Browndale Philosophy II
The philosophy and rationales of The Browndale Treatment Process
by JOHN L. BROWN, FRSH, ACSW, AGFA Founder of Browndale
- We must remember that the child needs opportunities to be creative, destructive, loving, hating, aggressive, tender— in short, he must, within an understanding human environment, be able to experience all the human emotions including sexual feelings. Man is a creature of ambivalence. Love is a companion to hate; aggression a companion to compassion; destruction a companion to creativity. There is a tendency within the child welfare system to limit the child's activities and functions so seriously as to make it impossible for him to experience normal human feelings without severe punishment or rejection. Children must have the opportunity to fight, to boss others around, to find out how things are put together by taking them apart, to find out how one experiences pain and the infliction of pain on others, to know what it means to have sexual arousal and to know how to release sexual tensions. All children need the opportunities that siblings get in a normal family. The fact that they are disturbed, or retarded, or mentally ill, doesn't reduce these human needs. In the course of treatment most children are violated in this regard. Of course, subsequent rehabilitation and normalized living become virtually impossible for such children.
A child's need for fun and play and laughter is as essential as any other need.
- Even with the above in mind, we must always address ourselves to be in support of positive, constructive, and useful behaviour. We find this easiest to do when we recognize that the child needs fun and play and laughter. Fun and laughter can't be prescribed, they have to happen to you. Our life experiences prepare us for fun and laughter so we, in our work, must keep in mind the possibility of special sensitivities emerging from the child's life experiences. The child may never have played before coming to us, he may never have been allowed to laugh and enjoy himself in games. Doing those things that we take for granted as fun may make him feel guilty or afraid. A child's need for fun and play and laughter is as essential as any other need. With kids who have never learned to play or have fun it is easiest to teach them through full personal involvement of yourself in time-honoured classical games that have come down to us through the generations and are common to almost all men.
- One of the basic principles underlying our treatment is the recognition that each child needs an environment that permits a large variety of choices through the day, each and every day. Through being free to choose, the child learns the complex process of decision-making, how to value himself and others, and to value things. It is essential preparation for independent living.
We must be careful in how we structure the daily life style for the child in our functional family so that choices are possible. If we prescribe every act that the child is allowed to do, if we direct and control the action, activities, and movements of the child too severely, no choices will remain for him to select and he will become dependent on the directives of the adults, or he will become rebellious and defiant. Each child in our house, no matter how disturbed, or how young, or how foolish, must have several areas of choice each day: the more the better.
- The child needs opportunities to learn in an atmosphere of freedom within the home setting. He needs to be free to explore himself and others physically, psychologically, and socially. He needs freedom to explore the object world
around him on his terms within an environment that protects him by loving care from dangers in the object world, but without restricting his need to hazard himself and objects in the process of exploring the object world. We must always support, and share with, and allow secrecy, commensurate with a tactful sensitivity to the child's feelings around his curiosities. Curiosity is a normal condition of childhood. If it is not present in your child, ask yourself how it has been thwarted and seek ways to allow it expression again. Curiosity is the route through which a child extends himself into all the wonders of the world and the universe, inside and outside himself. As he grows older his curiosity tends to get stifled by daily life restrictions. We mustn't lose the opportunity for our children to benefit from their normal childhood curiosity.
- We must always see that the child has his own possessions that are under his complete control. He cares for them, he owns them exclusively and he controls-how, when, and if, others may use them. Toys, clothing, tools, sentimental objects, artifacts, all these things come under this category. We should carefully note all those things that the child brings with him when he comes to us and assume that he places a high value on them. We should also involve him and consider his desires and his tastes whenever we obtain things for him which will be his own personal property. Children in the child welfare system most often own nothing when they come to us. Frequently, what little clothing they have is shipped with them in a cardboard box, or a garbage bag. Think what this says about our society and the platitudes we mouth aboutthe value and worth of all children in our society.
They learn how to share by the people around them sharing with them . . .
- The child needs an opportunity to learn to share himself, his meaningful relationships, and his possessions, with others by examples set by those adults around him and through opportunities he may create himself inside and outside the agency. We all strive to find ways of sharing ourselves with certain people that we like. If we are successful we then have to learn how to share this meaningful relationship with others since we seldom have exclusive relationships with adults. Within the child welfare system there is not very much opportunity for the child to share himself with others since sharing has to be done on your own terms and at times that are right for you — eight hour shifts, limited interview hours, impose heavy restrictions on the child's freedom to share himself. If the people he is living with are not comfortable in sharing themselves but are expecting him to share himself, the child becomes distrustful. Children don't learn how to share by preaching sharing to them. They learn how to share by the people around them sharing with them and by real life experiences of sharing with others. The hardest thing that any child has to learn is how to share with others the people with whom he has his most meaningful relationships. This takes up the largest portion of energy expended in socialization by a child from the moment a second child arrives through birth, adoption, or placement. Jealousy and envy are powerful emotions that cause great suffering and inhibit creativity, productivity and well-being. No one escapes and so we must teach children how to live with their emotions by example and by giving them the freedom to experience these emotions.
Yet foster homes are selected so that there won't be competing foster siblings; and when children are placed siblings are often separated if jealousy or rivalry are evident in their relationships. Homogeneity in grouping is favoured because it is thought to cut down on competitiveness and jockeying for position. Such struggles are a normal part of any family in the community, yet when they surface in a foster family a child is often moved, with the consequence that children are victimized and handicapped.
Sharing of possessions is in many child welfare settings non-existent as far as staff are concerned. How they expect the children to learn to share without experiencing sharing by them with the kids is one of the unasked questions in most child welfare agencies. Is it good enough to share that which the agency provides you for sharing? Or does that simply become a dehumanized extension of the institution itself? How can staff provide their personal possessions to share with children? Ways must be found and an attitude developed that sharing somebody else's things with the child is not enough — you also have to share your own: your books, your toys, your clothes, your car, your house, your food, and yourself, your hurts, pleasures, likes, dislikes, needs, etc. All these things must be shared with the child if he is to learn how to share. If people don't want to share these things with the children they work with, they shouldn't be taking care of other people's children; they should wait until they have their own.
- Each individual person needs to feel that he is performing useful labour that benefits himself and others and is meaningful and useful to the broader society in which he lives. We sometimes speak of this in children as being a need to do useful labour but, in fact, this principle is not so much related to work as it is to the need to be a part of the industry and activity that keeps society going. This has a most profound meaning and significance to each person's sense of worth, well-being, and purposefulness. Its absence leads to personal and social dis-orientation. It is my impression that all the children that we see in our work could be doing useful labour that would contribute greatly to them as individuals and also to the broader society that they are part of.
Before the advent of the industrial revolution and urbanization, children grew up in extended families which were part of a tribe or village where each member produced as he was able and received as he needed. Human life was integrated with the rest of the life of nature and a child soon became part of the total life style of his people. He played and learned until puberty when he became an adult and began to perform adult functions that were obvious and useful and made him an essential part of his total community. Man worked to live. There are no such opportunities for even the most advantaged young in our society. The child must undergo long years of education that is often arbitrary and remote from later functions of life. Young people become cynical about work and about learning. Everything they learn and do is rationalized in terms of how it will benefit them at some later date in a wholly personal and selfish way. Young people need idealism and purpose. They need to feel useful now and they need to feel that they are preparing to be useful in the future. Young people are altruistic and filled with dreams of affecting and guiding their society. In a "free enterprise community" the dreams that are stimulated have little social usefulness or purpose. The child feels stunted and impotent and seeks escape and fantasy in violence, alcohol, and drugs. His life becomes filled with meaningless diversions that help him evade and escape the cynicism and despair of his society. Whenever he can, he attacks and destroys the society around him. This leads him further into the cynical morass of our times.
It is not that work is so glorious in and of itself; it is more that each person must share in his society. The retarded boy that goes with his father on a milk route has this sense of being part of the social and economic life around him. He knows happiness— he knows fulfillment. The retarded child that is institutionalized with no usefulness, no participation, no function other than occasional diversions, sinks ever deeper into despair: he is lonely, terribly unhappy, and degenerates or dies early.
We can only waste human lives when we allow benefits to accrue to the few at the expense of the many.
Doing useful labour now, at this time in our evolution, has a great meaning because there is so much to be done if everyone is to have what they need. We can only waste human lives when we allow benefits to accrue to the few at the expense of the many. The waste, the false values, the overconsumption by the few, the undernourished, undersheltered, underclothed condition of one-third to one-half of our population, means all of us that are working are working to benefit a few. This system requires a surplus labour force and results always in great suffering by the weak, handicapped, and those that are different. Racist and classist attitudes filter into all the levels of such a society. Self-examination, self-criticism is heavily discouraged or oppressed. There is little opportunity for those who are different, or who are handicapped, or who are disadvantaged, to find solutions. Even the trade unions, with all their power and wealth, become so covetous of their role and position that they are threatened by special work projects for the handicapped. They follow their partners in management by investing in property and stocks and bonds instead of in people. They, in turn, become owners and managers.
In our houses, the child needs to have many opportunities to do useful labour that benefits his own family and the therapeutic family, that benefits the broader Browndale group in his community, and that has usefulness to the society in which he and his family live.
- Children with problems are isolated in many, many ways. One of the most dehumanizing is when they are institutionalized within a building and are isolated from nature, from other forms of life, the seasons, the elements, all of the things that make up our universe. In Canada, we have a magnificent environment close at hand even for those who live in our largest cities. Through plant life, gardens, pets, hikes in our parks and nature trails, specimen gathering of rocks, leaves, shells, etc., the child can become more a part of the nature that produced him. More significant still is that he feels the wind and the sun and the snow and the rain, that he experience the melting ice and the freezing streams, that he experience the spectacle of birth and reproduction in all the forms of life around him.
The most important of all our nature programs for our children in the treatment centre is the primitive camping that we do each summer. Most of us come from ancestors who lived close to nature and in the forests of Europe and North America. We have a deep rootedness to the crackling campfire, the evening damp, and the morning dew. Children relax in the primitive camp setting, even when it rains, or is cold, or the bugs are bad, or campfire cooking could be improved; in fact, once over their anxieties, children flourish. They become more physically healthy and vigorous, their stress is reduced to manageable proportions, and their outward behaviour moderates. Their capacity for a collective effort grows sharply so that they learn how to be social and function as part of a team.
- All people need to know where they are in space and time. The children that come to us are frequently adrift. They do not really know where they came from, why they came, how long they will be with us, or where they are going. Most of them have given up asking. We must immediately begin on our first contact with the child to orient him in space and time and to find explanations that he can understand and use to explain to him why he is experiencing what he is experiencing. If we do not do this immediately, the child finds explanations that tend to put blame on himself or others for his circumstances.
All children need to know something about normal growth and development so they can understand their changing needs and pressures and so they can anticipate and use their growing capacities as they emerge. Each person needs to know something about the journey that we all take from conception to death. We can at least share the universal milestones along the way. Life becomes richer and more meaningful if we can also share some of the little side trips and rest places and observation points that we pass and enjoy on the journey.
These things require time. The sense of time for the child should not be of the clock, but of the sun and the moon and the seasons. Children need to experience one another and the adults around them separate from the restrictive schedules of work and school and transport and opening and closing of stores, etc.
We say that life is made up of precious little moments that we take for for ourselves outside the structure of the clock. It is not the duration of these moments but the fact that they are not constrained by a time frame that makes them valuable. The more these moments can be part of a theme, the more fulfilled and meaningful they become.
Yet change is a condition of life and in our relationships with the children that comes to us we must prepare them to accept and live with the passing of time and the changes it brings; so that our fulfillment and the pleasures of the past and the present comes as excitement and anticipation of what is yet to come.
- We must provide the child with the opportunities to see and experience grief and mourning. He must not be kept separate from our hurts and pains and the normal agonies of life and death. As we can laugh and play with our children, so we can cry and grieve with them. It is inevitable in life that there will be pain, that there will be agony, that there will be illness, that there will be death and loss. It is our purpose to help the child experience in their simplest forms normal human responses to these things.
For us to do so we must be adults who have been free to experience this ourselves, or have learned to do so with special help from others; that is, we cannot permit ourselves to live through the children we care for and raise.
It is inevitable that the adult who is inhibited, repressed, and unaware, will act out through the children that he raises those things that he cannot deal with directly. This fact accounts for most of the pattern of an individual’s parenting. Tell me how you parent your child and I can tell you what lies as a secret within you undiscovered: your hurts, your unfulfilled needs and dreams, your frustrations and anxieties.