Book review: Hush Little Baby by Shane Dunphy

I just finished reading another Shane Dunphy memoir that so clearly captures the ups and downs and shere diversity of what one would come across in child protection.

Shane sums it up well in the end of the book when he says the stories are themed around the responsibilities we have to each other in our families and the dynamics between parents and children. These five stories do reflect this and show the inner strength of all envolved. And most striking, the ability of the children in some cases to continue a healthy as possible relationship with their parents despite mistreatment.

In the first story Shane is involved in a case with a traveler family. The traveler community has it’s own culture, music and ways of being. They are nomadic, live in what would be considered broken down trailers have no running water/ electricity. Often are told they are dirty uneducated ETC. They have amistrustfull relationship with the “settled community” who actually ended up envading their territory in the first place.

Shane uses this knowledge of their culture, and his past experience with knowing some travelers, to gain the trust of Tilly a severely battered wife. On the first meeting Shane is trying to talk to the children. The youngest boy Johny and he are playing a game. He wanted to continue playing. But his father in an unexpected rage beat Johny literally before anyone could do anything. Tilly and the other children were stunned as was Shane. This brutality was a devastating common occurrence in the family. Social service and the polece were called in to remove everyone from the home. They arrested Tilly’s husband, Shane carried several children out of the house. Tilly broken and alone did finally agree to go to a women’s shelter.

Throughout the book Shane tirelessly builds a relationship with her in spite of her not wanting anything to do with him. They get a new modern motor home. The only bad thing is that it’s parked near a river. There is a thin railing separating the river from the land. Tilly and the children are very happy with their new home and have warmed up to Shane. Shane is amazed at Johny’s recovery though extremely slow and there is great evidence of brain damage. Still the family welcome him with such caring and help in any way they can. Things seem a success for this family until tragedy strikes.

Shane’s second case is really a favor asked by a former colleague. Her brother Clive is a teen who has been locked in an adult psychiatric unit for years. He used to be fun loving, loved nature and bird watching. Now is completely psychotic and extremely violent. Shane is sent in to try to piece together what is going on. At first Clive greets him with complete paranoia and violence. The unknown of Clive’s sudden rage is always hanging over their interactions. But Shane perseveres . And slowly does build a relationship. Clive often talks of monsters attacking him and demons. The medications don’t seem to be helping and Shane is convinced it’s trauma based. When he finds out the truth it reveals shocking ritual abuse by the people who were supposed to care for him.

In the next case Shane is asked to go to a residential home to help Katie an out of control 13 year old girl. For the past ten months she’s been terrorizing the staff with her rages lasting hours. She will not cooperate or engage in any kind of therapy. The staff are at their wits end with her. In the beginning Shane doesn’t do much better in getting behind her thick walls. His first big intervention is to allow Katie to physically release all of her anger While Shane insures her safety both with matts on the floor and his knowledge of restraining and handling a person in that state. There are also cameras on in the room. Incredibly The staff are ok with this though skeptical and it seems the first time he’s done something like this. But the physical pain and emotional exhaustion of these sessions pays off. Each day the time it takes Katie to calm down decreases. The process takes three days and by the end of it the two have forged a much closer bond, Katie knowing for the first time that someone will face her anger without retreating.

It is then that she is able to open up. Through sandplay she is able to disclose horrific physical and sexual abuse. This is by no means the end to the harm that came to her. She had more emotional demons to face with Shane by her side. She came through much stronger for it. Even reconnecting with the one person in her life she felt cared. Her life was forever changed by having Shane a part of it.

The next case involves a brother and sister adopted by their foster parents Gutrude and Percy. This case is given to Shane called an “open and shut” case by his colleague. It ends up being the most challenging case in the book. Gurtrude is a very emotionally intimidating woman. She wants everything done her way. She is obsessed about how Patrick is so difficult to raise that his behavior is so out of line that she can’t handle it. She states other social workers leaving the case with things unchanged as a testimony to how no one can handle Patrick. Bethany on the other hand, his younger sister can do no wrong in Gurtrude’s eyes.

This is a heartbreaking situation for Shane to walk into. With an extremely emotionally manipulative woman who quite successfully alienated Patrick from the whole family. Her husband is so passive and afraid of her he’s unable to speak up for his son or protect him from this emotional abuse. His poor five year old sister is innocently caught in the crossfire, set as the favorite but not sure why.

Shane starts out with some family sessions. Trying to get everyone talking and on the same page. This fails miserably as Gurtrude does everything in her power to resist the sessions. It turns out that the behaviors that she thinks are so terrible are really only teen issues quite normal. Throwing a sweatshirt at his mom instead of handing it to her. Not cleaning up after himself, going to the arkaid when his mom said no ETC. Really nothing to call in social services for.

As things escalate with Gurtrude demanding that Patrick get removed Shane becomes personally envolved in finding this troubled yet intelligent boy the support he needs. Patrick is extremely loving and perceptive. He chose once in care to seek out his birth mother. When he found out she was a drug addict and very mentally unstable he vowed to continue contact. With her as well as gurtrude, for all she hurt him. His love for them, saying you can’t choose your family, propelled him to be a part of their lives. But in a healthy way where he wouldn’t allow himself to be abused anymore.

The last story is the conclusion to a story in a previous book. Twins Larry and Francey were locked up starved and beaten almost to death when put in residential. Shane first came on the scene because their behavior was like that of wild animals. He was able to get through to them. Their father Maliki is extremely developmentally disabled. He is like a huge at times violent five year old. Their mother Vera is emotionally abusive to the point where she used her husband in order to get away free from what she did to the children. She claimed that Maliki abused her and the kids and made her do what she did.

Shane continues on with this case building a relationship with Maliki in order to uncover the truth. Even when Vera fooled every social worker on the case with the exception of Shane’s supervisor, Shane persisted. He knew that she had every chance of getting her kids returned to her as she was such a good manipulator. And had zero remorse for anything that happened. He cleverly puts her in a position where she’s so stressed she slips majorly and admits her wrongdoing. Meanwhile through careful questioning Maliki breaks down and admits what she made him do. Due to his intellectual disability he honestly didn’t know at the time what he was doing was wrong. Somehow the kids were able to slowly build trust with their father. But more importantly Shane saved these kids from likely being killed.

These five cases weave and intertwine throughout the book. They show the wide spectrum of families that a childcare worker will meet, the controversial issues faced, and the out of the box interventions that often are the only thing to unlock past traumas and get to the healing that all deserve. Again I would highly recommend this book for any classes dealing with social work, ethics, counseling psychology ETC.

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