Mental Health and Safeguarding in Childhood (1880-1920)

The approaches to safeguarding and supporting mental health and wellbeing in childhood today, are not all that different from those in the Victorian and Edwardian times.  Studying a total of 120 case files from the Children’s Society’s archives from 1880-1920, with a specific focus on language around mental health, revealed a number of similarities. The reasons for being taken into care, were and are still very much the same, namely based around the relationship between child and family, mental health of the parents and alcoholism (and surprisingly few children were taken into care due to being orphans in the Victorian/Edwardian times as is commonly thought).

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Joined up working and multi-agency teamwork is now, as it was then, problematic; practice is fragmented, partly due to lack of funding. In addition to this, the child’s ‘voice’ seems to be only sporadically acknowledged – then and now. For example, one case file from 1920 refers to a 16 year old girl asking to ‘come out of the asylum’ and ‘start afresh’; this never happened. Similar developments can still be seen now, where children have a lack of choice in what happens to them in care, with care leavers describing the care system as ‘extremely disappointing’, whilst reflecting upon this. Other similarities are a focus on the child’s behaviour, and practical and cognitive abilities (e.g. think about the current focus on ‘NEET’, not in education, training or employment), at the cost of attention for mental health and wellbeing.

This research was presented at the European Society for the History of Human Sciences conference (ESHHS) in Italy, by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten an academic in Childhood Studies at the University of Portsmouth, drawing on her research on mental health in childhood, funded by the Wellcome Trust. The purpose of ESHHS is to promote international, multidisciplinary cooperation in scholarly activity and research in the history of the human sciences.

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The term ‘mental health’ was popularised in the early 1900s by physicians and social reformers. Over a century later, mental health and wellbeing are recurrent themes in the media and on government agendas, with evidence that still more needs to be done on this front. This research shows how many of the issues that concern contemporary studies of childhood (e.g. parenting, poverty) have a historical trajectory that informs the present. Stigma continues to play a significant role, and understandings are subject to the interests and values of the people, organisations and institutions attempting to define and interpret terms.

Comparing the historic research in the Children’s Society archives with current date from 84 interviews with school children, young care leavers and parents reveals that although language around mental health and wellbeing has developed (e.g. correspondence in 1880 refers to a young girl as a ‘lunatic’ and a father as ‘hopelessly insane’) the approach taken by those responsible for children’s welfare has changed remarkably little in over 100 years.  More needs to be done to improve mental health care and reduce stigma and I hope some of this research can be used to challenge today’s interpretation and treatment and get the best for our children.

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/

Mind Media Awards Entries 2017 and Annual Mental Health Survey

The entries for the Mind charity annual media awards closed on Friday 7th July, a shortlist will be announced later this year. Last years’ winners presented a touching array of stories from Professor Green sharing his experiences about his Dad’s suicide to Rosie Adam’s blog about post-natal depression. The awards help to publicise important developments surrounding mental health in the media and through public engagement, with awards for digital champion and student journalist among those for drama and radio. There are also special awards given for speaking out and making a difference. These categories allow a particular focus for addressing the stigma surrounding mental health encourage people to talk about it and provides the drivers to initiate change, especially for young people.

In the words of Jeremy Paxman,

“I think the big difficulty is for people to realise that this is perfectly normal, it is perfectly normal to have mental health problems. I’ve got a bad knee at present, but I’m not embarrassed to tell you or anybody else about it, but people are embarrassed to talk about mental issues, and its perfectly normal, particularly among young people, to have issues with depression or suicidal feelings. I don’t think you’re going to change young people overnight but what you can do is change the climate around it so that they’re find it easier to talk and to seek help and you know, the media can really help with that.”

This coincides with the Mind annual mental health survey which allows everyone over the age of 16 to share their experiences surrounding mental health and accessing care and services. This is a simple and accessible way to gather data to look at how well service providers are meeting the demands of the public, but what about children and young people below the age of sixteen? Could this particular survey model be tailored specifically for younger age groups and parents? With mental ill-health becoming an increasing concern for our children and suggestions that CAMHS waiting times are ever increasing, would it not be useful to provide a similar survey to parents, professionals and young people to share their experiences and identify gaps in this particular area. Last year the office of national statistics carried out the first survey on children’s mental health since 2004 – that’s over 12 years in which a significant and important age group was forgotten, suggesting that there is scope for such a survey to be useful, such as those in the Children’s Societies Good Childhood report, which suggest that mental health and wellbeing in children has declined over the past 5 years. Something needs to be done to address this gap so that the mental health and wellbeing of future generations is not overlooked.

 

*Please note: all opinions and views expressed are that of the MICE Hub and not associated with Mind charity. All published media associated with Mind charity is original and reproduced exactly as it was published at mind.org.uk