Monday, 31 August 2015
I’ve recommended FutureLearn’s free online courses before and I continue to be astounded by their quality and thoughtfulness, and so am happy to alert you to another of them. I’ve just completed the ‘Caring for Vulnerable Children’ course which is hosted by the University of Strathclyde Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland (CELCIS).
It’s all done online and at your own pace; and what’s great about these course forums isn’t just the materials, but the opportunity to comment, reply and discuss responses with hundreds of other students from all over the globe – great for thinking and new ideas. No doubt it will be repeated if you are interested.
The first week of the course dealt with the issues of assessing of risk, vulnerability and ‘good enough parenting,’ highlighting the tensions between a ‘more traditional’ (my words) ‘community social work’ that recognises and works to address some of the structural inequalities affecting a family’s environment and the present state of affairs of a more surveillance oriented concentration on the relationship traits and deficits of the family.
The course argues that this has arisen from the many reviews that have taken place over the years from Maria Colwell to Peter Connelly, plus a growing culture of risk aversion. I would add in our sometimes scandalous media blame-culture and myth-making.
The second week was a real eye opener for me, offering a potted history of child development theory. A fantastic presentation by Dr. Laura Steckley introduced me to Bion’s concept of Containment, and it is this that has motivated me to write today. I hope I am not completely misinterpreting this often pejoratively-used word in my attempt to explain it – but know for certain I will be teaching grandmother to suck eggs at this point!
Containment theory proposes that in the course of parenting, especially in the earliest baby phase, a process happens in which the baby’s inability to manage its own needs, for food or dryness for instance, gives rise to emotions of panic and fear.
As the parent interacts with the baby to meet those physical needs, the parent also transmits an emotional response of reassurance that problems are manageable – that they can be contained. This assists the growth in understanding of the external world to the baby and a belief in the manageability of things, which enables the fear and panic response to be contained. Done well by parents this obviously has a lifelong benefit.
The theory is not only helpful in understanding and encouraging good early parenting, but can be used to help older children, young people and even adults allay tantrums, terror and troubles in later life caused by the inability to feel things are containable.
However it was a passing remark of Dr. Steckley about another application of the theory, which made me want to blog about it. She mentioned that the concepts have been subsequently applied in all sorts of relationships and settings – including education, social work and consultancy. It's even been applied to business.
That remark got me thinking about the many anecdotes I have heard from friends and colleagues working in all sorts of businesses and sectors, but most especially in today’s Health and Social Care sector.
Here we see a high degree of anxiety and stress at the moment; target-driven, subject to increasing competition and marketplace pressures, scrutinised by external organisations with their own targets and political pressures – it seems to me that the current management and leadership style is to hector and drive.
The theory of containment suggests a lack of rational and creative thinking, poor self-belief and inability to ‘hold things together’ which result from poor containment could be the downfall not only of the people within it but of the business/organisation itself. These are the ways of thinking that have led to the Mid-Staffs hospital crisis and the alleged doctoring of statistics to cover up poor cancer treatment performance at Colchester (which subsequently was blamed on bad management and not corruption).
Maybe it’s about time our political and sector leaders learned something from the containment model’s vision of good ‘parenting’ skills?
PS: Having finished this course am now just about to start week one of another hosted by the University of Los Andes, on the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Look forward to some more thoughts on leadership styles from his wonderful ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ – will keep you posted!
This is the link to FutureLearn’s course: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/vulnerable-children