“I live with my son, Tim who is 10 years old. His first three years were difficult since we both suffered from my husband’s violence. Although I managed to move Tim away, his behaviour deteriorated. He has been “asked to leave” nursery school, infant school, and two primary schools (where he had support teachers too). Now, to my distress, I learn that the EBD school, which he has only attended since Easter, cannot manage him either. He attacks me, his teachers, other children, himself and property. Nothing seems to make any difference. The special unit that catered for children like him is being closed because of cuts and my local authority say they can’t pay for the boarding provision I think would help him. I wanted him to go straight to EBD school when he was 5 but I was told that would deprive him of a normal education.”
Whatever the cause or causes, violence and its management is a major burden for the child, the family, the school and wider society. Educationalists have long been aware (in both the Warnock Report and the Fish Report) that there are some 2% of children who cannot manage in any ordinary setting. Within this disturbed group there are some, like Tim, for whom even an EBD school (school for emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children) is not adequate.
These inappropriate placements exacerbate the original damage as they make multiple rejections inevitable. Dr. Marcus Johns, Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, points out, “Damaged children, like Tim, are unable to contain the violent impulses generated by their pain and frustration. They are then often cruelly punished by being expected to conform to the standards of normality. This expectancy leads to them being inappropriately placed and then becoming the victims of further cruelty and victimisation.” Traumatised and disturbed children are not emotionally integrated because of the very nature of their history and problems. To try and integrate them is, at best, to misunderstand their plight. At worst, token and fake integration is an active agent of further deterioration.
Appropriate placement, which by its very nature has to be an intensive input of professional time, is bound to be expensive. Therapeutic schools, communities and day units like Peper Harrow, Thornby Hall, The Mulberry Bush, The Monroe Centre and the Tavistock Clinic Day Unit have high staff ratios and extremely skilled professional staff. In the current climate this is a real difficulty. As Peter Wilson, Chairman of Young Minds, comments, “These resources are costly and there is a real problem here as to whether our society will foot the bill for what it takes to contain and treat violent and vulnerable children and young people. However, there are certain children who need to be contained beyond what can ordinarily be contained in an ordinary school or even an EBD school. These children are actually extremely difficult to tolerate. In many cases they have been, like Tim, attacked or frightened or abandoned themselves.”
How can Tim get the provision he needs? Local authorities all over the country face real economic difficulties. Without a mass national mandate for more money to be raised for the most vulnerable what can education departments do? Firstly, they can help parents and children by being honest. How different might Ms T have felt had she been told “Look, we are sorry you are dealing with Tim single-handed. We need ś 10,000 p.a. to place him in a day unit and ś 50,000 to place him in a residential unit and we have not got that”? That is very different to tailoring ideology to suit your pocket.
Telling Ms T that her disturbed child can’t go to an EBD school at 5 because he will be missing a “normal” education when the child’s behaviour guarantees his exclusion from all activities, let alone the national curriculum, is, to her, frighteningly out of touch with reality. Indeed, the emotional and interpersonal cost of reality, not paying the financial price, is likely to end up much more costly in terms of disrupted teachers and pupils and work difficulties for the parent.
The most vulnerable children and young people have, at different times, been looked after by either health or education authorities. There was a time when it was a major achievement for education to offer an umbrella to such children. The pendulum has swung again and this is an important social imperative which needs concerted action to alter social policy. In the meantime Ms T, Tim and countless others are suffering secondary handicaps which have been added to their own original problems.