harlow's monkeys

my colleague and I each have clients that know each other and are close friends, having met in foster care.

my colleague’s client is… how to put this… having a bad time. With the team that runs their case. This is the harlow’s monkey kid. The kid has been put in a group home with no case plan or treatment plan, and the team has said they’re just going to stay there “until.” While there, they keep fiddling with the kid’s meds, and the kid keeps having freak outs that they blame on the kid instead of the meds. While there, the kid is being forced to go through trauma therapy. And while there, the kid is not allowed to have contact with any person they know in the world outside of their team members. So they’re doped up, being observed at every moment for any possible “wrong” move, being forced to relive their worst memories, and then returning to a facility where they know nobody and can speak to nobody who knows them.

We have tried pleading with the team to let this client and my client visit, or have a phone call, or have a sleepover at a local foster home that has offered to host them both for a few days so they can be together. They have refused. They have told us this child does not have friends, not really, because they have RAD, and so their attachments are all superficial, and if they tell us this person is their best friend, they’re just being manipulative. They’ll have a new best friend next week, their caseworker told us.

So every time I visit my kiddo, I have them record a video of themselves for their friend on my smartphone. My coworker brings that to the kiddo, and they record a video back.

The videos are the sweetest, most heartbreaking things on the planet. These kids miss each other so much. But they both have RAD, so apparently it’s not possible that they could miss each other. It’s not possible they could derive some comfort from speaking to each other.

Never in my life did I think social work would involve having to perform a series of cloak and dagger moves to sneak a child a thirty second video of their best friend saying, “I love you! You’re going to be okay! You deserve a family! Please don’t give up!”

harry harlow & contact comfort

Developmental psychologists in the 1940s - 1950s believed that infants became attached to those who provided them with nourishment - a widely-held theory that ignored the role of physical contact. 

Harry Harlow took gave orphaned baby monkeys two artificial ‘mothers’ - one was wire and provided milk, the other was covered in soft cloth but provided no milk. 

  • when faced with a frightening stimuli, the monkeys clung to the cloth mother even though the wire mother was the one offering nourishment. 

Harlow concluded that the stimulation/reassurance from the physical touch of a parent plays a key role in developing healthy physical growth and normal socialisation.