Research Seminar: The Value of multi-sited Ethnography for Researching and Informing Effective Adoption Education in the United States

The School of Education and Childhood Studies was pleased to host its October research seminar with The MICE Hub. The session was presented by Dr Rachael Stryker, Associate Professor, Department of Human Development and Women’s Studies, California State University. The research focus included the holistic well-being of the adoptive families who formed part of the study, as well as how to effectively inform adoption education programs. Ten years of ethnographic research was summarised, indicating cultural differences which influenced the expectations of US parents who adopted from Russia. This highlighted the impact of geo-political agendas and cross-cultural influences when considering attachment socialisation throughout the adoptive process.

The research was well received and a quote from one of the delegates summarised the talk by saying,

“I thought Rachael showed a strong level of knowledge and expertise which is clearly something you need from a speaker. I was also impressed by the way she took a subject that wasn’t of inherent interest to my work and made it totally compelling.”

 

Dr. Stryker introduced the qualitative studies that were carried out to uncover themes that informed the adoption experience of US parents and Russian children. Since Russian adoption began in 1991, choices are driven by religious beliefs as well as cultural influences such as babies not adopted before 6 months of age. Clear social differences emerged, such as the use of language – describing children as ‘idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’ and high instances of fetal alcohol syndrome.

It was explained that parents were having difficulty bonding with their adopted child and social expectations of attachment were not met. The biomedical model labelled these children as having an inability to attach and inadvertently blamed the child which led to the use of therapies that involved discipline in order to force the child to attach, including cathartic (holding) therapy. This raised questions about how children are socialised in Russia and implored the use of the ethnosemantic methods so that the story (narrative) could be heard.

It emerged that Soviet socialism and the nativism approach had a great impact on how children viewed themselves. These children believed that they belonged to the state. The Russian approach to parenting includes non-responsive care in order to ‘toughen-up’ up their children which changed the children’s expectations and trained them out of attachment. It was necessary to expand US adoptive parents’ perspectives on what they thought they know about wellbeing so that they could create the space that their adopted child needed and acknowledge that different issues originated from different places.

Prospective parents reported feeling nervous and anxious as they wanted to ensure that they were doing the right thing. Following adoption, parents were asked what they wish they had known beforehand. It is also important to acknowledge that different parents have different experiences and may not always seek support. An important aspect for any parent is the provision of education for the children and many parents expressed concern about this. The program sought to explore ideas about what education should look like for the adopted children.

The Institute for Internationally Adopting Families collected data over the course of the project to identify themes. This led to the ‘Whole Child’ Program which was centred on the whole family and focused on discussing specific issues they were experiencing with anthropologists and why these issues may have arisen. Parental satisfaction was reported through the filling of gaps in knowledge which reduced their anxiety.

Dr Stryker concludes that, there is value in cross-cultural, trans-national adoption but the overlaps need to be addressed. Future studies will look at institutional versus family culture and follow-up studies will be carried out. This was a fantastic insight for staff and students at the University of Portsmouth to consider cross-cultural aspects and influences of children’s wellbeing and how approaching issues from a different perspective may be the key to finding solutions in terms of supporting the holistic wellbeing of families and the education of children.

World Mental Health Day

Tuesday 10th October is world mental health day. This year’s theme is mental health in the workplace, so you may be wondering, how does this impact childhood and education? It is important to remember that educational organisations including schools, colleges and universities are also workplaces for many adults and that their mental health is just as important as our children’s as while children are under their care, they will have a huge influence on their development.

good-idea-blackboardIt is also important to remember that educational organisations are how we prepare our children and young people for the work place. We expect them to enter the world of employment fit and healthy, and well prepared to embark and be successful in their future careers, enabling them to contribute to society and achieve a good state of wellbeing. To enable them to meet these expectations, they must first receive the appropriate support and guidance, to ensure healthy development.

Teachers, pastoral workers and support staff are all a huge part of our children’s and young people’s lives and it is just as important that their mental health and wellbeing is in good shape so that they can provide the very best education and lifelong learning. With nearly half of teachers struggling with mental health, as noted in the Times Educational supplement, it is important to acknowledge that this group of people need help and support too!

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With evidence suggesting that mental health issues in both children, especially girls, and staff are on the rise, it is more important than ever to increase awareness, reduce stigma and provide appropriate support. Issues such as bullying have lasting impact on children’s mental health as does increasing pressure to do well and exam stress. This is also a factor for school staff, especially teachers who have to cope with the ever increasing demands of the profession, including pressures regarding workload, attainment and performance.

To address this, it is important to ensure that our children are aware of what mental health is and to promote good wellbeing. We must show them how to ensure they have the best possible physical and mental health and wellbeing, opening them up to as many opportunities in life as possible. Educational establishments are an ideal place to do this. They provide a good range of experts and a safe and secure setting in which to practice and develop these skills. Developing coping strategies for managing everyday life are important to teach our young people to develop resilience and increase their understanding, so they feel safe to reach out and seek support should they need it.

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It is also essential that educational settings receive the funding and training required by the government to enable them to provide the necessary support to both their staff and pupils. Staff should feel equally safe and supported to seek help for their mental health should they require it. Training should be readily provided to enable staff to provide the appropriate support to students and know when and where to signpost if necessary. Being able to recognise and identify the signs is just as important as being able to treat them.

Several charities are holding campaigns in schools this world mental health day in recognition of the importance of improving our young people’s lives. Young Minds are holding their national #helloyellow campaign. Schools are encouraged to participate to raise awareness of the increasing prevalence of depression in young people, with three children in every classroom being diagnosed with depression. Time to change continue their tireless campaign to address the stigma surrounding mental health, which is particularly prevalent amongst young people, especially boys and young men. Action mental health are promoting their ‘wear purple to school’ on World mental health day as well as their ‘five ways to well-being’ challenge which includes sponsored walks, encouraging donations, and promoting learning about mental health by providing information and resources.

*See our Twitter Feed @MICE_Hub for more links to information surrounding children’s and teacher’s mental health and wellbeing.*

The Good Childhood Report 2017

Last month, The Children’s Society launched the latest edition of its annual Good Childhood Report, which presents the latest trends and insights into children’s subjective well-being. Our research programme, which we set up in 2005 in partnership with the University of York, aims to fill a gap in the research about how life is going from the perspective of children themselves and for the full range of well-being domains that are important to children.

In this year’s report, we update our time series analysis of children’s subjective well-being with the latest available data, and consider different explanations for some of the gender patterns that have emerged in these trends over time.  We also present new insights into how multiple experiences of disadvantage are linked to children’s well-being.

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Time trends and gender patterns

In successive Good Childhood Reports, we have drawn on the latest available data from Understanding Society to present trends in children’s subjective well-being from 2009/10 onwards. The latest report shows that children’s happiness with their life as a whole and relationships with friends is at its lowest point since 2009/10, driven by a trend of girls becoming increasingly unhappy with these domains over time. There is also a long-standing gender difference in happiness with appearance that has been growing since 2002.

Gender differences in satisfaction with appearance, 2000 to 2015

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Children aged 11 to 15. British Household Panel Survey, 2000 to 2008, weighted data, three-year smoothed moving average. Understanding Society, 2009–10 to 2014–15, weighted data, three-year smoothed moving average from 2011-12

Furthermore, as children get older, the gender gap for happiness with life as a whole and appearance widens.

Given that there is relatively little insight into the reasons for these gender patterns, we wanted to explore two explanations that have been put forward – social media usage and experiences of bullying.

We know that bullying is important for children’s well-being and that there are gender differences in different types of bullying, with boys more likely to be physically bullied and girls more likely to experience relational bullying. However, in our analysis, these differences did not help to explain gender patterns in well-being.

For social media, the reverse was the case. We found high intensity social media use (more than four hours on a normal school day) to be associated with lower well-being for girls in particular, and to explain some of the gender differences in well-being.  However, in comparison to other factors, social media use was much less important than other factors – such as bullying and family support – in explaining differences in children’s well-being overall.

Comparison of the statistical power of different factors in explaining variations in children’s life satisfaction

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Interestingly, children with low intensity social media usage (less than an hour on a normal school day) did not have lower levels of well-being than those who do not belong to social media at all, and low intensity usage appears to have some benefits in terms of happiness with friendships.

Multiple disadvantage

We asked 3,000 children aged 10 to 17 and their parents about a list of 27 disadvantages relating to family relationships as well as family/household, economic and neighbourhood circumstances. Some of the disadvantages that we asked about – such as worry about crime or struggling with bills – were relatively common while others – such as not having their own bed or having a family member in prison – affected a small minority of children.

According to our estimates, just under a million 10 to 17-year-olds are not facing any of these disadvantages, but this is a small minority of children. A more widespread experience, affecting more than half of the population, is to have three or more disadvantages in their lives.  One million children are facing seven or more disadvantages.

Individually, almost all of the disadvantages were linked with lower well-being. Struggling with bills was the factor that best explained differences in well-being across the whole sample, while children experiencing emotional neglect had the lowest average well-being.

Individual disadvantages and children’s life satisfaction

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Importantly, the disadvantages had a cumulative effect. We found an incremental relationship between multiple disadvantage and children’s well-being: the greater the number of disadvantages that children face, the more likely they were to experience low well-being. Children facing 7 or more disadvantages were ten times more likely to be unhappy with their lives than those with none.

Multiple disadvantage and low well-being

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The evidence outlined in this year’s Good Childhood Report points to the importance of early support for children to prevent the escalation of disadvantage. We are, therefore, calling on the Government to address the expected shortfall in funding for children’s services in the Autumn Budget, and urging local authorities to prioritise the well-being of children experiencing multiple disadvantage. To hear more about our campaign, click here.

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