By: Book Reviewers
Book reviews of
Little Victim, Angels of Mercy, and
The Whole-Brain Child.
Little Victim: The Real Story of Britain’s Vulnerable Children and the People Who Rescue Them, by Harry Keeble with Kris Hollington, Simon and Schuster, London, 2011, 274 pages, $7.23.
Little Victim is a collection of narratives illustrating one year in the life of Hackley Child Protection in the United Kingdom, as told by Harry Keeble, a once drug task police officer turned child protection agent. In 27 chapters, Harry exposes an assortment of child protection investigations involving physical and sexual abuse, endurance punishment, drug abuse, mental illness, neglect, and cultural incongruity. Harry describes each one of these cases from beginning to end—receiving a referral, components of the investigation, and the outcome of the case. In illuminating these narratives, Harry brings to light the vulnerability and resiliency of children along with his own inner conflict concerning what he thinks is best for children and the unfortunate and painful limitations of child protection services. Harry aims to dissolve common misconceptions as he praises social workers for fighting the war against systemic problems that adversely affect children with minimal resources and negative perceptions of their work. The book concludes purposefully as Harry promotes positive change by challenging funding cuts to prevention services, encouraging readers to get involved as advocates for children, and diagramming a treatment team model that he feels will be safer and more productive for other social service agencies that are underfunded and understaffed.
Although this book centers on one borough in the United Kingdom, the messages and implications transcend to child protection by and large. The accounts in this book may seem graphic and upsetting to the general public, but individuals working in child protection know them all too well, and for that reason, social work students considering a career in child protection could benefit from the content about why some individuals feel called to the profession and why some choose against it. Novice social workers could benefit from the subject matter presented in each case, as well as the facts, advice, and insight provided by an experienced child protection worker. This book could be utilized by experienced social workers and social work educators as an update on current trends in child protection. This book could also be informative for social work clients involved with child protection services, because it may facilitate an understanding of the decisions that are made by the child protection agencies.
Overall, Little Victim is an honestly descriptive, sometimes gritty, compilation of narratives that accurately depict the ups and downs, as well as successes and failures, of child protection while still imparting the reader with a sense of optimism.
Reviewed by Angie Chisholm, LLMSW, Clinical Social Worker at Hope Network Behavioral Health.
Angels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum, by William Seraile, Fordham University Press, New York, 2011, 220 pages, $27.95.
Over the course of their careers, many social workers will find themselves working directly in the child welfare profession or working in conjunction with child welfare professionals. William Seraile’s book, Angels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum, provides a detailed account of the history of New York City’s first orphanage for African American children from its establishment in the early nineteenth century to its transition to the more modern child welfare agency in the mid-twentieth century.
Seraile opens his book with an interesting take on the driving forces that led white women in the 1830s to take up the cause of the “colored” orphans. These forces were two-fold; the first was a paternalistic attitude in which these women hoped to save the orphans’ souls by instilling a strict Protestant moral code they felt was missing in the “colored” race. The founders made a point to avoid any talk of social equality or amalgamation and fostered an “us vs. them” mentality by refusing to turn to the black community for guidance and support.
The second was the desire of the founding women to pursue work outside the home that would not upset the strict gender roles of the time. Their race deemed them superior to the children they were serving, so they were able to take on an empowered and authoritative role that would otherwise have been forbidden without de-feminizing themselves.
Seraile then follows the Colored Orphan Asylum over a century, as it grows in size by opening itself up to half-orphans, abused and neglected children, and delinquent children. He continues to analyze the recurrent issues the Asylum faces over time. These include the need for a trained and professional staff to meet the demands of a challenging population, the budget constraints that make it difficult to retain qualified staff, and the movement from an agency whose responsibility is to provide placement to an agency whose responsibility is to provide safety and permanence.
Whereas it is clear that Seraile was meticulous in his research of the Asylum’s finances, management, and individual cases, he has difficulty integrating the research data into a cohesive discussion of the topic at hand so that the reader becomes focused on the data rather than on the storyline. Nonetheless, Angels of Mercy presents a fascinating history of one agency’s journey and perseverance over more than a century.
Angels of Mercy is relevant to all social workers as a reminder of the importance of cultural competency in social work practice and is of particular relevance to any social worker in the child welfare field, as well as social work students and teachers in the areas of both direct service and administration. Many current social workers can no doubt draw parallels between the difficulties experienced by the Asylum staff and the issues faced by child welfare staff of today.
Reviewed by Alexandra Kline, LGSW, Social Worker, D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.
The Whole-Brain Child: Revolutionary Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., Delacorte Press, New York, 2011, 168 pages, $24.00 USD/$27.00 CDN.
World renowned author and neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel and pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist and parent consultant Tina Payne Bryson form a dynamic duo in this “must have” volume. It was written to help parents understand their children using information gleaned from neuroscience. The genius of this book is its clear and simple delivery of theory and practice. Finally, neuroscience made easy!
Siegel and Bryson set out to give 12 strategies for understanding children with the brain in mind. The right brain and its emotions dominate the logic of the left brain in young children. They remind us that the brain undergoes significant changes during the first few years of life and then again during the teen years into adulthood. The human brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. This would explain why parents think it can take so long for reason and good decision-making to prevail in the lives of their children.
The six chapters are structured to provide real life situations that parents of younger children typically deal with: temper tantrums, irrational fears, lack of consideration for others, anxiety, disappointment. Each chapter includes illustrated (comic style) examples of how to intervene with children and ends with an invitation for parents to reflect on their own experiences. All of these elements are woven together with strands of information about the developing brain of a child.
Siegel and Bryson’s brilliance is shown in their unique descriptions of the brain. Some examples are: the upstairs (middle pre-frontal cortex) and downstairs brain (primitive), building a staircase to integrate the upstairs and downstairs brain, understanding the difference between upstairs and downstairs tantrums. Their use of simple phrases such as: “connect and redirect,” “name it to tame it,” “engage, don’t enrage,” “use it or lose it,” “move it or lose it,” “let the clouds of emotion roll by,” “use the remote of the mind,” “connect through conflict,” and “argue with a ‘we’ in mind,” make learning new brain facts interesting and easy to remember. The book is complete with a “Refrigerator Sheet,” which summarizes the basics of The Whole-Brain Child. In addition, the authors include a reference guide that outlines the stages of child development, types of brain integration, whole-brain strategies, and applications.
Siegel and Bryson state that the focus in The Whole-Brain Child is from birth to pre-teens. I was disappointed that this book didn’t include adolescents, although many ideas can be modified for use with teens. It would be ideal if the authors would write another volume to address the whole-brain teenager and young adult, thereby assisting parents who struggle to navigate the latter stages of parenting. That being said, this material is a wonderful primer for any parent-to-be, early childhood educators, teachers, and medical and helping professionals. For those who would like a simple explanation of neuroscience, this is a good place to start. This book will help any professional grasp the basics of brain science and how it intersects with the developmental stages of childhood.
The Whole-Brain Child is another one of Siegel’s masterpieces and a great debut for Bryson. Their combined effort to integrate practical applications of neuroscience to the most important job in the world, parenting, is long overdue. I would highly recommend this work to anyone who works with, lives with, or engages with children. You won’t be disappointed!
Reviewed by Patricia Berendsen RMFT, RSW, SEP, OAMFT/AAMFT-approved supervisor, clinician with the Clinical Supports program of the Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System of the London Family Court Clinic in London, Ontario.
From The New Social Worker, Winter 2012, Vol. 19, No. 1.