Rethinking Mental Health: Foster Children, Emotions and Behaviour

Pascal Rudin, PhD student, University of Edinburgh, Switzerland 

Literature highlights that the prevalence of mental health diagnoses amongst foster children is significantly higher than in the general population of children (McMillenet al. 2005; Schmid et al. 2008). Amongst all these diagnoses, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common to be found (Abraham, 2010). Although non-pharmacological treatments have been reported as being highly successful interventions, they remain rare exemptions.   Methods This research draws on the sociology of emotions (McCarthy 1989, Denzin 1990) and the body (Turner 1997) in order to examine case files recorded by various actors involved in child welfare. This framework offers a valuable way to overcome the dichotomy of cultural and biomedical understandings of ADHD by exploring the way that emotions mediate our everyday lives (Rudin 2011).   Results After examining the case files, it became apparent that one of the main issues to be problematised is that ADHD diagnoses are, with almost no exception, based exclusively on the present, while the terms ‘hyperactivity’ and ‘inattention’ serve as key words in order to legitimise a fast response through the vehicle of pharmacological treatment.   Implications The research findings suggest the following guiding principles: (i) taking into account the history of every child; (ii) looking behind possible meanings of ‘deviant behaviour’ in order to understand and help these children and to avoid simplified medical approaches that ignore the wider social and cultural environment; (iii) establish a ‘healing relationship’ in order to help these often ‘homeless’ foster children; (iv) taking into account the child’s view.

Key-words: Mental Health, Foster Care, Social Work, ADHD, Emotions

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