When all the System Needs Love
This ‘When all the System Needs Love’ blog article was written by Tayla Howard, Therapeutic Specialist, at the Australian Childhood Foundation.
In the OurSPACE program we provide direct therapeutic intervention to children and young people in Out-Of-Home-Care (OOHC). I describe myself as working in trauma informed ways from a child-centered approach. In working this way children can expect unconditional positive regard, their therapist always believes they are doing their very best within the environment they were raised and exist in. Children can expect empathy, understanding and an acceptance of who they are. Children can expect to be seen, to be heard and to be celebrated. Children can expect attunement, compassion, and love. But what about the adults around them?
Working within the Out-Of-Home-Care sector there are a wide range of adults who play significant roles in the lives of the children at the center of our work. Foster carers, kinship carers, emergency and respite carers, ACA workers, caseworkers, educators, and so many more. They exist in the child protection space with constant exposure to trauma, burnout, and disconnection. They exist within a child protection system that cannot meet their needs. Worker turnover is high, care team relationship breakdowns are routine and at the middle is a child or young person who needs consistency, predictability, and love.
“But what if all the system experienced positive regard?”
Child-centered play therapy believes that children grow and heal when provided with the necessary conditions, a growth-producing climate that is free from agenda and constraint. By experiencing unconditional positive regard, the child’s view of self shifts and they develop more positive internal narratives of “me”.
What if we championed the belief that for the care team to change more positively, each individual in the care team is provided unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding. What happens if we work from the belief that each part of the system is doing their very best within the environment they exist in.
I have been trialing this approach. With carers, caseworkers, teachers, counsellors and more. At times, it is challenging, decisions are made that don’t seem to make sense, meetings feel circular with no real outcome, and I have to remind myself of the commitment I made to see everyone through this lens. And that helps. I have more patience to explain something in a different way, or to really hear someone’s reason for making a decision. Best of all, I can model the lens through which they see the child. Carers and workers have the felt experience of unconditional positive regard, empathetic understand and conversations free from my agenda.
It’s (almost) impossible not to understand a relational approach because they can feel it. And then they can begin to engage with others in this way.
Caseworkers and carers can repair their relationship. Teachers, carers, and caseworkers feel understood and supported, and in turn they can see their children through this lens. Children return to the center, the focus of the work. But now they are surrounded by adults who accept them, who understand them and who believe they’re doing their very best, even when things aren’t ideal.
If we champion love to all of the system; unconditional positive regard, compassion, understanding and hope, then maybe, just maybe, the system can share love too.
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Axline, V. (1948). Some observations on play therapy. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 11 , 61– 69.
Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifﬂin.
Schaefer, C. E. (Ed.). (2011). Foundations of play therapy. John Wiley & Sons.
Sweeney, D., & Landreth, G. (2009). Child-centered play therapy. In K. O’Connor & L. Braverman (Eds.), Play therapy theory and practice: Comparing theories and techniques (2nd ed., pp. 123– 162). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.