Lost In Care

14 years working in residential children's homes. 5 years training foster carers and care staff. Trainee child therapist. 14 years in care as a child. Diary, anecdotes and rants about the good, bad and mediocre. Anonymised but all true.

So, what is resilience?

Do you think you are resilient? Able to bounce back quickly from life’s ups and downs? Tough maybe? Or with an inner strength? If so, were you born resilient? Did you get lucky in the gene pool lottery? Or, is it a conscious choice you are making? Do you overcome difficulties with the power of your mind? The fabled “willpower”? I bet it’s that one, a choice, if you’re honest, because being resilient is a good quality and, if it says something good about you, then you’re damn sure you’re going to take the fucking credit, right?

Some people aren’t resilient are they? They just take life’s knocks really hard, can’t seem to get over them or move on. Now, I guess if resilience is a sign of strength, then these people must be what? Weak presumably. And if you are resilient through choice, through effort, through willpower, then the non-resilients could try a bit harder? Stop wallowing? No, no, of course we don’t think that Jack, we are compassionate people, we understand it is not their fault, we’re not blaming them. We understand they need help, but resilience is a good thing, and they need more of it, we need to promote it and build it. We are definitely not saying it is their fault. Although, we have had bad experiences too and we’re okay…so…you know…

As babies, if we are lucky, we are protected from the vagaries of life as much as possible and will have a primary carer (usually, let’s be honest, our mother) who will respond quickly to our needs – for food, for comfort, for physical affection and so on. If something frightens us, a sudden noise say, she will calm and reassure us. Through this, we learn that life is basically okay and difficulties can quickly be overcome.

Over time, gradually, in manageable amounts, our needs will not be responded to quite so quickly all the time, life will become slightly less predictable, we will experience tolerable, proportionate stress. We’ll be in pretty good shape to cope with this because our experiences as a baby taught us that the world is basically okay, difficulties can be overcome and our needs will be met. This slow exposure to stress means we will eventually be able to handle even very difficult life events. Although, never entirely on our own, because humans are an interdependent species and we all need help from time-to-time.

However, if we are unlucky, we will not be protected as babies, our needs will not be met quickly enough, or maybe not at all. Perhaps because our mum is too worried about money or food and how we are going to survive. Perhaps she is depressed or has other mental health issues. Perhaps she is frightened all the time because of an abusive partner. Perhaps she has no one to help her. Whatever it is, she is simply unable to meet our needs. So, we will not develop a sense that life is basically okay and that difficulties can be overcome.

The likelihood too, is that we won’t gradually be exposed to manageable amounts of stress as we get older but more stress than anyone can reasonably be expected to cope with. If we are really unlucky, outright abuse and neglect. Very difficult life events, that others overcome, will not be isolated incidents but day-to-day reality. No one, in these circumstances, will be resilient. However much a well-meaning other tries to encourage it with put the past behind you, strength-based, solution-focused approaches.

All is not lost, because some of those earlier deficits can be made up – but only if you are provided with the close, empathetic, understanding and responsive care you missed out on when you were younger. Gradually you may begin to believe the world is basically okay and difficulties are survivable. But even then, you may never be as “resilient” as someone who had good enough care during infancy. You might always need more help and support than other people, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, because you live in a wealthy, industrialised nation in the 21st Century, which comfortably has the means to provide it.

If “resilience” is seen as a character trait that people need to “learn” and in someway make an effort to develop, then this is perilously close to victim blaming. It also means no one will notice the, fairly obvious, causal relationship between, for example, the closure of Sure Start centres today and “unresilient” teenagers in 12 years time.

Child mental health, rhetoric and lies…

First, let me declare a personal interest – I have nearly finished my three-year child psychotherapeutic counselling training. Obviously I would quite like it if I could soon be earning money providing therapy to children who need it. Second, I do not believe psychotherapy or counselling, of whichever modality, is a panacea or a magic wand. Third, this post will be unashamedly political. Fourth, it is likely to contain swear words.

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Not good enough…

The phrase “the good enough mother” was coined by Donald Winnicott to take the pressure off mothers.  In his view, most mothers would quite naturally do what was required to ensure the healthy development of their children without having to listen to the likes of him (although, admittedly, this did not prevent him from doing a series of radio talks on the matter).  You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be good enough.  Winnicott, as with many things he said, was of course correct.  Obviously, it is not the 1940s, so “good enough” now refers to good enough care, not just mothering.

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Sam’s leaving care package…

I am doing a “shadow shift” at a therapeutic community – it is part of their recruitment process – when I first meet Sam. He has just turned 10, he is skinny and small for his age with lank, greasy hair and wears Wellington boots and a black, quilted coat – both of which he refuses to take off indoors. Sam tells me he has lived there for a year. He seems fairly keen to get to know me – much to my relief because I am equally keen to show my potential employers how well I interact with children.

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Jenny: the unimaginable and the untouchable…

I guess I’ll start with the bare facts:  Jenny had been living with her father until just under a year ago when she disclosed he was physically abusing her.  She was removed.  A few months later Jenny discloses her father sexually abused her.  He confesses but claims he didn’t do anything wrong because they were ‘in a relationship’.  Jenny’s father is charged with multiple counts of rape and possessing indecent images.  It is because of the material found on his hard drive that we can be certain the abuse of Jenny started when she was two-years-old. Continue reading

Judgments, assumptions, opinions…

What do you think of Donald Trump?  Seriously, think of some words you would use to describe him now.  I reckon most of the readers of this blog will have had negative thoughts to say the least – I am making an assumption but it is an assumption I would stake my life on.  Just out of interest, did you judge the behaviour and not the person?  Like we’re meant to?  I bet you didn’t.

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Melancholia…

When I was about 20-years old, I shut myself away for a few weeks in the one room I was living in. I didn’t answer the phone or engage with the outside world in any way – other than to cash my dole cheque to buy food and baccy. The baccy ran out of course, so I would recycle my dog ends, and then recycle them again.  I can still remember the smell of my fingers.  Food would run out too of course, so occasionally I had to venture out and shoplift.

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A wounded healer…

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung used the concept of “the wounded healer” (which he borrowed from Greek mythology) to describe his belief that psychoanalysts need to use their awareness and understanding of their own emotional struggles in order to help others with theirs.  He also believed  that through this process the analyst would help to heal him or herself.

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Why would a 14-year-old girl swallow a battery?

Firstly, before I become all “left-brained” about this, imagine actually doing it.  Close your eyes if you need to.  Imagine the feel of an AA battery in your hand – the size, the weight.  Notice how solid it is.  Now imagine resting it between your lips – the feel of cold metal.  Picture yourself pushing the AA battery, with the tip of your finger, all the way into your mouth and towards the back of your tongue.  Now imagine swallowing.  Go on – really imagine it.

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Dear Mum…

I wonder where you are right now?  I am here – in my bedroom, in the house that I share, lying on my bed, propped up on pillows, legs bent to push this laptop close to my hands.   I can hear the breeze in the trees outside, the gentle thump of the tumble dryer downstairs, and a train passing. I can feel the weight and  heat of the laptop on my thighs and stomach.   I can feel my hair, still damp from a recent bath and a vague, but always with me,ache in my lower back – I assume it is an unavoidable symptom of the gradual onset of middle-age.  And I am thinking about you.

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I can’t keep the children I work with safe (further thoughts)…

I recently wrote a piece for Community Care about the difficulties involved in keeping some looked after children safe and what I think needs to be done to address this.  If you haven’t already, you can read it here.  It received a much bigger response than anything else I have ever written – most of it positive or, at least, engaged with the issue, and some of it critical.

However, while it is of course flattering when people say nice things or agree with me on Twitter (I have an ego), I did not write it for these reasons.  Nor did I write it as clickbait for Community Care.   I wrote it because I am very worried about the issue and feel passionately about it.  It is for this reason I am pleased it got a bit of attention.

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