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).

Wellbeing Workshop – Health and Wellbeing Theme, University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth’s Health and Wellbeing Theme recently hosted their first Wellbeing Workshop:

Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten attended the University of Portsmouth’s Wellbeing Workshop on Tuesday 24th April at which she presented The MICE Hub to an audience of approximately fifty University of Portsmouth staff from across faculties and chaired a breakout session around wellbeing in childhood and education.

Increasing outreach for the MICE Hub:

Dr Sims-Schouten explained the purpose of the Mental Health in Education Hub and invited all attendees to book a place for the MICE Hub’s second Mental Health Awareness Event to take place on Thursday 17th May. A plethora of research is taking place across the University linked to the MICE Hub including projects specifically linked to wellbeing in childhood and education.

Reaching an interested audience:

The MICE Hub was well received and generated interest for the breakout session which included discussions around the support of autism in higher education and how technology could be used to improve this which linked to ideas around inclusivity and assessment and how to ensure assessment is for learning rather than of learning.

Potential for future collaboration and projects:

The ideas generated during this workshop will be considered for their potential to develop in to project proposals with the aim of generating external funding linked to the health and wellbeing theme so that impactful research linking to wellbeing in childhood and education can take place. This will be facilitated by follow-up sessions to be organised by the Health and Wellbeing Theme Director, Professor Gordon Blunn.

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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