determined boundaries the young people would have choice and freedom to express themselves.
It was not surprising therefore that new personnel with a background in therapy based on psychodynamic theory were attracted to leading these new residential child care establishments. (Milham et al 1975) A substantial number of people with therapeutic leanings were appointed to set up the new homes. However, the majority of the staff in these new homes were those who had worked in the establishments when they were Approved Schools. Their working ethos and such training as they had received reflected this. This staffing combination was destructive. Richard Balbirnie and Melvyn Rose who were eventually successful in establishing therapeutic children’s homes in what had been approved schools offer intense descriptions of the prolonged and often dramatic struggle they faced to achieve their goal. (Balbirnie 1971; Rose 1990) The vast majority of the new managers of these establishments did not prevail and by the mid 1980s most of these community homes had been closed down.
Fuelled by media campaigns, the wider community projected the blame for failure in the residential child care sector on to the therapeutic movement. Therapeutic care was perceived as unclear and permissive in its approach, while disregarded was the probability that the lack of clarity was a consequence of creating establishments where different professional philosophies struggled in an inevitably destructive war of attrition, and where the young people were caught in the middle, confused and frightened in the cross fire. (Milham et al 1975) By the late 1970s, as one of a number of consequences of the closures which followed the criticisms, a process began – a process not identified until the mid- 1980s – of children”drifting” without direction while in the public care, as the purpose of children’s placements in residential care became lost in the sense that their “care careers” became rudderless, as they were moved from a children’s home which had been closed down to another which was soon to be closed down! (Milham et al 1986) Equally significantly, by being placed in large isolated institutions which received little supervision from their managing organizations, and in which staff groups were intent on internecine battles, the children lost touch with their parents, their extended family and their community, and so became estranged from their cultural identity.
The geographic isolation of these establishments, the informal power structures within the staff groups, together with infrequent external management, and its concomitant lack of accountability, too often fomented an environment where institutionalized emotional, physical and sexual abuse of the young people could take place without check. These child abuse scandals, suspicions of which were already influencing child care policy in the 1980s, were not openly confronted until the 1990s (DoH/Utting 1991: DoH/ Warner 1992). The issues concerning the isolation of these establishments, and the depersonalizing effects of their size, as well as the tendency of the young people to drift in care with no overall plan for their future began to be addressed in the mid 1980s, when there was a movement in public policy which aimed to reduce further the numbers of children placed in residential care, and sought to make children’s homes smaller and less forbidding while situating them in the locality of the children’s community.
As a consequence of this, most children’s homes now have fewer than ten residents and are situated within an hour’s journey from the children’s natural family home. (Berridge and Brodie 1997) At the same time the results of a series of research projects led to further refined policy on decision making and child care planning and to the 1989 Children Act, in an attempt to prevent ‘drifting’ in child care. (DHSS 1986) Rehearsing these developments in residential child care since the Children Act 1969, demonstrates the ambivalence towards therapeutic child care of those charged with determining the form residential child care should take in the 21st century. Simultaneously there is an attraction to the uniformity and consciousness of the more specifically expressed and rigid treatment and outcome programmes of the behaviourist and social learning schools of thought, and an espousing, with an almost religious fervour, of the legislative texts which emphasize the need to recognize and value the uniqueness of each individual child in the public care. (DoH 1991)
These texts continued to emphasise the need for residential child care workers to base their work on building a healthy trusting relationship with the young people. Indeed this relationship came to be termed a “therapeutic alliance”. (Kahan 1994, p211) A question which recurs in any examination of the work of children’s homes is, why is there a resistance to a psychoanalytic approach in the work of children’s homes when the basic tenets of psychoanalytic practice are so sympathetic to what is legislatively expected? Reflecting on this dichotomy, Roger Bullock and his colleagues, reviewing recent research, pointed out what on the face of it had been obvious since the closure of the Approved Schools: the trouble with children’s homes was not whether they were run on psychodynamic lines, or indeed run using cognitive or behaviourist methods, but that most had no clear working ethos at all.
They offered a mélange of approaches determined by the makeup of largely untrained staff groups, recruited to poorly remunerated posts which were generally conceded to be wearing and stressful. (Bullock et al 1993) The prevailing ethos of a home did not reflect any philosophical or psychological stance of the managing organization, but was represented by the views and practice of those subgroups of the staff, informal as well as formal, which at any one time held power within the home. .
In an attempt to confront this problem, the regulations related to the Children Act 1989 required all children’s homes to have a statement of purpose, what Bullock defined as a guiding philosophy which though not rigidly exclusive, would be sufficiently coherent to shape staff perspectives on the children’s problems, and enable them to relate to the causes of the children’s problems and to justify their approach to practice. (Bullock et al 1993) This development influenced professional and public expectations of the role of a children’s home. Barbara Kahan, summarising the work of a child care task group meeting in 1993 which included senior practitioners, social work academics, and policy officers from local authorities and ministerial departments, mandated by the government to point towards a positive way ahead for residential child care, proposed that each child in a children’s home must be helped to sustain their development as far as it was possible, without a level of emotional stress which would disable them, impinge unreasonably on the others who lived with them, and that the level of development which could be achieved and the emotional damage which could be undone would be uniquely different for each child. (Kahan 1994)
These aspirations, couched in terms which may seem sympathetic to a psychodynamic approach, also raise the issue of the tension between group needs and individual needs which is a constant concern for those working in children’s homes. When specifically considering psychotherapeutically based residential child care, Kahan defines it as the provision of “integrated, residential and educational environments….” where, “……psychotherapeutic treatment for exceptionally emotionally damaged children” is given. She continues by suggesting that such homes are seldom of the same model, but they aim to have to some extent, a physical environment which emphasizes care and self-worth; an environment which is actively maintained to a level where children are enabled to make good use of the experience of life in a group setting. She maintains that in a therapeutic children’s home both staff and children should share the experience of living in the environment in order to forge a “therapeutic alliance” which would assist the children to achieve the changes needed to help them overcome their problems. In a setting of this kind, staff share and identify with the ethos of the home.
Kahan had the expectation that these homes would have high levels of staff support including supervision and external consultancy, focused on the particular therapeutic theoretical stance of the home. Here Kahan and her colleagues are considering those Community Homes, which base their work on psychodynamic theory, like the Cotswold Community and Caldecott Community, which survived the aftermath of the closure of the Approved Schools. (Kahan 1994 p218) Beedell in his study of nine of children’s homes which specifically pursued an approach to the problems of the children in their care informed by a psychodynamic understanding of the individual, found them to share a number of common principles and features. Principal amongst these, according to Beedell, is that the homes all purport to be therapeutic communities in the classic mould, where the young people and staff live and work together in what is often called a “total environment”. (Beedell 1993) The theories which underpin the work of these homes are a matter for discussion throughout this study, because their guiding theoretical stances can be usefully transferred in a consideration of the dynamics of all children’s homes.
Nonetheless these establishments represent a very small minority of children’s homes in the United Kingdom. They are not representative of the vast majority of children’s homes in the United Kingdom and neither are they representative of the many children’s homes situated in urban communities, which to some extent make use of psychodynamic principles in order to understand and to meet the needs of emotionally upset children, while claiming to maintain the children’s right to remain members of the wider community in which the home is situated. More recently Chris Hume and his colleagues, when considering a broad range of children’s homes have expanded on Kahan’s and Beedell’s analysis of what is required to enhance the positive potential of therapeutic work in a children’s home, by suggesting that not only staff leaders but all the workers should have a strong grasp of psychodynamic theory. Such an understanding, they claim, can be used to enable workers to provide containment and reassurance, to set appropriately safe boundaries, to find ways of meeting the child’s primary needs, and to facilitate a child’s emotional development, while retaining empathy and understanding in the face of attack, manipulation, seduction and other alienating and hostile behaviours.
By emphasising the possibilities of psychodynamic theory in underpinning the work of children’s homes, Hume et al propose a widening of the expectations of the role which therapeutic group child care might play. They argue that psychodynamic theory rooted as it is in child development, and specifically emotional development, offers an opportunity for the better understanding of families and their functioning, by providing a greater awareness of unconscious forces in children, parents, staff and institutions. (Hume et al 2000) This suggests there is potential for residential child care workers to extend their practice into family work, a field in which therapeutic group child care, in its “total environment” form, has in recent times been negatively viewed, in that it is seen as tending to deal with the child’s problems in isolation from his family. (Little 1995) If as Hume et al suggest, residential child care staff professing a psychodynamic approach can only be effective when they have a thorough grasp of relevant theory, then this has implications for the training of workers.
Yet the training of staff, and the defences and resistance of managing organizations remain a major obstruction to purposeful therapeutic work with children and young people. A search by the author found that only two teaching institutions in the United Kingdom provide residential child care training based on psychodynamic theory. (Sharpe 2001) The current government has based its training strategy ( whether this strategy has a philosophical ethos is probably worthy of discussion, but is not a concern for this study ), on the NVQ competency system which focuses on practical skills and does not deal with relationships and unconscious processes which lie behind them. (DoH2001) In setting a contemporary context for therapeutic child care it is surprisingly difficult to find specific parameters which might help identify those young people who are in need of it.
Adverse research, which emphasised how leading a life where the resident, slept, ate, worked, and was educated in one place only led to depersonalisation and stifled the development of the individual, (Goffman 1961) and the subsequent shift towards placing children who are not able to live with their own families into substitute families, has rightly reduced the number of children placed in children’s homes. In a positive sense this has meant that those children who are placed in children’s homes are those who are unable, unwilling, or not ready to make themselves available for substitute family care, or are those whose placement in substitute families have repeatedly failed. Dockar Drysdale has developed theoretical positions which offer an explanation of the problems experienced by those young people who may need care in a therapeutic residential setting based around her concept of the “frozen child”. Such a child has suffered an interruption of primary experience at the point where the child and his mother would have commenced the separating out process, rather than in the case with the frozen child, a breaking off. The frozen child survives by “perpetuating a pseudo symbiotic state”.
He has no boundaries to personality, and, merged with his environment, he is unable to make real object relationships or feel the need for them (Dockar Drysdale 1973 pp 60-61) Beedell, in his study of the nine therapeutic children’s homes makes observations on some common characteristics and experiences of children who are assessed as in need of therapeutic group care. He found they have an accumulation of adverse childhood experience which is demonstrated by emotional pain, bewilderment and lack of trust and hope. He suggests they also carry an emotional load which may only dealt with by adults ready, trained and committed to share the burden and to survive it with realism and determination.(Beedell 1993) Recent evidence from social research suggests that the reasons for the placement of young people in any children’s home tends to be based on the particular bias of the placing social worker, the immediacy of the availability of a residential place and the financial considerations of the placing local authority, as much as it is on the assessment of the young person’s individual needs or on an evaluation of the commitment, training and skills of the residential workers in particular children’s homes.(Bullock 2000)
This brief survey of the history of residential child care and some of the issues which currently concern it is an epitome of a service which, because it is charged with caring for those who are split off from the wider community, is projected as being in crisis by the same community. In denying its own guilt, and to justify its own failures it seems the wider community struggles to allow those who seek to help children excluded from the mainstream of life to succeed. This is not an inverted attempt to idealise residential child care. It is a service which has areas of shameful history, and it is a service which despite its altruism is not as focused or as informed as it should be. Examining how psychoanalytic theory may explain these phenomena, and at the same time as considering how residential child care practice might be informed and developed by psychoanalytic theory would be an unwieldy, if not impossible task. To bring this study within manageable bounds three issues of concern to residential child care have been isolated.
Firstly group living is discussed because every children’s home whatever its ethos must to some extent or another use a group as the arena for its work with its residents. The provision and utilisation of the group setting must be fundamental to the caring process. Secondly the predicament of the individual in the group setting will be examined because an abiding issue for young people and residential staff alike is the tension between the needs of the group and the needs of each unique individual within the group. Finally although the young people in children’s home are exceptional because of where they live and because of their unhappy childhood experience, less exceptionally they are living through the period of adolescence with all its universal elements.
Given the nature of the problems experienced by the young people for whom they care, it may be understandable for inexperienced or untrained residential child care staff to mistakenly identify the behaviour of an agitated group of youngsters, not as displaying the normal anxieties of teenagers but rather as being the menacing and merged representations of a group of deeply troubled youngsters. The impact of adolescence on the lives of young people and staff in children’s homes, will be critically examined in the light of related psychoanalytic theory, with the object of considering the potential of the adolescent experience being used as a therapeutic tool.
3.1, 3.2 There appears to have been a shift in recent years from the opinion that a young person in care should be placed in a family setting rather than in a residential setting, this maybe have been influenced by Haydn Davies Jones, he suggests that the subsequent numbers of children who have suffered multiple failures when placed in one substitute family after another indicates that the swing towards family placement has at times been indiscriminate. To counter this, he attempts to identify those children for whom group living may offer a helpful alternative nurturing environment. There are children he argues who, experiencing family breakdown in adolescence, are developmentally unable to take on a new family and find residential care with its opportunities for peer relationships, more congenial to their current needs. There are also those children who continually fail to respond to both family and substitute family care. They are the children who are the casualties of repeated family and foster family failure, and for whom the family has ceased to be the appropriate background for nurture.
For Davies Jones these are children who are unable to respond to the intensity of relationships in families. In this latter group he includes those children, the victims of systematic physical, emotional and sexual abuse within a family setting, for whom family life has become too threatening, and indeed those children, who, notwithstanding the abuse they have experienced, retain emotional loyalties to the families from which they must nevertheless be protected. Davies Jones proposes that residential group care can provide these children with a nurturing experience which offers consistent primary caring, and what he calls the “exploiting” of the group living experience for positive therapeutic purposes. (Davies Jones 1981 p228). Young people in children’s homes are for the most part victims of a failure of this primary caring and socialisation process and life in a children’s home attempts to rekindle the process by providing a special primary carer. (H. Davies Jones 1981)
Many kinds of group experiences take place in a children’s home. In some children’s homes therapeutic treatment groups, facilitated and led by specifically qualified therapists, are set up to achieve specific therapeutic goals, but in the ebb and flow of life in a children’s home there are always other groups forming, operating and breaking up. These are not specifically therapeutic groups, and though they can be formal as well as informal in nature, they are widely acknowledged as having therapeutic possibilities. (Aveline and Dryden 1988) These groupings represent the greater part of group life in a children’s home, and in a large measure define the context of all the group work in the vast majority of children’s homes. Since most of those who work in children’s home are not formally qualified to facilitate “group therapy” or indeed individual therapy, these non-specific therapeutic groups are a principal focus of this study. In addition to staff meetings, most children’s homes have regular formal meetings in which both children and staff participate.
These have the function of organising living arrangements and responsibilities, reviewing recent events, sharing information and dealing with consequences of failed expectations and boundary breaking. In short, these meetings serve the purpose of achieving the institutional aims. There are also other formal meetings such as eating together at meal times, and, as in some children’s homes, attending class in the school room. There are groups formed in which only a small number of children and staff participate which may also involve others from outside the children’s home such as parents and social workers. Less formal sub- groups are continually assembling, dispersing and re-establishing for impromptu activity such as discussion or recreation. It is this complex of groups which meets the child who enters a children’s home. Rose offers the reminder that the basic anxiety each child resident in a children’s home carries with him is triggered by the normal process that exists within any group. People leave, people arrive, and for all groups new problems are continuously being thrown up. (Rose 1990) However Dockar Drysdale suggests that children placed in children’s homes have not developed the repertoire of psychic responses that normal life experiences require.
For them new arrivals are experienced as though they are actually displacing siblings, while familiar residents and staff leaving throw them back into their past traumas of loss and rejection. Consequently their reactions to these processes can be extreme. (Dockar Drysdale 1961) Nevertheless, as Rose points out, the milieu of a children’s homes is created in order to allow this to occur. (Rose 1990) If one of the primary tasks of staff in a children’s home is to sustain the meaning and purpose of what seems such a potentially volatile group, can psychodynamic theory offer insight into how this might be achieved? Freud, who did not differentiate between individual and group psychology, held that being a member of a group is a consequence of the group we are born into, or, have an attraction to, or an unconscious desire to be like the leader of the group. (Freud 1921) Fairbairn, in considering the development of social groups, suggests that such groups are sustained by libido and that the cohesion of a group is dependent on the extent to which libido is bound within the group, and the extent to which the group can exclude aggression from relationships within the group.
For Fairbairn the roots of the social disintegration of a group lie in aggression. (Fairbairn 1935) Children resident in a children’s home are not living in their natural family setting and are rarely placed there because they are attracted by, or identify with the notion of living there. They are placed in a group care setting because their parenting figures have failed them, and consequently other adults have decided that they will stay there. These are pained, anxious, fearful, and at times, angry children. As Fairbairn suggests, these are elements which may not be conducive to a cohesive group and yet, as has been indicated, a primary function of a children’s home is to use the group setting to facilitate a child’s development from a state of emotionally painful anomie towards a position of identification with the home and the parenting it provides. However, as Rose contends, while these overtly threatening elements can create a chaotic regressed infantile group, such a group is regarded as normal in a children’s home.
Coping with this abnormal “normality” is the very essence of the therapeutic group task. Nevertheless, he suggests, even by those standards life becomes intolerably difficult, and that necessary solutions have to be developed, by clarifying so far unexpressed relationships, and attempting to begin to resolve the problems which arise from them. (Rose 1990) Of course developing solutions in such an apparently chaotic environment is a problem for incoming staff, while a problem for established staff is to communicate a sense of purpose to new children as well as new staff. A great deal has been written about the efforts of those charged with developing a therapeutic group care setting to create an internal culture which facilitates personal growth and change among the members of such a group. (Balbirnie 1966; Bettelheim 1974) For the inexperienced residential child care worker, this helpfully speaks in practical language grounded in psychotherapeutic theory.
Yet however well prepared a newcomer to residential group work with children may be at a conscious and rational level, the actual experience of the variance between the culture of the therapeutic group care setting and that of the wider community, is less easy to prepare for and to contain emotionally. Rose points out that a group of human beings rarely, and then only fleetingly, achieves perfection. The community of staff and residents in a children’s home is also subject to the rivalries which split families. He argues that the survival of a children’s home depends, just as the survival of a family would, on how it manages itself in the wider social context; how it responds to departures, separations, failures, betrayals, and human inadequacy. (Rose 1990) It is not therefore surprising that for staff in children’s homes, the acting out behaviour which these issues engender in the resident group seems to expend an inordinate amount of time and emotional energy. It can feel as if the children’s demands are endless and progress can seem non-existent. It may appear to be a child’s fervent wish to frustrate those who are most committed to their care, and to hurt those who persist in sustaining a caring relationship with them.
In this state of conflict staff may experience what Shohet, in expanding upon the Kleinian concept, describes as “group projective identification” which may lead to “scapegoating”. In attempting to discard its frightening bad or unacceptable parts the staff group puts them into someone else. (Shohet 1999) Inevitably the question arises, “Can we sacrifice the needs of all the other children for the sake of one?” Clearly a negative response represents a failure of the holding environment. If, as related literature suggests, the challenge for those striving to create and provide all that the children’s home should offer, is to create for children who have been emotionally deprived, a group living culture which they experience as emotionally dynamic and in which individual growth is encouraged to the extent that when on leaving the children’s home a young person is substantially able to cope with the vicissitudes of family or adult life, how will those entrusted to carry out the group care task be prepared and sustained in carrying it out?
As noted, Freud claimed that people are drawn into, and remain in groups because of emotional ties between members and that one of the principal processes effecting such an attraction is identification – the process by which a person seeks to be like his parents. Freud suggested that an individual introjects a preferred person or the qualities they like in that person, while at the same time projecting some of the bad or painful qualities of themselves on to others. Accordingly when each member of a group internalises the same qualities as the leader, they can identify with each other. (Freud 1921) Menzies Lyth, discussing the development of the self in children residing in institutions, suggests that it is through introjective identification that the development of the self takes place. In language which has a faint resonance of Social Learning Theory she contends that healthy development depends on the availability of appropriate models of individuals, relationships and situations for such identifications.
While acknowledging that these models may be available to the children in the adults who care for them, importantly she stresses that the individual adult’s relationship with the children, together with the adults’ relationships with each other and the ambiance of the setting for care, are all also models for introjective identification. She recognizes too that a child’s healthy development may require the management of the child’s identification with inappropriate models, for example other children within the institution. She argues that children in the group living setting of an institution are likely to find the most significant models for identification within the institution as a whole, and in its sub-systems and in the individual children and staff. Like Bettelheim (1974), she sees this process as the basis of the concept of the institution as a therapeutic milieu whose primary task may be described as providing conditions for healthy development and providing therapy for emotionally damaged children.
It follows then that all the child’s experiences in the institution contribute positively or negatively to the child’s development, not only through education, individual or group therapy or child care, but also by the more general features of the institution. Such an aggregate she argues, points to a need to take a wide view of an institution in assessing its effectiveness in carrying out its primary task. This assessment would include the whole way the institution functioned, its management structure, including its division into sub-systems and how these related to each other, the nature of authority and how that is operated, the social defence system built into the institution, and its culture and traditions. These then have to be considered in the context of how far they facilitate the provision of healthy models for identification, or alternatively inhibit the provision of such models.
Although it is possible to regard the whole institution as the model, Menzies Lyth suggests that for the child the impact of the institution is in large measure mediated through its staff who are the individual models for identification. While individual staff have their own personalities with their differing strengths and weaknesses within the institution, she maintains that the extent to which individual staff are able to deploy their personalities, their different qualities, their strengths and weaknesses within the group care setting will depend on characteristics inherent in the institution. She maintains that due attention should therefore be given to the maximizing of the opportunities available for staff to deploy their capacities, and for it to be seen that children respond to them. ( Menzies Lyth 1985)
4.1 Haydn Davies Jones suggests that the subsequent numbers of children who have suffered multiple failures when placed in one substitute family after another indicates that the swing towards family placement has at times been indiscriminate. To counter this, he attempts to identify those children for whom group living may offer a helpful alternative nurturing environment. There are children he argues who, experiencing family breakdown in adolescence, are developmentally unable to take on a new family and find residential care with its opportunities for peer relationships, more congenial to their current needs. There are also those children who continually fail to respond to both family and substitute family care. They are the children who are the casualties of repeated family and foster family failure, and for whom the family has ceased to be the appropriate background for nurture.
For Davies Jones these are children who are unable to respond to the intensity of relationships in families. In this latter group he includes those children, the victims of systematic physical, emotional and sexual abuse within a family setting, for whom family life has become too threatening, and indeed those children, who, notwithstanding the abuse they have experienced, retain emotional loyalties to the families from which they must nevertheless be protected. Davies Jones proposes that residential group care can provide these children with a nurturing experience which offers consistent primary caring, and what he calls the “exploiting” of the group living experience for positive therapeutic purposes. (Davies Jones 1981 p228) Young people in children’s homes are for the most part victims of a failure of this primary caring and socialisation process and life in a children’s home attempts to rekindle the process by providing a special primary carer. (H. Davies Jones 1981) Many kinds of group experiences take place in a children’s home.
In some children’s homes therapeutic treatment groups, facilitated and led by specifically qualified therapists, are set up to achieve specific therapeutic goals, but in the ebb and flow of life in a children’s home there are always other groups forming, operating and breaking up. These are not specifically therapeutic groups, and though they can be formal as well as informal in nature, they are widely acknowledged as having therapeutic possibilities. (Aveline and Dryden 1988) These groupings represent the greater part of group life in a children’s home, and in a large measure define the context of all the group work in the vast majority of children’s homes. Since most of those who work in children’s home are not formally qualified to facilitate “group therapy” or indeed individual therapy, these non-specific therapeutic groups are a principal focus of this study.
In addition to staff meetings, most children’s homes have regular formal meetings in which both children and staff participate. These have the function of organising living arrangements and responsibilities, reviewing recent events, sharing information and dealing with consequences of failed expectations and boundary breaking. In short, these meetings serve the purpose of achieving the institutional aims. There are also other formal meetings such as eating together at meal times, and, as in some children’s homes, attending class in the school room. There are groups formed in which only a small number of children and staff participate which may also involve others from outside the children’s home such as parents and social workers. Less formal sub- groups are continually assembling, dispersing and re-establishing for impromptu activity such as discussion or recreation.
4.2 It is this complex of groups which meets the child who enters a children’s home. Rose offers the reminder that the basic anxiety each child resident in a children’s home carries with him is triggered by the normal process that exists within any group. People leave, people arrive, and for all groups new problems are continuously being thrown up. (Rose 1990) However Dockar Drysdale suggests that children placed in children’s homes have not developed the repertoire of psychic responses that normal life experiences require. For them new arrivals are experienced as though they are actually displacing siblings, while familiar residents and staff leaving throw them back into their past traumas of loss and rejection. Consequently their reactions to these processes can be extreme. (Dockar Drysdale 1961) Nevertheless, as Rose points out, the milieu of a children’s homes is created in order to allow this to occur. (Rose 1990) Staff working patterns can have a negative impact on the residents within the home and they can struggle with the separation, as they have previously experienced loss and the coming and going of staff due to their rota can highlight this loss.
4.3 To prevent this feeling of separation and loss occurring on a daily basis it would be beneficial that the team of staff working with the young people remain the same throughout the whole day, it is also beneficial for them to know who is sleeping in so that they are aware of who will be there when they wake up, this is normally two of the members of staff who where there when they settled to bed. This can mean extremely long shifts for the staff, however consistency and wellbeing for the young people is paramount. This furthermore prevents disruption at the part of the day when it is vital that they feel safe, bedtime for many may have previously been a frightening time where they may have suffered abuse, so knowing who is around and feeling safe is vital.
4.4 We have found it necessary to make changes to the way we recruit staff as we found that when staff were recruited straight from interview that they often came into the role with false expectations and did not last very long. Part of our recruitment process now involves them visiting the home for an observation visit for two hours and if all are happy they undertake a trial shift, during these visits feedback is gained from staff and our young people to determine if they are suitable for the position they have applied for. We have found that this gives them an insight into the day to day running of the home. All staff joining the organisation undertake extensive training. This begins with our in house induction followed by the CWDC which they have six months to complete; this gives them an in depth understanding of the care standards. Alongside the mandatory training they all undertake MARS (medication) training, sexual health, safeguarding, therapeutic approaches, autism, drug and alcohol awareness to name but a few. Once staff have completed their probation period they are enrolled onto the diploma 3 in health and social care.
4.5 It is vital that staff recognise the importance of maintaining a professional boundary when working with our young people as the child can very quickly develop an unhealthy attachment. We encourage staff to use what we call the “hula hop” approach which recommends that the child does not enter the inner circle allowing them to become to close as this can lead to infatuation and the child becoming over attached to the staff member. We have recently had a staff member return from a three week holiday and the young people have all been fighting for her individual attention, so it has been necessary to intervene and to remove her from the floor for periods throughout her shifts, this has not only supported her but also the team working with her as the young people were reluctant to let anyone else support them as they had become obsessed with the said staff member. This has also been address during the staffs weekly reflective space, where they meet with our in house psychologised.
4.6 Bion developed a construct of the group performing a holding or containing function by describing the relationship between the container, (the group) and its contents, (the group members). He isolates three kinds of relationships. Firstly he describes a situation akin to an institution where there is a rigidly held social order, where the group as the container crushes its contents. Secondly he describes another akin to a revolutionary situation where an idea or a person destroys the established social order, and finally he describes a relationship in which the container and contents manage to accommodate each other so both are able to develop and grow. (Bion 1970) Hinshelwood suggests that while the first two relationships represent non-therapeutic containing, the third represents flexible therapeutic containing, in the same way as a mother, though pained by her child’s acute distress, holds the child’s feelings until her understanding is projected into the child so that he may grow as she does in the process. (Hinshelwood 1987).
There are many theory’s around group dynamics and raising staff awareness, the one that I favour is; Menzies Lyth stresses that by entrusting responsibility to non-management staff, they are enabled to provide positive ego, superego and defensive models which are fundamentally important to emotionally disturbed children whose personality development is immature and damaged. The ego and superego strength of staff having been fostered by the delegation of management tasks allows them the opportunity to demonstrate it to the children effectively, who in turn, she argues, become more able to be involved in control over their own circumstances and are given less opportunity to consider themselves as helpless and victims of uncontrollable circumstances. Pertinently she suggests insecure staff will make insecure children feel even more insecure, more anxious, and inevitably, less predictable. In a regime which manages delegation of tasks efficiently, it is, she continues, possible to achieve consistency and to avoid presenting children with conflicting and confusing messages. (Menzies Lyth 1989).
Kleinian theoretical stances may help staff understand that the anxieties of individuals, both staff and children, are based in infancy. For some this may accentuate a need to help youngsters regress to those parts which have been blocked, while for others it may mean facilitating the need to work through a process to a developmental stage which in an Eriksonian sense has not yet been achieved. Equally Klein’s notion of projective identification may help the worker understand why she is feeling how she is about one child, and equally it may help her understand why a child behaves in a particular way towards her. 4.7 Although it is important to make staff feel empowered this can only be achieved when respect for the manager is maintained. To achieve this I work hard to allow the staff to a set rota and where possible give them every other weekend off so that they maintain a good work life balance, I have found that due to a good rota they are far more willing to help out when staff are sick or on holiday.
Each staff member has four weekly supervision, where they can discuss anything that is concerning them, I also have an open door policy which allows things to be discussed immediately rather than them having to wait several weeks. I have found that this has proved very beneficial as if you have a happy team then this reflects in the behaviour of the young people. I carry out a weekly and monthly audit this involves checking that our young people have received weekly keywork session’s, monitoring our, daily logs, safety checks, ect; anything that I find has not been completed I would then allocate to a named person. If I was to find that there was an ongoing issue this would them be discussed during our weekly team meeting.