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 (and support) for Parents and Carers

With the festive Season over and the start of a New Year, many parents and carers may find themselves struggling to recover, not only financially but from the burden of extra stresses and strain placed on them by personal and societal expectations to deliver an environment filled with peace, love and cheer – at least to their children; when things may not always be quite what they seem. There is no doubt that the pressures placed on parents and carers to provide for their children on all levels are high, but do expectations and reality marry up? And are parents being provided adequate support to give them the chance to do so?

Parenting Partners

Some believe that schools are now being expected to take over parenting responsibilities of their pupils, with many primary schools brushing children’s teeth, providing free food and taking on other hygiene responsibilities that are arguably, the job of the parent. The question arises, is this right? Should schools be doing this and why are schools doing this? Of course, no child should have to suffer, but many argue that shifting all the responsibility on schools is not the answer. Perhaps more support for parents is the way forward?

It is widely accepted that 50% of mental health problems first appear before the age of 14 and as such the ‘prevention and early intervention’ policy is touted in the government’s 2018 green paper, Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health provision. This suggests that the role of parenting in the development of children’s mental health and wellbeing is absolutely paramount but the main focus of the paper is prevention and intervention linked to schools, colleges and NHS services; perhaps it is missing an essential component, the role of parents and carers, especially as we see an increase in real terms funding cuts to schools and the NHS CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). So, it is vital that parents and carers are supported to provide their children with the best possible start in life.

Meeting Needs

Recently, the media has broadcast several reports of children whose needs are not being met by mainstream education. They are unable to secure a place at a specialist school meaning that these children are not receiving the quality education they are entitled to. This is being blamed on recent real-term cuts in funding. Children with SEND are already at greater risk of developing mental ill-health and such a dire situation with regards to their schooling when measures are meant to improve things, means they are not moving things forward. The IPSEA provides legal advice to parents and carers who wish to challenge the decision not to place their child in a special needs school.

On the flip side, there is evidence that parents with mental health disorders are more than twice as likely to have children who develop an emotional disorder. So looking after the mental health and wellbeing of parents and carers is a crucial component to ensure that children have the best possible chance of developing good mental health and wellbeing. The charity Mind provides information and support on parenting with a mental health problem.

Children in Care

For children in care, the situation is dire. The recent Channel Four programme Superkids: Breaking Away From Care, which aired in November 2018, demonstrates how it can be argued that the system is failing these children. There is clear evidence that children who grow up in care are at a distinct disadvantage, without privilege or entitlement; and do not receive the same level of support as those brought up in a birth family environment. It is estimated that 45% of looked after children have a diagnosable mental disorder, compared to 10% of all children. This shocking statistic has an influential impact on the life trajectories of these children, including their mental health and wellbeing.

This begs the question, where is the support that parents and carers so desperately need? And what can be done to ensure this much needed support is provided? Countries such as Australia, offer free online parenting courses such as Parent Works and have previously made parenting a priority as part of their government strategy, the Raising Children Network; and in 2012 Scotland released a National Parenting Strategy. In the UK, the charity Young Minds has a parent helpline – but this is a far cry from a government strategy and policy-led parenting classes.

Where can parents and carers find support?

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, a visit to the GP and a potential referral to an appropriate mental health service must be the first port of call but with long waiting times there are options for parents, carers and their children in the meantime. There are many resources available to address mental health issues for families, these include:

Charities

Care for the Family provides a list of Parent Support Organisations.

Family Lives offer support and advice on all aspects of parenting and family life.

Safe Lives are dedicated to ending domestic abuse and support families to become safe.

The Parenting Network is a Portsmouth based Community Interest Company that provides a much needed service for local families in Portsmouth.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness exercises for parents includes the 100 day mindfulness challenge, free meditations and free training.

How to be a calmer parent – Headspace is an App with a variety of mindfulness meditations designed for different scenarios that you can try for free.

EFT for Managing Parental Overwhelm – Emotional Freedom Therapy involves tapping on acupressure points to release tension, stress and anxiety.

Stress Relief for Parents – Classes and More by Full Potential Parenting providing information

Talking Therapies such as CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy are available through your GP.

Wellbeing for Mums and Dads page on the Berkshire Talking Therapies website.

DHC Talking Therapies Service provide practitioners who can provide a psychological therapy.

Lifestyle choices

Tips for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for parents and children which are known to contribute to mental health and wellbeing.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices for New Mums and Dads on the Australia’s parenting website.

Spending time with your children – Advice for Parents by The Children’s Society’s 2018 Good Childhood Report.

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