What We Didn't Know Then: Contemporary Neuroscience and What Really Matters for Children in Care

What We Didn't Know Then: Contemporary Neuroscience and What Really Matters for Children in Care


From the perspective of 45 years working with children and young people in care, the presenter looks back at the received wisdom in the field and how this has significantly changed in the light of recent research in neuroscience. Some older ideas (such as the importance of active listening) have withstood the test of time, while others (such as the reliance on behavioral strategies) have either been discarded or significantly modified.

The webinar will look at:

  1. the importance of ‘feeling safe’, a notion that has been around since Maslow’s early work but one that had not penetrated into many areas of human service until the ‘discovery’ of developmental trauma – the notion of safety is strangely absent from most of the earlier CYC texts but is now universally accepted. With reference to the work of Stephen Porges and others we will look at the paramount need of our young people to feel safe – and the roles we can play in their journey;
  2.  the older focus on the external management and manipulation of problematic behaviours which has given way to a richer understanding of the emotional drivers of many behaviours. This includes the concept of ‘pain-based behaviours’ and ‘pain-based responses’ (Anglin, 2022). It also involves a different perspective on the ways our young people learn to self-manage and self-regulate. Moving beyond our older behavioural and cognitive techniques, we now know that true change will only come about through the ways that our young people experience us over time, how we need to ‘co-regulate’ with them where they ‘live, learn and play’ rather than coercively-regulating them. It’s a way of being with them rather than a skill we impart;
  3.  the importance of connection with our young people. We have known this for a long time and the earlier texts certainly stressed that good relationships were important in our work. However, these relationships were often framed as being instrumental; good for achieving our casework goals – they were not seen as a goal or outcome, in and of themselves. The emergence of the trauma perspective (another notion that was absent from the earlier texts) highlights the fact that ‘disconnection’ is the central outcome of developmental trauma (van der Kolk, 2014, 2023; Siegel, 2012) and that our young people yearn for trustworthy, reliable connections. Who we are for them is so much more important that what we do for them.

Dr. Howard Bath has had a long career working with children and young people in the child welfare, youth justice and mental health systems in roles such as youth worker, house parent, program manager, agency director, and clinician. From 2008 to 2015 he was the inaugural Children’s Commissioner in Australia’s Northern Territory with a mission to ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable children receiving care, treatment, education and youth justice services.


Trained as a clinical psychologist, Howard has also provided direct clinical services for young people and their families as well as training and program support for agencies and schools across Australia and internationally. He has authored papers and reports on child protection, out of home care, family preservation and developmental trauma and is the lead author (with John Seita) of the book: The Three Pillars of Transforming Care: Trauma and resilience in the ‘other 23 hours’, written for care workers, teachers, kinship carers and others who interact daily with children exposed to developmental trauma.