Re-wilding the ecology of children and families

6 August, 2020

A few years ago, a colleague of ours mentioned a book she had read about re-wilding. It had struck her that the principles of re-wilding biological ecosystems had a parallel in our human systems. We talked it over and it turned out that there are some really interesting principles of re-wilding natural eco-systems that are worthy of consideration in our practice:

  1. Re-wilding seeks to reinstate natural processes.
  2. Re-wilding encourages a balance between people and the rest of nature where each can thrive.
  3. Re-wilding creates opportunities for communities to diversify.
  4. Re-wilding is an opportunity to leave a positive legacy for future generations.

As we understand it, re-wilding often takes place at the margins, where the ‘civilised’ environment and the ‘wild’ environment meet. ‘The margins’ is also how we sometimes think of our working context at MyST. Many of the children that we work with have and are living with families at the margins of society. Our work with these children and families is also at the margins of mental healthcare. Sometimes, our work isn’t even recognised as being mental health work. Sometimes people tell us that they see us as working with children and families who are ‘making bad choices’ in relation to their ‘social problems’.

We passionately disagree. And we agree. Although these are indeed ‘social problems’ they are social problems such as relational trauma, poverty and inequality that lead to mental distress, and what isn’t a mental health problem about that? Then again, perhaps a ‘mental health problem’ is just one manifestation of the experience of being human. Putting aside this difference of opinion about the category of difficulties faced by the children and families that we work with, we nonetheless seem to find ourselves at the margins, with a positive opportunity to engage in the principles of re-wilding.

References to the existence and benefits of self-organising systems abound in organisational theory and systemic family therapy. Gregory Bateson for example led a generation of systemic practitioners and their descendants with his brilliant understanding of the cybernetics of biological and human systems. His book ‘Steps to an ecology of mind’ (1972) was a game changer.

At MyST, we are strongly influenced by much of the re-wilding, self-organising systems, and ecological perspectives. A few examples of our work which correspond with the same four principles of re-wilding outlined above include:

  1. Our work to provide the necessary core conditions including hope, trust, encouragement and persistence in which the natural processes of child development and psychological healing spring to life.
  2. Our work to strike balances; between for instance addressing the child and family’s problems and building the child and family’s strengths. Or between managing risks and providing opportunities to grow. Or between believing in the child’s potential and tending to the child’s wounds.
  3. Our work to build strong communities of diverse participants from all parts of the child’s world to work together to find solutions using all of their particular talents and perspectives.
  4. Our work to take the long view and attempt to impact upon future generations by working with all generations of children’s families, and addressing needs which if left unmet may roll on down the time line.

Re-wilding natural environments has grown in appreciation and popularity, and the passion continues to spread more widely. We hope that the same occurs in re-wilding those parts of the world of children’s services that might also benefit greatly.

Jen & Jael

A Gwent Partnership Board Service