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4: The uses of a neuroscientific perspective

Jenny Kenrick Karnac Books ePub

Graham Music

In the last decade neuroscience and developmental research have-provided convincing evidence about the impact of early experience on later development, and in particular of the impact of trauma and neglect on the developing brains of young children. This has become a powerful explanatory tool to be used alongside other bodies of thought, such as attachment theory and both psychoanalytic and systemic therapy, to make sense of the plight of many children who have been adopted or fostered and their families. We now have neu-roscientific explanations for why such children provide such a huge challenge to their carers and the systems around them, for why all too commonly we see in these children symptoms such as aggressive and self-destructive behaviour, being impervious to ordinary affectionate care, impulsiveness, the inability to regulate emotions, and the other signs described all too clearly in this book.

Much has changed since the early days of psychoanalysis, when it was believed that traumatic early experiences, such as of sexual abuse, were repressed, leading to all manner of malevolent symptoms that were cured by helping people to remember the traumatic episodes. We have since discovered that cure and changing symptoms are not so simple, and that the basic explanations used in those days were somewhat off the mark. In particular, our understanding of the fine details of how early experience affects children is much more advanced, as is our understanding of how certain experiences affect different parts of the brain. More is now known about how different areas of the brain link up, and how some brain functions may be more to the fore at different points in a child’s life. We know now, for example, that levels of stress in a mother as early as pregnancy affect the unborn child (Field, 2004), and that the stress hormone, cortisol, released by pregnant mothers, will cross the placenta and impact on the developing foetus. We know that infants who have consistent and attuned caregiving develop the ability to “self-regulate”, whereas experiences of either neglect or trauma might not be consciously remembered but will affect not only behaviours and attitudes, but also the very structure of the brain as well as the HPA axis, a central part of the neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress, particularly through the releases of hormones. This is a system that humans share with many organisms from way back in evolutionary history.

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18: The contribution of organizational dynamics to the triple deprivation of looked-after children

Jenny Kenrick Karnac Books ePub

Louise Emanuel

In this chapter I describe how the trauma and disturbance associated with severe deprivation and abuse by children and families can impact on the professionals involved in their care, interfering with their capacity to think about and provide containment for the children and their carers and thereby compounding their deprivation. The chapter title refers to the “double deprivation” as originally described by Henry (1974) together with a third level of deprivation, which can occur within the organizational setting. The first deprivation is inflicted by external circumstances and is out of the child’s control; the second derives from internal sources as the child develops “crippling defences” (Henry, 1974) that prevent him from making use of subsequent offers of support, for example, by foster carers or adoptive parents (or a psychotherapist). The third refers to the ways in which, as Britton (1981) writes, “ the profoundly disturbing primitive mechanisms and defences against anxiety” used by children and families get “re-enacted” in the system by care professionals, who are the recipients of powerful projections. These defences, including unconscious attacks on linking, can interfere with professionals’ capacity to think clearly or make use of outside help with their overwhelming caseloads. A social services department may then replicate these children’s original experience of neglect, allowing them to fall through a hole in the “net”work. This form of “re-enactment” as a substitute for a thoughtful response by professionals within an organization, combined with the “double deprivation” described by Henry, can result in a “triple deprivation” for children within the care system. (The concept of “triple deprivation” was originally described by Sutton, 1991.)

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20: “Then there were four”: learning to be a family

Jenny Kenrick Karnac Books ePub

Jason Andrews

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

Dr Forest E. Witcraft (1950)

Acurly-haired girl with big brown eyes stared at me, a puzzled, yet intrigued, expression on her face. Only days before, her foster carers had explained to the 9-year-old that she was going to be adopted. She had grasped the concept, understood she was going to live with a new Mummy and Daddy who would be her “forever parents”.

But hearing it and believing it were two different things, and, based on her experience to date, a new Mummy and Daddy was not on her “must-have” list.

She seemed eager, too keen to please, but her underlying fear was palpable. For she was still grieving over her forced separation from her birth mother. Katie wanted her, not us.

Sophia, her younger sister, appeared. She was 3 years old and her hair, like Katie’s, butchered by the Jack the Ripper of the hairdressing world.

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10: Where do I belong? Dilemmas for children and adolescents who have been adopted or brought up in long-term foster care

Jenny Kenrick Karnac Books ePub

Margaret Rustin

A sense of belonging

The idea of belonging somewhere is an ordinary and fundamental building-block of a sense of personal identity. Everyday events remind us of this: a lost child wandering around a shopping centre or park gets asked “Who do you belong to?” The assumption is that the answer will be the clue to who the child is—the son, or daughter, or brother, or sister, or grandchild of particular individuals. A child’s belongings are those objects that characteristically define him as a recognizable person: his coat, shoes, school bag, and so on. The somewhere that we belong starts off as our family of origin in which we are accorded a place defined by relationships. Around this will be concentric circles in which we belong in some fashion to wider social groups: extended family, school, local community, city, region, country. Recall the addresses many primary school-aged children like to create for themselves, which record all the layers of belonging, ending up with “The World” and “The Universe”. In a religious conception we all belong in God’s family and are protected by His all-seeing eye. Humanly, the sense of belonging also resides in the recognition of oneself as part of the sentient group by others. Children who cannot be brought up in their families of origin suffer a basic disruption in this sense of membership, of knowing where they belong.

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3: The “added value” of attachment theory and research for clinical work in adoption and foster care

Jenny Kenrick Karnac Books ePub

Miriam Steele

Our work often brings us into contact with children whose parents were unable to care for them, leaving others to assume this duty. They have often endured multiple separations and losses. It was children like these who first inspired John Bowlby to devote his career to studying and understanding the impact upon children of maternal deprivation. In a report for the nascent World Health Organization, Bowlby commented on how mental health depends on children receiving continuous care, from which both mother—or mother-substitute—and child derive an enduring sense of joy (Bowlby, 1951). During the 1950s, at the Child and Family Department he helped to establish at the Tavistock Clinic, Bowlby convened a study group aimed at elucidating the importance of the parent–child relationship. Among his many colleagues was Mary Ainsworth. She conducted longitudinal studies of infants and their mothers, which identified sensitive and responsive care as the vital ingredient in promoting secure or “healthy” infant–parent relationships and, in turn, a solid sense of self within the child that would launch him towards trusting relations with others, and a sense of competence in pursuing cognitive and social goals. Bowlby drew on Ainsworth’s developmental research, cognitive psychology, control theory, and evolutionary theory to advance a theory of attachment in three volumes, Attachment (1969), Separation (1973), and Loss (1980).

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