Honouring Joyce Robertson

The passing of Joyce Robertson must be a spur to action to campaign for this Government to implement needs-led policies with a central appreciation, along with abuse, trauma and neglect, of the enduring effects of separation and loss for children and young people.

It is evidence and assessment of need that should determine responses not finance or ideology.

The film Joyce and John Robertson made, John, has perhaps connected more directly with more people than all the erudite literature on attachment. It is in this film, as Mary Lindsay writes in Joyce’s obituary, that we see the emotional disintegration of a young boy. Viewers cannot fail to experience the profound effects. Seeing is believing.

Early intervention is essential to support families, but so too is the right placement at the right time if children needs to be in care. We subject many looked after children to serial placements each year, the figures for five or more steadily rise and children’s homes see children arrive with 30 or more previous placements. This is cumulative separation, and loss can be stopped with strategy.

In these past days we have been discussing what is necessary for appropriate social work training, and our two leading provider organisations for placements for looked after children, the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers and the Independent Children’s Homes Association have overcome historic differences to make a joint statement to improve the care and welfare of looked after children. It is not tweaks but thorough strategy locally, regionally and nationally that is urgently needed

Some evidence, like that of the Robertsons, is eternal. There is nothing new or better. Indeed some more recent research seems to lead us away from what is necessary and effective. We can add to the Robertsons but we need it to be understood as central to all else.

All those involved in social care, from the Minister to local government corporate parents, cabinet members and officers, social workers, fostering and residential child care workers should now view John and act according to the undoubted experiences that it will elicit.

In doing so we will be paying our respects to Joyce Robertson who with her husband has been too long overlooked in the pantheon of the social work and child care greats.

Jonathan Stanley runs NCERCC.

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