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.

World Mental Health Day

Tuesday 10th October is world mental health day. This year’s theme is mental health in the workplace, so you may be wondering, how does this impact childhood and education? It is important to remember that educational organisations including schools, colleges and universities are also workplaces for many adults and that their mental health is just as important as our children’s as while children are under their care, they will have a huge influence on their development.

good-idea-blackboardIt is also important to remember that educational organisations are how we prepare our children and young people for the work place. We expect them to enter the world of employment fit and healthy, and well prepared to embark and be successful in their future careers, enabling them to contribute to society and achieve a good state of wellbeing. To enable them to meet these expectations, they must first receive the appropriate support and guidance, to ensure healthy development.

Teachers, pastoral workers and support staff are all a huge part of our children’s and young people’s lives and it is just as important that their mental health and wellbeing is in good shape so that they can provide the very best education and lifelong learning. With nearly half of teachers struggling with mental health, as noted in the Times Educational supplement, it is important to acknowledge that this group of people need help and support too!

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With evidence suggesting that mental health issues in both children, especially girls, and staff are on the rise, it is more important than ever to increase awareness, reduce stigma and provide appropriate support. Issues such as bullying have lasting impact on children’s mental health as does increasing pressure to do well and exam stress. This is also a factor for school staff, especially teachers who have to cope with the ever increasing demands of the profession, including pressures regarding workload, attainment and performance.

To address this, it is important to ensure that our children are aware of what mental health is and to promote good wellbeing. We must show them how to ensure they have the best possible physical and mental health and wellbeing, opening them up to as many opportunities in life as possible. Educational establishments are an ideal place to do this. They provide a good range of experts and a safe and secure setting in which to practice and develop these skills. Developing coping strategies for managing everyday life are important to teach our young people to develop resilience and increase their understanding, so they feel safe to reach out and seek support should they need it.

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It is also essential that educational settings receive the funding and training required by the government to enable them to provide the necessary support to both their staff and pupils. Staff should feel equally safe and supported to seek help for their mental health should they require it. Training should be readily provided to enable staff to provide the appropriate support to students and know when and where to signpost if necessary. Being able to recognise and identify the signs is just as important as being able to treat them.

Several charities are holding campaigns in schools this world mental health day in recognition of the importance of improving our young people’s lives. Young Minds are holding their national #helloyellow campaign. Schools are encouraged to participate to raise awareness of the increasing prevalence of depression in young people, with three children in every classroom being diagnosed with depression. Time to change continue their tireless campaign to address the stigma surrounding mental health, which is particularly prevalent amongst young people, especially boys and young men. Action mental health are promoting their ‘wear purple to school’ on World mental health day as well as their ‘five ways to well-being’ challenge which includes sponsored walks, encouraging donations, and promoting learning about mental health by providing information and resources.

*See our Twitter Feed @MICE_Hub for more links to information surrounding children’s and teacher’s mental health and wellbeing.*

A Service Users Experience of Mental Ill-health in Childhood and Education

This week is focusing on the service user’s experience. Hannah is a University of Portsmouth graduate and is employed as an administrator at the University of Portsmouth’s Student’s Union. She is also a Time to Change Ambassador. Hannah first began to experience mental health issues during her teenage years. In this blog post Hannah describes her experience as a young person in education experiencing mental ill-health.
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*Girl featured in image is not the author of the blog-post*

My name is Hannah, I’m 26 years old and I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was about 14 years old. My depression can result in me not wanting to face the real world, not having the energy to get out of bed or get dressed, feeling worthless, not wanting to see people, feeling inconsolable and so low I just start crying at the slightest thing or so numb I feel nothing – I can never decide which is worse, and that’s just to name a few symptoms. My anxiety can be equally debilitating. Self-doubt and criticisms going round and round in my head making me physically freeze or panic. It can turn me into a quiet, nervous, frantic individual and even make me physically ill. I can naturally be an over thinker and when anxiety takes over this means I constantly second guess myself when I pride myself on the fact that when I make a decision, I MAKE a decision!

Depression and anxiety are not always exclusive. Yes they can affect me at the same time and one can lead to another but this isn’t always the case. They come and go, they can be stronger at times than others, I am not in a constant state of depression and/or anxiety.  I can go for months at a time not feeling depressed or anxious, or not such that it affects my life or having any major symptoms. I have had times where I’ve had a long stretch of nothing big and then one or both kick in and I have to deal with it, to have friends say ‘oh but you were doing so well’. It can just hit like a tidal wave. In retrospect there are generally things that have triggered this but they aren’t always obvious at the time or controllable. Other times they just slowly creep up on me until it becomes overwhelming. Usually my mind has been pre-occupied and self-care has taken a back seat but it can still surprise me

All of this is a brief snap shot into what can happen when I experience depression and anxiety, however that being said this doesn’t mean that I want or need sympathy and I don’t expect you to understand, I just need acceptance. This is something I have that I have to be aware of and deal with from time to time, like someone with diabetes watching their diet and taking injections or an asthmatic with breathing exercises or an inhaler. It doesn’t define me, it is just a small part of me.

I’ve also managed to turn my experiences on their head and thrive from them! Over the last year or so I’ve discovered a passion for mental health advocacy, volunteering, campaigning and supporting others. Through this I have been able to take my negative experiences and turn them into something positive. Now it’s not all hunky dory, I do have my bad days where my depression and anxiety make it hard to get through the day. However my workplace are extremely supportive and they have helped me put a Wellness Action Plan together, to help when I’m struggling. I also thrive by doing the following:

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  • Doing activities I enjoy like dancing, reading, listening to music, being creative, spending time with friends, visiting new places and discovering new things
  • Focussing on the positives, I’ve recently started a GLAD (Grateful, Learned, Achieved, Delighted) diary which I write in ever day
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Look after myself – good diet, exercise etc.
  • Writing my blog

Instead of letting my mental health be a negative thing, I’m doing everything I can to change my experiences into a positive thing, learn from them and hopefully in the process help and inspire others. Having said all this though, as a friend of mine recently said, sometimes when living with a mental illness surviving is thriving

*You can follow Hannah on Twitter here.* Links are NOT affiliates.*

To cite this post: MICE Hub and Morton, H. 9th August 2017, A Service User’s Experience of Mental Ill-Health in Childhood and Education.