This has been a particularly important section for me to develop. When working with young people in care and care leavers many tend to focus on the literature and information developed within the genre of social work and where there are clear practice or policy implications to follow. These short presentations have nothing directly to do with the care system but nevertheless, if we open our minds, offer a lot of key fundamental principles about how we understand, work with and engage with people - in care, leaving care, fellow colleagues and care leavers of all ages.
This is an amazing video of a young woman exploring the stigma and labelling we experience in society for being "different" or "outsiders." She also acknowledges how this "othering" also prevents us from sharing our stories and experiences thus isolating us even further. Geena not only shows me the power of a calm yet passionate speech but also how resilience after adversity can have a positive impact. She states "some people have the courage to break free, not to accept the limitations imposed... by the beliefs of those that surround them." This is so applicable when we look at the dominant narrative for young people in care and care leavers which is surrounded by poor outcomes and lifelong problems. What combats this dominant narrative and discrimination within many other minority groups in society is friends and "family;" a community of shared experiences, growth and support. This video shows, for me, how important it is for individuals within a community to stand up and make a difference - "I am here. Exposed. So that one day..." things can be different for others.
This video starts out by giving you a comparison between two individuals of, at face value, similar backgrounds who visit an accident and emergency department. Vikram's very simple but very stark example concludes with how differently that are treated in the hospital once it emerges that one of the individuals has mental health difficulties. The power of a label is very evident here. It begs the question who stigmatises the individuals and groups within society who hold or are given a negative label such as mental health patient, "looked after child" or care leaver? Having a background in the care sector, unlike many other minority groups, is not a visual identity that those wishing to discrimate can point and make remarks at in the street. Any form of discrimination for a young person in care or care leaver requires knowledge of their experiences. How is this done? Simple, when one organisation refers to another and passes on core information about the young person - age, gender, STATUS = CARE. It is unfortunate but i have seen the label both give access to services and support that might not otherwise have been gained but also place negative (even if not conscious) expectations upon a young person which determines how they see and work with them and what they get access to. This labelling and consequent discrimination can cause mental illness in itself. "It isn't suprising then that if you should speak to anyone with a mental illness the chances are that you will hear stories of hidden suffering, shame and discrimination in nearly every sector of their lives but perhaps more heartbreaking of all are the stories of abuse of even the most basic of human rights... that are played out everyday sadly even by the very institutions that were built to care for people." BUT we can bridge the gap between what we know and how we use it to work with people. We also do not need greater resources to do this but need to involve the wider community at all levels to stop individuals being seen as outsiders and to halt an over-professionalisation or specialisation of the "work" we can do with individuals. After all, if, in developing countries where medical resources are often non-existant, we can teach lay people to do minor surgery and help people give birth then we can help individuals relationally care for those at a disadvantage in our community.
Helen and her team have focused their years of research into romantic love and loss. It is clear, however, that there are wider messages and implications from their research for all types of love and attachment. Within this research she placed a number of couples through an MRI scanner to look for certain parts of the brain that were alive with love. Like the trauma in the brain explored by Bruce Perry, feeling loved and losing love are also very much located and experienced in the brain. It is interesting to note that in the same brain region where they found activity when love was present also became active when an individual felt the rush of cocaine. Love can make us do and feel so many different things - obsessed, needy, inseparable, connected, held, abandoned. These are initially things we determine as feelings over which we have control over but imagine you are a child or an adult who has spent their childhood in a range of relationally difficult situtations. When love or connection is experienced the body and brain won't necessarily know how to cope or respond at all or in the "right" way. Helen finishes her presentation with - "Faulkner once said - the past is not dead, it's not even the past. Indeed we carry a lot of luggage from our yesteryear and so there's one thing that makes me pursue my understanding of human nature... love... is deeply embedded in the brain. Our challenge is to understand each other."
The loss of wisdom is applicable across a range of practices and ideologies. Barry gives a number of different examples to show the lack of wisdom - both common sense and professional ability - that we can see every day in society. The first example he gives is that of job description of hospital janitors/care takers. He listed their job description and showed that there were only practical tasks on the list. These tasks were not only detailed in their minutae but did not involve a single other human being. However, when psychologists interviewed janitors they found that they felt most of their job involved other people. "Kindness, care and empathy are an important part of the job." Janitors regularly had to think beyond their job description and their manager's objectives and orders.
He then told the story of a father who had bought his son lemonade but had not realised that the drink was alcoholic. Before he had left the store the security guard had called an ambulance and the police. They were taken to accident and emergecy where social services got involved and the boy was taken into foster care for three days. A judge then ordered that the boy could return home but only if the father left the house. Although the family were finally reunited after two weeks each one of the professionals involved stated "we hate to do it but we have to follow procedure. How do things like this happen?... Rules and procedures may be dumb but they spare you from thinking." Barry recognised the importance of core rules for use in those times when children are at risk but he stated that we become deskilled emotionally and morally when we rely on rules.
"The time to get to know the people you're serving, you need permission to be allowed to improvise, to try new things, occassionally to fail and to learn from your failures and you need to be mentored by wise teachers... it takes a lot of experience to learn how to care for people."
There is a growing body of knowledge that is linking the psychology and physiology of trauma. This is an exceptional piece which shows us the lasting impact of trauma on the body and the mind. We need to recognise that whilst we can heal there are inevitable lasting effects to the levels of hormones, adrenalin, cortisol etc, that have a massive impact on our bodies that cannot necessarily be undone.
© Zachari Duncalf 2017. All Rights Reserved.
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