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).

Safeguarding, Signs of Safety and ‘Safety First’- the Dutch and English contexts

On the 7th of Dec, Wendy Sims-Schouten gave a talk (a ‘masterclass’) at the Verwey-Jonker institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands on child protection and safeguarding in the Dutch and English contexts. The Verwey-Jonker institute is a research centre for social sciences research and impact.

The talk was based on research undertaken by Kayleigh Rivett (research assistant at the University of Portsmouth) and Wendy Sims-Schouten (associate professor) with a focus on risk driven care in cases of child abuse and domestic violence.

Comparing key documents used in the Netherlands (namely ‘Working together first for safety’, by  Vogtlander and Van Arum, 2016) and England (the NSPCC, 2013 document on ‘Signs of Safety‘) and data from interviews with 17 Dutch and English safeguarding practitioners and professionals.

The research has highlighted some key differences in practical applications in the Netherlands and England. In England, stronger reference is made to involvement of the education system in safeguarding and related multi-agency collaborations, whilst in the Netherlands more links are made with the prosecution system and the police here.

In both countries the importance of muli-agency teamwork is highlighted and flagged up, but there are also signs of ongoing problems in this area – in part due to ongoing cuts in funding and a patchwork of practice. Both countries show similar objectives in relation to developing good working care and individualised support that is inclusive and benefits the family as a whole.

Yet, whilst the Dutch approach is ‘head-on’, with clear procedures in order to ‘listen to families’, the English approach makes reference to ‘protocols’ and the ‘voice of the child’, which is not as clearly defined as the Dutch approach. In both countries though, there is a sense that more can be done to support the most vulnerable people. The talk was attended by academics, as well as social workers and developmental psychologists.

Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten is project lead for the MICE Hub and Kayleigh Rivett is contributor and author of content for The MICE Hub at The University of Portsmouth School of Education and Childhood Studies.

*To reference/cite this article as follows: The MICE Hub, Tuesday 11th December 2017, Safeguarding, Signs of Safety and ‘Safety First’- the Dutch and English contexts.*

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).

ESHHS blog pic 1

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.

ESHHS blog pic 3

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.