By Alexis A Taylor.
A book written around a fundamental irony. Its central and important thesis that “children in distress are being artificially pigeon-holed into specific agencies by the artful use of language” is almost buried beneath an artificial language all of its own.
Taylor has studied the extensive records of a child and adolescent mental health team and its residential unit using descriptions of the young people found in case notes and formal communications.
What was discovered was a process in which the language used by professionals could not only hinder the assistance offered to young people, but could also lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.
There are plenty of examples given in the text where language says more about the writers than the distressed young people being described.
And yet, with chapter headings such as “Strangers in the inter-mural world” and “A principle of voluntarism” some powerful messages are lost in the book’s own jargon. Professional decisions deserve to be studied in the context of the language that describes them but there is an equal obligation on the author to write with the same clarity required of professional workers.
Chris Hanvey is UK director of operations, Barnardo’s.