Mental Health and Safeguarding in Childhood (1880-1920)

The approaches to safeguarding and supporting mental health and wellbeing in childhood today, are not all that different from those in the Victorian and Edwardian times.  Studying a total of 120 case files from the Children’s Society’s archives from 1880-1920, with a specific focus on language around mental health, revealed a number of similarities. The reasons for being taken into care, were and are still very much the same, namely based around the relationship between child and family, mental health of the parents and alcoholism (and surprisingly few children were taken into care due to being orphans in the Victorian/Edwardian times as is commonly thought).

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Joined up working and multi-agency teamwork is now, as it was then, problematic; practice is fragmented, partly due to lack of funding. In addition to this, the child’s ‘voice’ seems to be only sporadically acknowledged – then and now. For example, one case file from 1920 refers to a 16 year old girl asking to ‘come out of the asylum’ and ‘start afresh’; this never happened. Similar developments can still be seen now, where children have a lack of choice in what happens to them in care, with care leavers describing the care system as ‘extremely disappointing’, whilst reflecting upon this. Other similarities are a focus on the child’s behaviour, and practical and cognitive abilities (e.g. think about the current focus on ‘NEET’, not in education, training or employment), at the cost of attention for mental health and wellbeing.

This research was presented at the European Society for the History of Human Sciences conference (ESHHS) in Italy, by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten an academic in Childhood Studies at the University of Portsmouth, drawing on her research on mental health in childhood, funded by the Wellcome Trust. The purpose of ESHHS is to promote international, multidisciplinary cooperation in scholarly activity and research in the history of the human sciences.

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The term ‘mental health’ was popularised in the early 1900s by physicians and social reformers. Over a century later, mental health and wellbeing are recurrent themes in the media and on government agendas, with evidence that still more needs to be done on this front. This research shows how many of the issues that concern contemporary studies of childhood (e.g. parenting, poverty) have a historical trajectory that informs the present. Stigma continues to play a significant role, and understandings are subject to the interests and values of the people, organisations and institutions attempting to define and interpret terms.

Comparing the historic research in the Children’s Society archives with current date from 84 interviews with school children, young care leavers and parents reveals that although language around mental health and wellbeing has developed (e.g. correspondence in 1880 refers to a young girl as a ‘lunatic’ and a father as ‘hopelessly insane’) the approach taken by those responsible for children’s welfare has changed remarkably little in over 100 years.  More needs to be done to improve mental health care and reduce stigma and I hope some of this research can be used to challenge today’s interpretation and treatment and get the best for our children.

The Future of Education: Learning Throughout The Life-course Conference

This year’s conference was hosted by The School of Education and Childhood studies in collaboration with the Higher Education Forum. The conference was organised by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Jessica Gagnon who led a team of academics and administration staff.  It is the sixth annual conference and this year focused on ‘The Future of Education: Learning throughout the Life-course.’ This year over 120 delegates attended the event and lots of participation took place in the form of questions and comments. The event was organised around 4 themes that are central to the work of the department: Mental Health and Wellbeing in Childhood and Education, Childhood and International Development, Education Perspectives, and Inclusion and Diversity. 

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference
Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference

The scene for these themes was set by the two keynote speakers, both professors exploring current themes relating to educational and life-course outcomes for future generations. The first speaker was Professor Nigel Thomas, Professor of Childhood and Youth Research in the School of Social Work, Care and Community at the University of Central Lancashire on ’Human Beings Need Something from One Another when they come to places Like Schools’ Participation, Recognition and Wellbeing and Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Education and Social Justice and Bridge Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Research in Race and Education, in the School of Education at The University of Birmingham on BME Academic Flight from UK Higher Education. 

Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas. Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal
Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas.
Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal

The keynote speakers raised a number of important issues which generated a whole host of questions to be addressed through future research and collaboration. In particular, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, University of Birmingham, delivered an array of alarming statistics regarding the disadvantages faced by BME students through her research which is linked to the inequalities still experienced by those from BME backgrounds at all levels. In particular, the discrepancies between the number of, not only BME students, but those from other WP groups, who gain access to Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities and the under-representation of BME academic staff across all HEIs (ECU 2015), (HEFCE 2016), (Bhopal 2016), (Independent Schools Council (2016)).

Professor Nigel Thomas delivered his findings from a current research project working in collaboration with various Australian universities and organisations in partnership to look at the link between wellbeing and participation of students. Findings were generally optimistic, but he raised a key point that although students rated ‘having a say’ as particularly important, they need more than ‘just a voice’. That it is important to them that their voice is ‘heard’ by influential people and taken seriously so that they have real choice and influence. Professor Thomas reported that overall, meaningful participation led to recognition and improved student wellbeing.  He also discussed how this would work within the school context and the feeling of threat faced by teachers when pupils are openly invited to participate in what are traditionally adult conversations, should this strategy be implemented (Bingham 2001).  One of the key take home messages being that, “effective participation has a key payoff in enhanced wellbeing.”

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors of the SECS department's most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns
Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Angie Dharmaraj- Savicks discussing the departments most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns, of which Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors.

The conference also introduced new and ongoing research themes within the department including; Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten’s Mental Health in Childhood and Education Hub, Dr Jessica Gagnon’s multiple projects around the themes of Higher Education Experiences: Equity and Inclusion, Dr Francesca Salvi, Dr Angie Dharmaraj-Savicks and Dr Ann Emerson’s Global Education, Childhoods and Outreach, among others.  Important issues and questions were raised that researchers in the department will be working on during the coming year. The conference provides a fantastic opportunity for staff to showcase their work and to meet and listen to academics and practitioners from other universities, colleges and educational organisations.

Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors - Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton
Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors – Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton

 

References:

Bhopal, K., Brown, H. and Jackson, J (2016) ‘BME academic flight from UK to overseas higher education: aspects of marginalisation and exclusion.’ British Educational Research Journal. 42, 2: 240-257. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3204

Bingham C (2001) Schools of Recognition: Identity Politics and Classroom Practices. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

ECU (2015). Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2015. Part 1: staff. London: ECU.

Funding for higher education in England for 2016-17: HEFCE grant letter from BIS (2016) http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2016/Name,107598,en.html

Independent Schools Council (2016) Annual Census Report (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.isc.co.uk/research/annual-census/isc-annual-census-2016/

European Network for Social and Emotional Confidence – Conference on ‘Diversity’, Sweden and Finland June 2017

Perhaps there has never been a more important time to address the complex issues that we all face throughout the world in this time of tremendous change and mass flight of people. ENSEC is devoted to the development and promotion of evidence-based practice in relation to socio-emotional competence and resilience amongst school students in Europe.

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Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten presented two papers at the conference on ‘Diversity’, one on mental health and wellbeing of care leavers and one on childhood obesity and bullying. Here is the link to the relevant PowerPoints and publications.

Professor Håkan Stattin from Örebro University, Sweden, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Sweden provided a keynote on adolescent agency. His message was that research around parenting styles needs to take account of the fact that young people are individuals, with their own personality and temperament, as such parent-child interaction is a two-way street: “Parents respond to youths the same way they do to other people – approach those who are friendly and open and avoid those who are unfriendly and sullen”:

Diversity-Conference-pic-2-June17Professor Peter Smith Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, summarised issues around cyber-bullying research and specifically the need for more qualitative research, cross-cultural research and the need for more research with a focus on ethnic minority students.

ENSEC is open to researchers and practitioners working in the area of social and emotional education in Europe. While the main focus of the Network is on what goes in Europe, the network seeks to establish collaboration and dialogue also with individuals and organisations outside of Europe.

For more information and Membership of ENSEC, see website: http://enseceurope.org/?page_id=82:

There are two main entry criteria for membership, namely:

  • the applicant must be a researcher (including PhD students) and/or practitioner working in the area of social and emotional education
  • the applicant must be affiliated to a not-for-profit organisation

Members from European countries are eligible for full membership while those from outside Europe may join as associate members. Membership is free of charge. Members may also register for the network journal, the International Journal of Emotional Education, free of charge.