The news of the death of Joyce Robertson on 12 April 2013 has saddened her many friends and followers in Australia. The pioneering work of Joyce Robertson and her husband James has had a profound effect on how children and young people are cared for in hospitals in Australia.
In the 1950s there is no doubt that Joyce together with James, her partner in life and work, transformed the concept of paediatric hospital care in Britain by studying the parameters that influenced children’s reactions to hospital and institutional situations. Two decades later, their impact on Australia was no less important. The Robertson’s books and films were crucial to the then newly established Australian Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital (www.awch.org.au) in its fight to bring about a revolution in hospital care for children by insisting that the mothering needs of babies and young children be met.
In 1977 Joyce and James Robertson came to Sydney to lead a conference on The emotional needs of infants and young children. Many have spoken of the clarity with which both Joyce and James presented their views and the courage with which they faced opposition to them. They did not deviate from their firmly held beliefs that early and continuous bonding with the caregiver was a prerequisite to the stability and wholeness of the child. The successful establishment of the AWCH Ward Grandparent Scheme in 1987 was influenced by the Robertson’s insistence on the need of substitute mothering for the unvisited children in hospital.
Joyce Robertson will be remembered as one of a small band of people who have devoted their lives to the betterment of the lot of children and thereby earned the thanks of us all. On behalf of all those who care about the emotional wellbeing of young children, thank you Joyce Robertson for your insight and sensitivity, for your warmth, commitment and courage.
on behalf of the Australian Association for the Wellbeing of Children in Healthcare
Joyce has died and, although it is twenty five years since the death of James, it is impossible to think of them except together – James and Joyce. Whenever either was asked for an opinion the answer was always in the plural – ‘We believe’ – ‘We have found’. They were true partners in life and in work.
The first Australian Association for the Welfare of Children (AWCH) in Hospital National Conference ‘The Emotional Needs of Infants and Young Children – Implications for Policy and Practice’ (to become known always as the Robertson Conference) was an act of faith that proved forever justified. For the Robertsons, at that time, Australia was the other side of the world. They usually worked with small professional groups . AWCH was a very young, voluntary organisation which brought parents and professionals together. This impressed them as did our ‘Suggested Health Care Policy Relating to Children and their Families’.
For AWCH the conference was a baptism of fire. In these days of expensive, professional conference organisers it is hard to believe that at the AWCH National Office we did it while carrying out our normal, heavy workload supported by the monumental voluntary efforts of our members. It cannot have been as slick as a present day professional effort but summing up their feelings on the conference James told the delegates ‘You couldn’t be more pleased about it than we are’. The delegates erupted into sustained applause and there was spontaneous singing of ‘For they are jolly good fellows’ and three resounding good cheers. Joyce called out ‘You had better stop or we won’t go home!’ That was our abiding memory of James and Joyce – together, tired but radiant amongst kindred spirits.
The death of Joyce brings to an end a very important era in the search for understanding of infants and young children. The huge legacy of the Robertsons lives on; nowhere more so than in the work of AWCH.
Thank you, Joyce. Thank you, James
AWCH founding member
Graham Martin, then a young doctor at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, now Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Queensland, Undertook the unenviable and daunting task of editing the mass of material from this conference. To his great credit he produced a 300 page document ‘The Emotional Needs of lnfants and Young Children. lmplications for Policy and Practice” – an exceptional book –
few, if any, better for those wishing to understand the Robertson teachings with the added insights into the Australian scene in the seventies. You can borrow the book from AWCH Library