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Eileen J. Harvey

“Children are more resilient than you think” – is it a coincidence that I am constantly being told this by authority, colleagues, and ordinary parents – or is it becoming a new catch phrase to excuse inadequate child care? If it is true, why do hospitals bother, when young children have to be admitted, to let parents visit whenever they like or even stay in with them? If they are so resilient surely a few days with plenty of company, and nurses who enjoy them, and the sure promise of return home should be sufficient?

If children are so resilient, why do social workers take so much trouble to ensure it is necessary to remove a child from home before doing so – using up expensive time – consuming days? – why not have them into Reception for a week or two, have a look at them and the family – and then, if necessary, just put them back again ?

Why do children return from unsuccessful fostering or adoption so damaged? What of little “John” in Gill Barnes excellent article in the November Child in Care and what of Gale, the intelligent drug addict who died so young?

I wonder if all these people, who believe (?) so fervently and conveniently in the resilience of children would like their families removed after they had come to a new town two or three years before, and although the children had at first in their new surroundings been reticent and backward, had now found friends, joined clubs and were happy and doing reasonably well at school?

How often have I heard an ambitious but wise Father say “I would like to move now but its the wrong time for my child's education”. And yet we are expected to accept that children in care can stand these moves with no harm coming to them – when they not only lose every thing and place and circumstance that they know, but every person as well. “But children are more resilient than you think”!!

As Professor Joad would say “It all depends what you mean by resilience”. A dictionary defines it as “elasticity, hence capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation “especially when the strain is caused by compressive stresses”.

Hence our pundits would admit that a move will possible cause “deformation” (of mind character or emotion) and there will be stresses. I think the way that many children come through the most appalling experiences is wonderful. I think their forgiveness of one’s bad temper at times, of disappointments, lacking of bearing malice after punishment, recovery after illness, and many other things, shows much resilience, and is one of the joys of living with them. So much higher is their standard than ours.

But, I do not think they are like resilient spongy turf which springs up again after a heavy footfall – few children are. Mostly they are delicate seedlings – they flourish in the sunshine of love and security, and learn from the rain and mist of troubles if given support. They need careful nurturing like any young plant, and yet, be allowed space and opportunity to grow. Unless a plant spreads its roots we know it will neither grow up or out. And these roots will be stunted by constant digging up and replanting. There is the occasional plant which you may move frequently and its growth will never suffer and there is probably the occasional child – but most are like the normal seedling.

There is of course a difference, a seedling soon shows its disapproval of movement by dying. A child often puts a good face on it – hides its lostness under a superficial brightness – because he knows he must either keep his “end up” or be considered a fool and a nuisance for life. I do not pretend he knows this consciously. ! think it is a purely reflex action and gives one a completely wrong picture of the child. It has sometimes taken me two years to find out what a child is really like – especially a much “moved" one – and how can you give a plant the right soil if you know not its nature.

I am tired of being told “You are not a real mother – you don’t understand”, or by married assistants “I’ve brought up a family – I should know.”

"Your children look happy enough – they are just ordinary normal children.”

“Children are more resilient than you think.”

Were I strong enough l would like to knock down the next protagonist of this easy, ignorant theory and see if he was resilient enough to rise again! These aggressive feelings are not occasioned by any particular person or authority, but through experience and a wide field of discussion with other people.

In view of the fact that they are shared by so many may make it sound presumtive that I should condemn them so completely. But let their protagonists live with deprived children for 20 years, and share their heartaches – and then see if they change their minds?

Did Professor Bowlby write for nothing?

So let us not be cajoled for convenience sake into believing new catch phrases. Let us continue to treat and bring up – with the help and co-operation of their S.C.Os. – our children as normally as we can, letting them grow, expand and become independent – being behind them when we know they are in difficulty or under particular stress because of each child's different and complex history. And above all let us go on giving them love, security and continuity, and not be afraid to fight those who would try to stop us.

And let us not fear to be vocal – we are only a tiny voice in a vast social organisation, which is like a mighty ocean roller – when it reaches the shore of our establishments, breaks, separating into wavelets each going their separate ways – each murmuring something different to the sand on which it lands.

So may it be necessary for the Association to be watchful for its staff also. They are not, as it would often appear H.Q. think they are, ceaseless robots – but very vulnerable human beings, who need the support and advice of those whe have previously done this job. (How wisely has Richard Balbernie expressed the neglected theory that those who have not experienced residential work can be of no real help to those who do it.)

And how much help we are going to need in order to see that our children have a fair deal, that their futures are considered by their Care Officers and ourselves – not by a file which in most cases contains more facts than understanding!

This feature: Harvey, I.J., (1972). Resilience. Child in Care, Vol.12, No. 7, pp. 20-21

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