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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

ListenListen to this

Echoes in the hills

Edward Donohue

There were two very important lessons learned by those who participated in the Tyn-y-Pwll project. The first was that although the young visitors were chronologically aged between thirteen and seventeen years, they were often much younger than that in the emotional sense. This emotional immaturity sprang from deprivation which was clearly rooted in their former relationships and environment. Most of them had been deprived since early childhood of a number of things which should be readily available to all children. These include affection and love which is communicated by both word and touch, security which is based on loving parental relationships, genuine self-confidence which is developed from being loved and valued. Add to these factors unsatisfactory living conditions, poor school experiences and unsuitable peer group relationships and the sum total readily provides an explanation (if not an excuse) for the anti-social behaviour which brought them to Tyn-y-Pwll.

The second lesson was that for the vast majority of the young visitors, it was possible to re-dress the balance to some extent in a relative short space of time. It is clear that to offer emotionally immature young people punishments which are based upon adult values and attitudes has not been very effective. The recidivistic progression from approved school to borstal and finally prison which has been so common in the past provides ample evidence to show that the treatment of young offenders has left much to be desired. Similarly, the sort sharp shock which was advocated so enthusiastically a few years ago has proved to be of little value. Paradoxically, it could be argued that the Tyn-y-Pwll approach was a short, sharp shock. It was certainly fairly short and perhaps the fact that the youngsters found themselves with accepting, affectionate and tolerant adults was a shock for some of them.

What the staff at the House in the Hollow did was to accept that almost all the young visitors had been guilty of anti-social behaviour because of some form of emotional deprivation. Having made this important and possibly controversial decision, they set about finding ways to assess each individual’s problems and, wherever possible, providing the means to enable each youngster to recognise and come to terms with their own difficulties. Part of the Tyn-y-Pwll system was to recreate a fragment of childhood through the provision of satisfying and enjoyable activities. There were attempts to eliminate the repression by the use of regression, in other words, not to deny unpleasant past experiences but to find ways to release them and acknowledge the effect they may have had on subsequent behaviour. Ultimately, and perhaps more importantly, the Tyn-y-Pwll approach aimed to provide a warm and caring environment, staffed by adults who were sympathetic to the children’s problems and skilled enough to cope with most of them.

The use of group work skills has been referred to frequently in preceding chapters. It was necessary for the staff to be aware of the dynamics and process of the group and the part which they themselves played. The young people were helped to understand the possibilities of growth through their involvement with the group. They were encouraged to develop trust and confidence in it. It would be possible to have written the whole book on this subject alone, but other writers have already done so. Suffice it to say that the knowledge and the use of these skills was an essential part of the work at Tyn-y-Pwll. Perhaps one of the secrets was timing, knowing when to act and when to remain passive; when to listen and when to speak; when to be firm and when to relax. The work of the six year project cannot be measured simply by statistics. One had to transform apparently tough and unlovable delinquents into affectionate and responsible young people. The effect could have been temporary, but the follow up work in the past ten years has confirmed that for very many of them, in some cases, the most unpromising, the experience had an enduring influence.

Donohue, E. (1985) Echoes in the hills. Surrey, UK: Social Care Association. pp. 104-105

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