An evening to celebrate Bridget Lindley OBE

20 May 2016

A charity fundraiser symposium of family and human rights will be held at the Royal Institution on 21 June, in aid of the Bridget Lindley Memorial Fund.

Bridget Lindley OBE (1959-2016) was a family lawyer and the symposium is to support two charities: Family Rights Group (who she spent 30 years working for) and Amnesty International UK (who she acted as a trustee for). Her husband, the University of Cambridge psychologist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, is one of the speakers who will discuss her contributions. The evening also features Baroness Hale DBE PC QC FBA (Deputy President of the Supreme Court), Dame Margaret Hodge MP, and a performance by musician Jools Holland. Tickets can be booked online.

Professor Baron-Cohen told us that ‘Bridget's work was a practical application of attachment theory from developmental cognitive neuroscience, and it is so vital that charities like FRG work so hard to avoid children being removed into the 'care' system (whilst keeping them safe within the family) to prevent long-term disorders of attachment.’

We asked him for further reflections on Bridget’s contribution.

“John Bowlby studied psychology and pre-clinical medicine at Trinity College, in Cambridge, where I work. He went on to study medicine at UCL, and later psychiatry and psychoanalysis. During WW2 he published his now famous book "44 Juvenile Thieves", reporting that 17 out of 44 of these thieves had experienced prolonged separation (more than six months) before the age of five, compared to only 2 out of 44 teenagers who did not steal. 14 of the juvenile thieves were also rated as "affectionless psychopaths", and 12 out of these 14 (i.e., 86%) had experienced complete and prolonged separation from their caregiver before age five.

After World War Two Bowlby became Deputy Director of the Tavistock Clinic in London, and developed Attachment Theory, one of the most influential theories in developmental psychology. This simple theory, at a stroke, explained why in all mammals, the vulnerable infant needs to develops a strong attachment to their caregiver, not just for survival against threats to the infant's physical existence, but also for their later psychological sense of security, well-being, feeling loved, valued, and able to trust others, so that the infant can explore the world with confidence, achieve independence, and trust others enough to enjoy relaxed friendships with humour and intimacy, throughout life.

In 1952 Bowlby worked with social worker James Robertson, who got a grant of £150 and bought a cine-camera and 80 minutes of silent black and white film. Robertson made a now widely cited film about two-year-old Laura who was in hospital and experienced a brief separation from her mother, in the days when parents were told to leave their child in the care of the nurse. Check out how she cries "I want my mummy", in his silent film. Bowlby and Robertson's film led to a revolution in paediatric care, making hospitals child-friendly, to avoid the traumatic experience of early separation from a loving caregiver. Today a parent is encouraged to stay with their young child in hospital.

Bridget Lindley, a family lawyer, also worked in this tradition, and went beyond James Robertson by extending Bowlby's theory to children facing being removed from their family for reasons of child protection. Over a 30-year career, working in the London charity Family Rights Group (FRG), she developed pioneering methods to explore safe alternatives to separation of a child from his or her caregiver. An example was using Family Group Conferences to identify who in the wider family could provide safe care for the child, all the while ensuring emotional continuity between the child and their parent. She highlighted the long-term psychological damage of children being entirely without contact with their parent or birth family. For her remarkable work translating psychological theory into socio-legal practice she was awarded the OBE in 2014, and elected to be a Trustee of Amnesty International UK. She died tragically young from secondary breast cancer in 2016.”

- Download the flyer for the event (designed by the couple's two older children, Sam and Kate, who both studied psychology at University College London. Bridget is also survived by her younger child, Robin.