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).

Self-Care for Kids

Too Much Pressure

With increasing environmental challenges and pressures on children and young people today including digital devices, exam pressure, and an increasingly challenging economic climate; perhaps a move towards empowering today’s young people by helping them to help themselves, in other words, self-care, is the way forward?

Sources of Support

Several charities specialising in mental health for young people have already held campaigns this year aimed at supporting self-care approaches, including Time to Change’s Time to Talk Day campaign held on Thursday 1st February 2018 with the slogan, ‘Change Your Mind’. The charity states,

Since Time to Talk Day first launched in 2014, it has sparked millions of conversations in schools, homes, workplaces, in the media and online.

Another example is ‘University Mental Health Day’ which took place on Thursday 1st March 2018, and was run jointly by Student Minds and UMHAN, and sponsored by Unite Students who run under the slogans, “Community Starts Here,” and “We Empower You.” Unite students recently launched the Common Room, a community Hub that provides resources to support students.

Young Minds provides a wide range of resources specifically designed for children and young people, and their parents, carers, teachers and others who work with them. Their #HelloYellow campaign is run on World Mental Health Day, which this year takes place on Wednesday 10th October.

 

The State of Children’s Mental Health

Despite these efforts, recent evidence shows that children’s mental health continues to decline and that stigma (another word for discrimination) is still a predominant issue when it comes to encouraging children to talk about how they are feeling. The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Report highlights some increasing concerns regarding children’s overall wellbeing and Young Minds present statistics on various aspects of young people’s mental health. Time to Change have taken a look at how widespread discrimination surrounding mental health is still prevalent, which was presented publicly in their ‘Heads Together’ campaign in conjunction with the Royal Family.

Empowering Kids to Overcome these Challenges

It is clear that the challenges of our environment are unlikely to change in our children’s lifetimes and with technology only becoming more advanced, these challenges are only likely to increase. But what if we can empower our children to take charge of how they manage these challenges and improve their mental health and wellbeing. Self-help tools including Mobile Apps, CBT, Mindfulness are a few examples. CAMHS stress the important of nutrition and exercise on their ‘Taking care of myself’ page and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families has put together a Toolkit for Schools.

For the Future

Perhaps there is still scope for further improvement to what’s already available? Discussions surrounding disjointed and inadequate mental health services for children have lasted for decades. Governments and policy makers are still striving for improvements and charities continue to redouble their efforts to make the message clear. Perhaps working on awareness needs to take another step forward and include our children directly, what if we asked children and young people to be more involved. Maybe a focus on increasing accessibility and improving what’s already out there so our children can find these tools and use them effectively with or without adult support is the next step.

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.*