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Touch: Trust, timidity and taboo in professional care for children and young people, who have been rejected, neglected and abused

10 February 2017 9:00 am - 4:15 pm
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For six decades and more, practitioners and researchers in child care have recognised the importance of close relationships in supporting children in care and enhancing their well-being.

Today, however, an over-concern about abuse has created a major tension between showing physical affection and warmth and providing a high level of safeguarding for children and young people.

There is an urgent need for clarification of the confusion experienced by many teachers, residential and foster carers, when it comes to touching children and young people in their care, whether it is to show affection, give confidence or reassurance, or to increase or prevent the child from inflicting hurt on herself/himself or others.

As researchers and applied psychologists, we should be keen to take a positive stand on the importance of touch and to draw upon well-established Psychological theory, past and current research and within safeguarding guidelines, to make a declaration that there is a psychological and biological need for touch for all children, but especially those who have been rejected, neglected and abused.

Many child and educational psychologists would therefore support the following statements:

  • It is appropriate for teachers, carers and other adults working with children to use touch in a positive and professional manner in their everyday work.
  • Conveying warmth and approval can take many forms from praise to touching.  Comforting a distressed, frightened or hurt child can involve a continuum of normal adult reactions ranging from quiet words, a hand around a shoulder or even a warm and sustained hug.
  • While the individuality of children's reactions to different types of adult warmth needs to be recognised, most children in most situations are likely to react positively to what they judge to be genuine adult empathy, affection, approval or admiration in its various forms.
  • Touch deprivation/touch taboo rules are likely to be harmful to the psychological wellbeing of children and young people in general, especially those children who have suffered rejection, abuse or neglect in their families.
  • Guidelines which recommend bland, neutral or distancing professional behaviour should always be challenged by applied psychologists.
  • While physical contact should be a conscious, self-aware, reasonable and justifiable response by any adult where intentions are explicit to the young person, there are occasions when a spontaneously warm and caring adult reaction is not only appropriate but essential.

BPS London Office
30 Tabernacle Street

Event Location: 


09:00 Registration
09:30  Conference starts 
13:00-13:40 Lunch
16:15 Workshop ends

Objectives for the day

  • To consider the latest research on ‘affective touch’ and its place in professional child care. 
  • To clarify the issues around recommended practice guidelines and/or current perceptions on the employment of touch in schools, children’s homes and foster/ adoptive family homes.
  • To discuss safeguarding issues for both young people and their carers.
  • To decide whether the ‘touch taboo’ issue is one on which the BPS and the DECP should take a more robust and positive stance.
  • To draft a series of principles and guidelines concerning touch in childcare and educational contexts.


  • Sean Cameron
  • Professor Francis McGlone
  • Dr Tony Mancini
  • Professor Heather Piper
  • Dr Laura Steckley

For further info, consult the Speaker Summaries document.


Conference programme

PDF 23k

Non-Members £80.00 (£66.76 + VAT)
Society Members £50.00 (£41.67 + VAT)

Please note: online bookings will close on 9 February 2017 at midday.

Please call +44 (0)1952 214065 for availability after this point.

To pay by cheque or request an invoice complete and return the 2017 Registration Form.

Please note that we are only able to accept invoice requests at least 6 weeks before the event date.


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