Professorial Lecture Series

13 March 2018

“Unnatural childhoods – growing up in impermanent, statutory care” – Presented by Professor Michael Tarren-Sweeney, School of Health Sciences

  • Michael Tarren-Sweeney

    Professor Michael Tarren-Sweeney

Congratulations to the College of Education, Health and Human Development's newest Professor, Michael Tarren-Sweeney, who completed his professorial lecture on 8 March.

Children typically enter statutory care with compromised psychological development, as a result of chronic and severe maltreatment through their early years. In particular, many children enter care with impaired attachment systems, manifesting to others as relational difficulties – that is further compromised by developmental trauma.

This child population is thus uniquely primed for ‘felt insecurity’. Their developmental recovery hinges on them acquiring and maintaining felt security through the experience of unconditional love and care.  And yet, statutory care systems evolved over the past century with another purpose in mind – to provide time-limited care and protection to children, with restoration to their parents being the final goal.

Despite this, increasing numbers of children throughout the developed world effectively grow up in legally impermanent alternative care. Therein lies a dilemma. In this lecture, Michael described extraordinary developmental risks faced by children growing up in statutory care, involving complex interaction of child welfare practices, caregiver motivation, the child’s experience of impermanence, and children’s and caregivers’ felt security.

He concluded that the state can only meet its duty of care to these children if it addresses their need for relational permanence.

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