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