In this election week, I hope the politicians are paying close attention. Many of the people I see in therapeutic settings are still experiencing the consequences of childhood trauma. So here are some interesting facts and possible sources of help in this regard.
This is no marginal issue as this sadly still relevant Guardian article from 2009 illustrates. ‘Twenty-three percent of the adult prison population has spent time in care, although care leavers account for less than 1% of the total population; 30% of children in custody have been in care.’
And as this NSPCC report shows, one of the keys to successfully addressing the consequences of childhood abuse is the provision of permanent, stable and safe environments within which abused children can recover and thrive.
Another key factor is ongoing training and consultation with committed carers. ‘Foster carer training should also be complemented by ongoing ‘consultation’ in order to ensure that carers can generalise what they have learned in the context of a specific carer-child relationship and apply this to their work with other children.’
Creating both the reality and an enduring ‘sense’ of safety can take many forms but there is no real substitute for a permanent, safe environment, provided by committed and able carers.
In addition there are many physical and activity based ways in which abused children can begin to build the neurological structures stunted by their early experience of abuse. As they do so, they become more able to engage positively, to learn from their experiences in ways which are useful to them and to start to believe in their capacity to make their own useful contribution to society.
As the NSPCC report suggests, the current emphasis on dealing with so-called ‘challenging behaviours’ is less constructive than looking for ways to promote positive ongoing experiences for these children.
This 9 minute audio interview with psychiatrist and traumatic stress expert Bessel van der Kolk, author of the recently published book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma provides a really useful overview of what childhood trauma does to a child’s brain and also provides some hope for positive and simple forms of treatment.
Building a store of positive experiences for children to refer to, however unconsciously, has to make it easier for them to overcome their earlier dysfunctional strategies which were based on pure survival in a hostile environment.
As I said to one of our own foster children a while ago, ‘ We are working towards the day when you wake up in the morning with an expectation that today is more likely to be a good day than a bad one’. That outcome arises from providing continuous opportunities to generate positive feedback through active engagement and by HAVING FUN – not from heartless sanctions and facile behavioural limitations which are more about adult convenience than positive child development.
I think Western societies, especially in the UK and the US, marginalise childhood as something to be gotten over in preparation for the wage slavery implicit in the corporate dominance of our economies.
We marginalise, abuse and ignore the consequences of such denigration of children at our peril. It is time to reclaim childhood and recognise that children really are ‘our future’.
If you are interested in supporting the development of children and young people I can thoroughly recommend the agency we work through as foster carers, Blue Sky Fostering. (And yes, the views expressed here are my own, not theirs’ necessarily!)
What we say and do to children and the world we create for them to grow up in will go on having an effect, not just today, but for the rest of their lives, so we need to start taking this a lot more seriously. Perhaps we could start by making childhood a lot more fun!
More to come on the subject of ‘childhood as fun’ soon.