Safeguarding, Signs of Safety and ‘Safety First’- the Dutch and English contexts

On the 7th of Dec, Wendy Sims-Schouten gave a talk (a ‘masterclass’) at the Verwey-Jonker institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands on child protection and safeguarding in the Dutch and English contexts. The Verwey-Jonker institute is a research centre for social sciences research and impact.

The talk was based on research undertaken by Kayleigh Rivett (research assistant at the University of Portsmouth) and Wendy Sims-Schouten (associate professor) with a focus on risk driven care in cases of child abuse and domestic violence.

Comparing key documents used in the Netherlands (namely ‘Working together first for safety’, by  Vogtlander and Van Arum, 2016) and England (the NSPCC, 2013 document on ‘Signs of Safety‘) and data from interviews with 17 Dutch and English safeguarding practitioners and professionals.

The research has highlighted some key differences in practical applications in the Netherlands and England. In England, stronger reference is made to involvement of the education system in safeguarding and related multi-agency collaborations, whilst in the Netherlands more links are made with the prosecution system and the police here.

In both countries the importance of muli-agency teamwork is highlighted and flagged up, but there are also signs of ongoing problems in this area – in part due to ongoing cuts in funding and a patchwork of practice. Both countries show similar objectives in relation to developing good working care and individualised support that is inclusive and benefits the family as a whole.

Yet, whilst the Dutch approach is ‘head-on’, with clear procedures in order to ‘listen to families’, the English approach makes reference to ‘protocols’ and the ‘voice of the child’, which is not as clearly defined as the Dutch approach. In both countries though, there is a sense that more can be done to support the most vulnerable people. The talk was attended by academics, as well as social workers and developmental psychologists.

Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten is project lead for the MICE Hub and Kayleigh Rivett is contributor and author of content for The MICE Hub at The University of Portsmouth School of Education and Childhood Studies.

*To reference/cite this article as follows: The MICE Hub, Tuesday 11th December 2017, Safeguarding, Signs of Safety and ‘Safety First’- the Dutch and English contexts.*

Anti-Bullying Week: 13th – 19th November 2017

This week (Monday 13th-Sunday 19th November) is anti-bullying week. It is organised by Anti-Bullying Alliance and a whole host of charities and organisations are on board to support this, including several schools and other educational settings. This accompanied by an explosion of social media hashtags including #antibullyingweek, #stopbullying and #abw17. This year the theme is supporting equality and difference in schools with the tag line:

‘All Different, All Equal.’

The effects of bullying, especially on people’s mental health, are not unknown, yet it is still a relatively common occurrence; with many cases going unreported or unresolved. The impact of bullying on mental health can vary from low self-esteem and a feeling of worthlessness, to severe depression and anxiety; and in extreme cases, may lead to serious self-harm or even suicide.

Many of the MICE Hub’s dedicated team continue to engage in research surrounding bullying, particularly cyberbullying and bullying relating to obesity; including our project lead, Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten.  The MICE Hub team understand the effects bullying has on life-course outcomes for individuals and are determined to pave the way to making a difference through their research activities. To find out more about the research that our team are engaged with you can visit our ‘meet the team’ page, and follow the link to their research profiles where you will find links to their publications.

The Anti-Bullying alliance are also aware of the huge impact of bullying on the lives of most people in one form or another, especially children and young people. The link between bullying and mental health is supported by evidence. The Anti-Bullying Alliance says:

“Young people who have experienced bullying are more likely to experience mental health issues and those who have mental health issues are more likely to be bullied.”

With this in Mind, The Anti-Bullying Alliance teamed up with Young Minds in 2015 on a project to raise awareness of the impact of bullying on mental health. Here is a summary of some of their key findings:

  • Bullying has a significant effect on young people’s mental health, wellbeing and identity
  • A lack of response to bullying can cause young people to develop unhealthy coping strategies, such as self-harming; which may lead to them disengaging from learning and social activities
  • Young people need support for their mental health through a collaborative approach that is led by them in a non-stigmatising manner
  • Schools must provide a safe environment for young people to talk about their issues with bullying and their mental health
  • The emotional needs of both the vicitims of bullying and the bullies themselves, must be recognised and supported by schools
  • Adults must engage with active listening when a young person reports bullying

Bullying UK are part of Family Lives, a charity providing support to families to enable them to access information, advice and services to create a level playing field. Bullying UK is a fundraising campaign dedicated to the prevention and action against bullying. This year they have organised a variety of promotional activities including; Wear Blue Day on Friday 10th November as well as wristbands. They have also produced a variety of free resources for schools that anyone can access.

One of the issues that is commonly tackled by all organisations striving to beat bullying is the term, ‘banter’. There are many who are campaigning to see the reframing of this term as a recognised form of bullying, including the National Children’s Bureau. The MICE Hub team, Anti Bullying Alliance and Bullying UK all express strong opinions on this matter and look to see it seriously addressed in the future.

*Please note all opinions expressed and information provided is solely that of The MICE Hub and its associates*

*To reference/cite this article as follows: The MICE Hub, November 15th 2017, Anti-Bullying Week: 13th-19th November 2017.*

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.