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Wakelyn, J. (2011). Therapeutic observation of an infant in foster care. J. Child Psychother., 37(3):280-310.

(2011). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 37(3):280-310

Therapeutic observation of an infant in foster care

Jenifer Wakelyn

The paper describes a clinical research study of therapeutic observation of an infant in foster care. Infants and children under five represent more than half of all children entering care in the UK. The emotional needs of this population tend to be overlooked. This study aimed to find out about the experience of an infant or young child in care, to learn about possible reasons for the under-detection of mental health and emotional difficulties in a group of particularly vulnerable children, and to inform training and support for professionals. Therapeutic observation has been reported to be a cost-effective, home-based component in multidisciplinary treatments for infants and young children with a range of difficulties. The study found that the model was acceptable to foster carers and provided a child-centred perspective to the professional network. Grounded theory analysis of the observational data produced a description of dynamics around the infant in foster care, varying from experiences of emotional connectedness and containment (Matrix) to those of confusion, pressure and fragmentation (Tornado), dissociation (Machine), and drift or provisionality (Limbo). Observational data suggested that when ‘Tornado’, ‘Machine’ and Limbo dominate, organisation is driven by trauma rather than by development. This increases the risk of losing contact with the emotional reality of children's experiences. Dilemmas are also explored in relation to the transition from foster care to adoption. The study highlights the role of specialist training to support emotionally responsive caregiving for infants and young children in care. Further research is suggested to investigate the application of this model with infants and young children in a range of care contexts.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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