Confronting difficulty : a daycare unit in London for children with complex emotional problems
This research is based on participant observation fieldwork at a special daycare unit for children, aged five to thirteen, with complex emotional and behavioural difficulties. The Unit is part of a leading London mental health clinic. The anthropological point of departure is the literature on comparative ethnography, and in particular the increasingly sophisticated comparisons made between western and non-western kinship and concepts of the person. The Unit is seen as an opportunity to study the relationship between intellectual theories of personhood, exemplified by the different strands of professional treatment rationale directed towards the children, and the intense practical experience of defining and working with personhood, exemplified by the daily life of the Unit with the children. It is argued that 'difficulty' is a significant organising principle for both the practical and intellectual work of the Unit: it is used as a descriptive term for the children; it characterises the problem of reconciling the competing treatment rationales; and it dominates the experience of everyday life in the Unit. The Unit is described in sections which divide the work done with the children into three phases: the period of referral and admission in which the Unit becomes acquainted with the child; the period in which the child becomes fully recruited into the internal life of the Unit; and the final period in which the child's progress is evaluated and a decision is made about the next placement. The differing nature of the Unit's relationship to the child in each of these phases is described in terms of the central organising principle of difficulty.