The MICE Hub (Mental Health in Childhood & Education Hub) conference on Trauma, Mental Health and Wellbeing in Childhood – Historic and Contemporary Perspectives

In support of narrative

In the interest of supporting the theme of narrative I have decided to tell the story of my experience at the recent The MICE Hub (Mental Health in Childhood & Education Hub) conference on Trauma, Mental Health and Wellbeing in Childhood  – Historic and Contemporary Perspectives, which took place on Wednesday 20th November 2019 at the Old Customs House at Gunwharf Quays.

What’s Changed?

I arrived to a warm room filled with people sat on rustic chairs, mostly women, all entranced by Dr Sims-Schouten’s talk on Trauma & Mental Health in Childhood describing accounts of her recent archival and contemporary research into the deserving/undeserving paradigm around the provision of support for young people and how this impacts their mental health and wellbeing. It was especially intriguing to listen to her account of how the conceptualisation and treatment of children based on their behaviour, has changed so little in over one hundred years.

“Bad Blood” and Criminalising Children

Leading on from this inspiring introduction, the distinct and pleasant accent of Professor Hendrikus Stam from the Department of Psychology, University of Calgary (Canada) captivated the room with his talk, “We need more of our own blood” – Home Children as Conduits for Maintaining an Empire or Building a Nation?This told the story of the horrific treatment of some of the migrant children shipped to Canada by so called ‘Child Protection Agencies’ leading up to, and at the turn of the 20th century, as part of the migrant movement. He described some truly terrible tales. It was hard to believe that anyone could treat children this way, especially the treatment of girls and links to prostitution and the general criminalising of the children’s behaviour. It was shocking to hear the strong views expressed by the Canadians that the children sent to them were, ‘not of good stock and expressed evil and immoral tendencies.’ Linking to the rise of eugenics and fear of the defective working class.

The Impact on Identity

Dr Annie Skinner, School of History, Philosophy and Culture, Oxford Brookes University, then took us through a series of in-depth narrative accounts with her talk, ‘I don’t know what they took me away for … I didn’t think I had done anything wrong’: Narratives from committed children on the experiences and impact of being in the care of the Waifs and Strays Society in the late nineteenth century. These paint a vivid picture of the impact that being taken into care and/or committed had on these poor children. Stories tell of care leavers, now adults of middle or old age, looking back at their experiences, still traumatised by how they were treated (many were criminalised) and their sense of a lack of identity and connection to who they are. It is clear that this had a significant impact on how they view themselves.

Position and Power

Professor Helen Haste, Professor emerita in Psychology, University of Bath, shared with us the power and importance of narrative in her talk, “The Power of Story in Making Change through the use of the voice and how perspective plays its part.” I learnt that how the authors positions a person in the context of the story is just as important as the plot and protagonist, and indeed, how the audience perceives all of this all depends on how the author positions them. I experienced the power of telling a story from different perspectives through the words of those from various cultures so different to my own. It was empowering to listen to such articulate accounts of various injustice told through a variety of voices.

Parents Perspectives

Dr Emma Maynard Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Portsmouth, shared some heart felt stories in her talk, Family Complexity; Trauma, Change, and Recovery, many of which have a personal connection to members of the audience. In particular, the launch GEMS, a pilot intervention programme in Portsmouth. She told these stories from the perspective of parents with children in the care system who fear being judged and do not always understand the perspectives of so-called ‘normality’ inflicted upon them. They fear a system that is judgemental and seeks to enforce conformity, without really taking the time to understand who they are or how they can best provide them with the help they so desperately need.

So Much More to Offer

And last but not least, care leaver and final year undergraduate student in Childhood Studies, University of Portsmouth, Claire Thomas, highlighted the gaps that urgently need to be addressed in her presentation, “Outcomes for Care Leavers.” It was clear that these people have a plethora of untapped potential yet to be utilised despite often experiencing a myriad of ACE’s (adverse childhood experiences) at an early age many have an amazing capacity for resilience and wellbeing.

Systems and Shaping Society

The conference paints a picture of a system that, while expressing the best intentions, remains flawed and unfit for purpose in many contexts for the children and families it serves. Who often go unheard and unnoticed. The tales tell of a need to hear and listen to the forgotten voices of the past, so that we might make their future, a better place.

Bibliography

Skinner, A. and Thomas, N. (2017) ‘A Pest to Society’: The Charity Organisation Society’s Domiciliary Assessments into the Circumstances of Poor Families and Children, Children & Society, 32(2), 133144. DOI: 10.1111/chso.12237. Sohasky, K.E. (2015), Safeguarding the interests of the State from defective delinquent girls. Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences, 52(1), 20-40. DOI: 10.1002/jhbs.21765.

Sims-Schouten, W., Skinner, A and Rivett, K. (2019). Child Safeguarding Practices in Light of the Deserving/Undeserving Paradigm: A Historical & Contemporary Analysis, Child Abuse & Neglect.

Sims-Schouten, W., and Riley, S. (2018), Presenting critical realist discourse analysis as a tool for making sense of service users’ accounts of their mental health problems. Qualitative Health Research.

Sims-Schouten, W. and Hayden, C. (2017) Mental Health and Wellbeing of Care Leavers: Making Sense of their Perspectives, Child & Family Social Work, 22(4) 1480–1487. DOI: 10.1111/cfs.12370.

Sims-Schouten, W. and Riley, S.C.E., (2014), Employing a Form of Critical Realist Discourse Analysis for Identity Research: An Example from Women’s Talk of Motherhood, Childcare and Employment.  In: Edwards, P., O’Mahoney, J. and Steve Vincent (Eds.), Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism. (46-66), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sims-Schouten, W., Riley, S.C.E. & Willig, C. (2007) Critical Realism: A presentation of a systematic method of analysis using women’s talk of motherhood, childcare and female employment as an example. Theory & Psychology, 17(1),127-150. DOI:10.1177/0959354307073153 

Stein, M. (2006) Research Review: Young people leaving care, Child and Family Social Work, 11(2), 273–279.

Turner, J. Hayward, R. Angel, Fulford, B. Hall, J.,  Millard, C. and Thomson, M. (2015) The History of Mental Health Services in Modern England: Practitioner Memories and the Direction of Future Research, Medical History, 59(4), 599-624. DOI:10.1017/mdh.2015.48.

Blog post written by Kayleigh Rivett BSc (Hons), MA, PGCE (Twitter: @Klebee3), Research and Innovation Officer at the University of Portsmouth (Twitter: @uopresearch).

Self-care strategies used by Children and Young People (CYP)

In August 2019, the Anna Freud Centre published a report (Garland, Dazell, & Wolpert, 2019) describing the experiences of CYP in their use of self-care strategies for their anxiety and/or depression, as well as the views of parents and carers. The report highlighted that there was a dearth of research into more widely available self-care strategies that were not delivered by mental health professionals. 

How did the researchers conduct the study?

Two anonymous online surveys were delivered – one for CYP between 11-25 years old who self-reported experiencing anxiety and/or depression, and another for parents and carers of a child who has experienced anxiety and/or depression. Respondents were asked whether they (or child of parent and/or carer) had used (or not) a list of 85 approaches to self-care, whether they would recommend them (or not), or to indicate that they (or their child) had not used a particular approach. The survey also collected qualitative responses. 

What were the results of the study?

Commonly used/recommended strategies

Both groups advocated use of strategies such as listening to music, watching TV or a film, and going outside, amongst others. CYP individually specified that they would use strategies such as maintaining personal hygiene and walking, whereas parents and carers specified strategies such as socialising and spending time outside in nature.

Not recommended/used again 

Both groups specified that they would not recommend/use eating more/a lot, spending time alone, and avoiding thinking about a difficult situation, amongst others as a strategy for managing their low mood and/or anxiety. CYP individually specified that they would not use strategies such as daydreaming and distraction, and parents and carers highlighted strategies such as avoiding conflict and gaming, amongst others. 

Qualitative responses

What is important to you when selecting a strategy?

All groups highlighted that freedom, support from others, as well as accessibility were important factors for consideration when selecting a self-care strategy. CYP also felt that they did not want to put any stress on others. 

Why do they work for you?

All groups highlighted that self-selection, distraction and support were key factors as to why the strategies selected worked. As a group, CYP also specified that being alone, routine, and no pressure were also factors. Parents and carers highlighted the increased confidence or enjoyment that the self-care strategies brought to their child.

Further research

Responses were varied and the groups felt that creative activities (e.g., art), sport and exercise (e.g., dance), as well as social strategies should be further investigated, amongst others.

Conclusions

The report concluded that further, detailed evaluations of self-care strategies were needed (what works, or does not, and why), as well as for the research agenda to be informed by the lived experience of CYP, parents and carers. The current work described is ongoing and feedback can be given here

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Associate for the Office for Students funded PGR Wellbeing project, based within the School of Education and Sociology (EDSOC) at the University of Portsmouth. 

Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers: Reflections from Brighton (UKCGE)

From the 16th – 17th May, the Higher Education community and beyond descended on the Jury’s Inn Waterfront in Brighton, for the 1st International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers. The conference was organised by United Kingdom Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE), in partnership with nature research, the University of Portsmouth, and the University of Sussex.

Across the two days, presentations and roundtable discussions showcasing the latest research and best practice within PGR mental health were delivered (the conference programme can be viewed here). Such presentations also included updates from a selection of the Office for Students Funded Catalyst projects, including the PGR Wellbeing project (led by the University of Portsmouth, in partnership with Leeds Beckett University, and co-presented by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and I).

Reflections

A range of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods projects across the UK and internationally are exploring how PGR mental health can be supported – ranging from individual interventions, through to environment/cultural change at an Institutional level. Topics were wide-ranging and included use of pastoral tutors to support PGR mental health, exploring PGR perspectives of their study, how we can build communities, and on creating evidence-based wellbeing programmes.

A particularly poignant session from Day One (16th May) included the PGR panel in the morning, with Danielle Hayter and Mahmoud Elmarzouky from the University of Portsmouth, as well as Yasser Kosbar, and Dr Sophie Valeix from the University of Sussex, discussing their experiences of PGR study and what they felt needed to change. The discussion hit close to home for me, and for many within the room; reminding us all (if ever we needed it), what the focus should be on and why we were there.

There was agreement that best practice, particularly from the Catalyst projects, needs timely sharing across the sector; that work should also focus on solutions to the problems identified (i.e. what can we take back to our Institutions now); that there needs to be a cultural/environmental shift in Higher Education, and that PGRs should be involved in decision making (co-production).

With the recent announcement of further funded projects supporting a step change in mental health for all students (OfS Challenge Competition), student mental health more widely remains firmly in the public eye.

To read the conference updates and further learning, see #MHWBrighton on Twitter. The conference programme can be viewed here. The 2nd International Conference on the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers will take place in November 2020, with conference location to be confirmed.

PGR Wellbeing team representatives (left to right): Dr Jane Creaton (PI), Mahmoud Elmarzouky (PGR), Danielle Hayter (PGR), Dr Rachel Moss (RA), Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten (Co-Investigator).

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Associate for the Office for Students funded PGR Wellbeing project, based within the School of Education and Sociology (EDSOC) at the University of Portsmouth.