By Simon Blades
Simon Blades is a social worker, living and practising in Devon. He has worked in social care since 1980 and has been qualified since 1998. In that time, he has worked in a therapeutic family centre, in children’s community homes and as a generic referral co-ordinator. He has worked as a front line child protection worker and with children in permanent local authority care. A career break in the early 2000s saw him involved with a theatre company, organising open mike events and performing comedic poetry. For the last ten years he has worked in the world of foster care, supporting, assessing and training local authority foster carers.
The Stolen Child: WB Yeats and Carl Jung – Relationship, Belonging and Compassion for Children in Care by Maurice Fenton is published in Dublin by Empower Ireland Press.
A Magical Intent
Magic is a way of living. If one has done one’s best to steer the chariot, and one then notices that a greater other is actually steering it, then magical operation takes place. (C.J. Jung The Red Book p.315)
Maurice Fenton believes in magic and fairies. Since reading, The Stolen Child, an evocative volume on children in care, I have been reminded that I do to. Maurice uses the poetry of W.B.Yeats and the reflections of C.J.Jung to take us into a faerie universe, where loving intent and compassion transform fractured lives.
In five well-structured chapters, Maurice takes the reader on a journey through the development of his professional credo; a credo firmly founded in relationship. Chapter one, Belonging, is in essence about the nature and experience of loss. He uses his life-long captivation by Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child, to explore the loss of his father at the age of twelve and how this interfered with and then informed his work with children and young people.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand
Maurice then looks at the extent to which the system becomes indifferent to the suffering of young people in care and the role of drink and drugs in this suffering.
The second chapter, Feelings, Emotions and Objectivity is a political Cri-de-Coeur. It examines how a Neoliberal economic system turns children into statistics and then abandons them as feckless and undeserving. Maurice cites the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, to unpick the mechanism whereby the feelings invoked by caring for traumatised people objectifies children and their experiences. Maurice describes how;
“..objectivity…has the potential to lead to…the suppression…of bona-fide emotional responses and a denial of the reality that hurt can be a price of caring just as pain can be a price of love” (p21).
In the second half of the chapter, Maurice reviews some literature on the concepts of Emotional Intelligence and Resilience and places them in the context of a political culture that does nothing to decrease poverty. Here I was reminded of the words of the recently demised Fidel Castro;
“Capitalism has neither the capacity, nor the morality, nor the ethics to solve the problems of poverty”.
Chapter three, Compassion, Pain, Recovery and Adolescence, begins with a review of the work of Dr Paul Stoltz and the Adversity Quotient (AQ). AQ is defined by Stoltz as;
“The capacity of the person to deal with the adversities in his life”.
I found this useful, as I was not previously aware of this work and now intend to integrate some of the ideas into a tool to assess foster carers’ potential to stick by traumatised children.
The chapter goes on to make links between pain, recovery and the experience of nature. Maurice describes how landscape can disconnect us and then reconnect us with past trauma. This re-visioning of our hurt is a transformative force helping us not to push our pain away but rather a means for us to bear the pain and move forward.
In Poetry, Science and Social Care, chapter four of the book, we come, perhaps to the heart of the matter. Maurice places magic centre stage in the drama of healing. He tracks the connections between the works of Yeats and Jung that can be summarised in the quip “magic begat science”. In doing so, he forwards the idea that social care practitioners, as the child surely does, seek magic in their lives; attempting to reconnect with the magic of fairy tales, for example. It is for each reader to come to their own conclusion about this thesis, but I would urge everyone to read it.
The chapter continues with a journey further into Jung and the role of the unconscious in working with adolescents. Maurice urges us as workers to stop trying to control the child; rather we should allow the young person to internalise their own control;
“by seeking to control that which we cannot control we actually diminish what we are seeking” (p.58)
In other words, our attempts to make things safe make them riskier and the more risk adverse we are, the more dangerous things become. I am minded of the story cited by Jean Liedloff in The Continuum Concept, to paraphrase; a toddler nearly drowns only after he climbs a fence his parents built around the swimming pool he had previously ignored.
The book closes with Relationship and Residential Child Care. This chapter examines the variety of relationships residential workers need to maintain; with children, peers and other professionals. He crucially reminds us;
“…the core skill required by social work is the capacity to relate to others and their problems” (p63)
The role of residential care in a time of austerity is also looked at. Residential Care is increasingly viewed as an option of last resort in a spectrum of care rather than a powerful resource for healing in its own right. Maurice urges us to be aware that spending on early intervention should not be a way of cutting resources for residential care. It is not either/or but both that are needed.
To conclude, I have welcomed the opportunity to read and review this book; it has been a helpful reminder that my work is not about targets, nor about “beds” but about people. It has reminded me that I have become at times lazy in my thinking and closed in my feeling. Rather than parroting a meagre understanding of Attachment Theory, I might be better informed by a return to my roots in political discourse and depth-psychology. Like Maurice Fenton, I need to celebrate rather than bemoan, that to all intents and purposes
“I am away with the faeries!”
11 December 2016
Maurice Fenton writes :
Thank you Simon for your generous review of my book which I enjoyed reading. It made me think of the following quote by Neil Gaiman:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”