After 30 years of asking questions, Christine Bradley (above) has some answers to improving outcomes for troubled children. Camilla Pemberton spoke to her (Picture credit: John Behets)
A diligent hunt for answers has been central to Christine Bradley’s career in therapeutic child care. The questions have been big ones: why are some children able to use the help and experiences offered to them while others are not; and what constitutes an effective intervention?
Now, after 30 years of working with troubled children, and training other professionals to do the same, the consultant feels she has arrived at some answers.
Her work, which has been influenced by big thinkers in child psychology and psychoanalysis, such as Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby, has convinced her that some children have been so profoundly damaged by their early experiences that mainstream interventions and approaches will never successfully reach them.
“When I first read Every Child Matters, I kept wondering how many professionals would read all the right books and tick all the right boxes, without ever thinking about the inner world of these children,” Bradley says. “These are children who have no secure sense of self and cannot relate to the outside world without becoming overwhelmed with unbearable anxiety, panic and rage.
“These children do not even feel that they have begun emotionally. There is no point telling a child who is suicidal or self-harming that they ‘matter’ to the government. As those caring for them, as hard as it is, we have to go into the painful, grey areas to help them feel more real in their experience of living and being.”
To demonstrate her commitment to this goal, Bradley has been at the helm of a four-year film and training project which she hopes will contribute to therapeutic work with children and young people. “One of the most important and relevant debates for the care system today is: are we just warehousing children or are we treating them? Of course, it should be the latter,” she says.
Bearing the Unbearable – a written training manual and a feature length DVD – will help professionals to “treat” children, Bradley believes. Its name derives from the unbearable feelings which Bradley says these children experience, but also refers to the often unbearable pressure on workers when trying to manage and help these children. In all ways, the tool has been designed to make children’s and workers’ lives more bearable.
It has been inspired by Bradley’s own professional experiences, the most powerful of which were spent training in therapeutic children’s homes. Residential workers were made to “thoroughly examine disturbing behaviour and what had caused it”, she says. “These weren’t just children’s homes, they were contributing to our understanding of the inner world of the child.”
This, for Bradley, is the key to improving outcomes. Bearing the Unbearable brings together past and current thinking on therapeutic approaches from a range of experts to help workers relate to children in their day-to-day work and, in groups, examine their behaviour and assess their needs.
The DVD has been developed with Kent-based Maidstone Studios and funded through charitable donations. It features interviews with and perspectives from leading sector figures, including Jonathan Stanley, head of the National Children’s Bureau residential child care service, and Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network. It was executive produced by Patrick Webb, executive director of the Charterhouse Group of therapeutic communities.
Although the production process has taken longer than Bradley expected, she has now seen the end product and says it is “powerful stuff” and a valuable tool. “In my own experience over 30 years I know that people who use these approaches have a much greater success rate with young people.”
What is a therapeutic approach?
A child’s care plan, treatment and all interactions are based on psychological theories that attempt to explain the child’s underlying motivations and provide them with methods and tools for dealing with their emotions.
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