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.

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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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/