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Troubled children

RISK AND RESILIENCE. Adults who were the children of problem drinkers. By Richard Velleman and Jim Orford. Harwood Academic, pound;30.

One of the running jokes in TV's The Fast Show concerns a middle-class couple who are permanently drunk. For me, it is at best only faintly amusing, because drunkenness in the flesh is so seriously unfunny that you have to call up all your reserves of liberal tolerance to accept it in a comedy show.

Part of the problem is that the couple have a child, who "copes" with his alcoholic parents by emulating them. Viewers who are teachers, social workers, police officers or indeed friends and neighbours, will know children of drunken parents who are not coping at all.

In Risk and Resilience: adults who were the children of problem drinkers (Harwood Academic pound;30), Richard Velleman and Jim Orford offer at least some reassurance with the help of a research study which suggests that, although living with drunken parents is not a recipe for a happy childhood, it need not have long-term adverse effects. In fact, such children often become "survivors", strengthened by adversity. The research also shows the importance of a firm and understanding support network, of which school and teachers form a vital part.

Steadfast patience is also at a premium when it comes to dealing with children who have severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. Because teachers in the mainstream know a little about difficult children, they have huge, head-shaking admiration for those who every day deal with serious problems at home.

In Loving, Hating and Survival, edited by Andrew Hardwick and Judith Woodhead (Ashgate pound;25), you begin to get just an inkling of how it might be done. For these authors, the key lies in a 1970 lecture by the late Donald Winnicott. He spoke not o treatment or cure, but of survival. "If you survive, then the child has a chance to grow and become something like the person he or she would have been," he said.

This is quite a technical book for professionals in a specialised field, but it will be particularly useful to mainstream teachers and special needs co-ordinators. The message is that the person who works with damaged children needs above all to offer strength, dependability and non-judgmental acceptance. It is a matter of "being there for you" in a way that the writers of sentimental TV shows could never dream of.

Children, edited by Dominic Wyse and Angela Hawtin (Arnold pound;13.99), pulls together strands of the study of childhood in a way that will be helpful and convenient for students and teachers in professional development training. It covers, briefly but clearly, a startling range of topics from the history of childhood, through theories of child development (including those of Piaget, often mentioned but rarely explained) to ideas about children at risk and children's rights. This is one of those books that seems with hindsight to have been an obvious idea, and now here it is.

Finally, on the theme of "being there", there is Suffer the Little Children by Peter Congdon (Minerva pound;9.99). Dr Congdon, a senior educational psychologist, has devoted his life to the needs of children in the Midlands. His experiences and the places he visits are recognisable in what is ostensibly a work of fiction. Speculation as to where lies his factfiction boundary will intrigue his many former colleagues, especially when they read about the "beautiful and seductive Sarah Craig".

Replete with insights into childhood, this is a very readable and very effective alternative to any number of more po-faced factual texts.

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