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).

Mental health in schools

Earlier this year, researchers based at the Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) at UCL , a unit dedicated to mental health research and innovation in childhood/youth, published an article focusing on the prevalence of mental health problems in schools (Deighton et al., 2019).  

Background and aims for the research – why was it needed?

Policy and research are increasingly focussed on the early identification and prevention of mental health problems in children and young people, based on earlier reported that 1 in 10 experience problems. However, recent evidence suggests that estimates might be higher, and vary according to population.  

The study aimed to explore the prevalence rates of mental health problems of adolescents in schools, as well as the characteristics which influence the odds of adolescents experiencing such problems.

How was the research conducted?

Online surveys were completed by children in Years 7 and 9, during a teacher-facilitated session, and following consent. Ninety-seven English secondary schools who were involved in the HeadStart programme were selected to take part, covering six geographical regions. The final sample consisted of 28,160 adolescents, with the majority (51.2%) of participants aged between 11-12 years in Year 7.

What kind of measures were used?

To assess self-reported mental health difficulties, researchers used the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Four categories of problems are assessed within the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire – emotional, conduct, peer-relationship, and hyperactivity/inattention. Demographic ‘risk’ factors were also explored and this included: Special Educational Needs status, Free School Meal eligibility, Child in Need status, and ethnicity.

What did the researchers find?

Results indicated that 40% (42.5%) of schools reported an elevated risk of adolescents experiencing problems with emotional symptoms, conduct, and inattention/hyperactivity. Those in the ‘high risk’ groups were divided as follows: emotional symptoms (18.4%), conduct problems (18.5%), inattention/hyperactivity (25.3%), and peer-relationship problems (7.3%). Risk factors that increased the odds of adolescents experiencing mental health problems included deprivation (FSM), Child in Need status, gender, ethnicity, and age.

What did the researchers conclude?

Two in five young people were experiencing difficulty in the majority of mental health problem areas assessed (emotional, conduct, and hyperactivity). Risk factors included gender, deprivation (Free School Meals), Child in Need status, ethnicity and age.

However, the researchers cautioned that the increased rates reported could be due to greater recognition/reporting, and/or measurement issues (e.g., self-report may have resulted in higher estimates than a diagnostic tool would report).

The full article can be viewed here.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associate on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).

University Mental Health Charter Roadshow

What is the Charter?

In 2018, former Universities Minister Sam Gyimah announced the development of a new University Mental Health Charter – an initiative led by Student Minds (supported by a grant from the Universities Partnership Programme Foundation) , and in partnership with the Office for Students , Department for Education , the National Union for Students , Universities UK , and AMOSSHE . The Charter will be a voluntary award, to recognise good practice in supporting and promoting mental health and wellbeing in students, as well as the wider University community (Charter FAQs can be viewed here).

How will the Charter research be conducted?

To develop the Charter, Student Minds have organised a road trip comprised of six events across the UK between March-April 2019. The roadshow aims to bring together students and University staff at all levels/areas (e.g., academics, professional staff etc.) to facilitate the co-production of the Charter. Each event consists of a number of focus groups, in addition to a keynote speaker.

Roadshow activities

I attended the event hosted by University Arts London on 27/03/19. The focus groups and activities were well organised, and delegates were presented with plenty of opportunity reflect, share their experiences (and those of their peers/colleagues), and connect with others. Student and staff were considered within discussions, to ensure that the Charter adopts a ‘whole University’ approach. Natasha Devon  – writer and mental health activist- was the keynote speaker for the roadshow, and spoke candidly and passionately (with humour thrown in) about her work, and how this could be applied within a Higher Education context.

Results from the roadshows will be analysed, and disseminated within the wider academic/policy community (e.g., via conferences, journal articles etc.). Moreover, the Charter will be a living document – updated where relevant to ensure it is still current to the Higher Education landscape.

Next steps

There is still opportunity to participate in the roadshows, with one date remaining:

Tuesday 2nd April – Cardiff Students’ Union 

Student Minds  are interested to hear from as many students and staff as possible, to help shape the Charter. The survey is available online until the 7th April.

To follow all tweets linked to the roadshow events and more, please see #UniMentalHealthCharter

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associate on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).