Childhood Conversations

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Is childhood today more complicated than ever before?

  • Are children losing the joyful, unselfconscious, carefree experience of childhood?
  • Do children spend too much time on technology?
  • Do you think it is worth talking about?

Current Australian research tells us that on many important indicators the health and wellbeing of today’s children is not on the rise, but on the decline. Increasing numbers of early 21st century children are known to have complex diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and eating disorders. In particular, psychological problems such as learning disorders, depression and anxiety appear to be increasing.

We know that a good childhood is the foundation for a healthy society and that whilst parents have the primary responsibility to provide their children with a good childhood, they cannot do this alone.

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The ‘Childhood Conversations’ Pilot Program seeks to engage parents of Victorian children in conversation about 21st century childhoods, in order to increase their understanding and awareness of what sustains a good childhood; and empower them to find solutions and advocate for change.

Through three x 2 hour sessions, parents will take a reflective journey through the context in which they experienced childhood and talk about the issues facing childhood in the 21st century.

We hope these conversations will inform a program model that may later be adopted by school communities across Australia.

It will be a fascinating journey and we look forward to sharing our progress with you.

Post written by: Julie Noonan, School Engagement Co-ordinator, Berry Street Childhood Institute

Creswick Fellowship Tour – Adventure Therapy

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Think about a world where you never feel safe or secure.  A world full of fear and distrust. This is the life of the traumatised child.

Imagine a situation whereby the traumatised child can experience success and a sense of accomplishment in the context of relationships that demonstrate “in the moment” trust. Adventure based therapy like kayaking, ropes courses, wilderness adventure programs and the like can afford traumatised young people this opportunity.

The magic in adventure based therapy is in weaving together into one activity the following developmental and healing opportunities. Participants are faced with activities that challenge and extend them at a skill level, but are absolutely achievable.  What’s more many of these activities involve fear, risk taking and induce anxiety, but are provided in a way that they can be scaffolded for success and achievement.

I observed a kayaking adventure therapy session with a group of adolescent boys at Cal Farley’s. These young men were preparing for an open water kayaking trip the following week and were practicing the skills of rescue post capsizing.

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Fascinating in this observation was watching these young men anxiously anticipate the notion of flipping their kayak and deliberately capsizing themselves. Staff engaged in a lot of cognitive discussion based reassurance, what was awesome was that this was done as they kayaked up and down the length of the pond, back and forth, repetitively paddling and talking.

This allowed for somatosensory regulation of anxiety, or quietening down of the dysregulation caused by the anxiety, so that the discussion based reassurance and coaching could be heard and internalised by the young men…Read more about Adventure Therapy here, at Chelle Taylor’s blog My Creswick Fellowship Tour

Edited version of a post written by: Michelle (Chelle) Taylor, Clinical Psychologist and NMT Consultant, Take Two Program

Creswick Fellowship Tour – Sandhill Childhood Development Centre

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I spent the week of May 12 -16 with the staff and residents at Sandhill Child Development Center in New Mexico.  “Sandhill Child Development Center is a residential program for children ages 5 to 13 at admission, who are experiencing significant difficulties functioning in their current home, school or community due to an inability to regulate their emotional states. By repairing a child’s trust in care and adult guidance, Sandhill gives the child the tools necessary to proceed with a healthy and bright future. Sandhill Child Development Center emphasizes a relationally-based clinical approach that is grounded in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) developed by Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and The ChildTrauma Academy.” Sandhill takes children from all over the United States.

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As one of the ChildTrauma Academy’s initial partner certification sites there was no question about visiting Sandhill. Having been at the implementation of neurodevelopmentally informed interventions in their residential treatment for some time now, I wanted to see for myself where they were up to and what discoveries they had made.

Interventions include:

  • Individual weekly therapy for the child
  • Family therapy
  • Parent training sessions
  • Modelling sessions/co-parenting on site
  • EMDR
  • Animal Assisted Interventions
  • Nutrition – provision of a “brain friendly” diet which strives to use many organic and whole foods.
  • Exercise and recreation – including sports, team building, martial arts and other exercise based activities.
  • Service Learning via voluntary interaction in the community
  • Neurofeedback
  • Wilderness Adventure Therapy.
  • Daily education

All of this provided on site or as part of the one program! Sandhill has capacity for up to 30 children and adolescents at any given time and their average length of stay is around 18 months. Read more about Sandhill Child Development Center here, at Chelle Taylor’s blog My Creswick Fellowship Tour

Edited version of a post written by: Michelle (Chelle) Taylor, Clinical Psychologist and NMT Consultant, Take Two Program

International Speaker – Jenny Fox Eades

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During my time in Australia, it was my pleasure and privilege to tell stories about heroes to two groups of Australian teenagers. I told my grandmother’s story, of struggle and humour and courage in the slums of the East End in the early part of the 20th century.

And I told the story of John, Violette and Abdullah – all of whom gave their lives for their country, one a hundred years ago, one fifty years ago and one two months ago. The teenagers were those who attend the Morwell and Noble Park campuses of Berry Street School.

I was in Australia (I live in the UK) for ten days and the reaction and welcome and feedback I had from the students at the Berry Street School was as insightful, as moving and as humbling as any I heard on my visit. The students were able to enjoy a moment’s quiet to listen to a story simply told – and to identify strengths in the characters they had heard about. They said the lesson was ‘fun’; they said it was interesting; they said it was ‘practical’ – you could touch and feel and see what we were talking about.120729_161

I have worked with stories and strengths for ten years now and I am always amazed by how quickly this simple but profound language prompts students to ask deep questions and to reflect on what they hear with clarity and insight. The students were not new to the language of strengths. Their teachers had clearly been doing some great work in this area that I was able to tap into and build upon.

I immensely enjoyed working with Australian educators during my visit. And telling a few more stories…

 

Berry Street Education – Pt. 1

Pt 1 in a series on Berry Street Education 

StudyingBerry Street Education seeks to:

  • Advance models of secondary schools to meet the needs of educationally disadvantaged / disengaged young people with a history of trauma, abuse or neglect.
  • Bring together three fields of research:

o   trauma-informed

o   neurodevelopmental

o   positive psychology/education, uniting them in a strong culture of academic achievement.

  • Inform the teaching practice of vulnerable children through this integrated approach in a continuum of school settings.

Cognitive & Non-Cognitive Skills at the Berry Street School:  CHARACTER COUNTS

At Berry Street, our knowledge of trauma’s impact on our students’ development guides our education program design. We seek to understand and undertake a bold next step to our curriculum development and school culture: the integration of our knowledge of trauma’s impact on neurodevelopment along with the best practices around the sciences of well-being, human flourishing and positive psychology.

Our students come to us with histories of education neglect, substance abuse, generational trauma, and a great deal of personal struggle.  We seek to create dual-purpose educational experiences: building both cognitive skills and strengths-based resilience.

We know that for our Berry Street students to succeed in school, in transitional career pathways and beyond, we must teach a mosaic of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.   We define cognitive skills as the skills necessary to understand and process information—the foundational academic skills for literacy, maths, inquiry-based learning, vocational knowledge and electronic media.

Post written by Tom Brunzell, Berry Street Childhood Institute Senior Advisor, Teaching & Learning. 

TARA program helping parents

Kate Cordukes, GoodChildhood 2013_430a Family Therapist and Arts Therapist, and Meisha Clark, a Social Worker and Family Therapist, led a session on the TARA program and the ways they work with parents experiencing violence from their child.

TARA stands for Teenage Aggression Responding Assertively and is an 8 week program for parents with the recent addition of a 1 day workshop. TARA aims to reduce violence, teach anger management strategies and enhance the relationship between parents and their adolescent.

70% of violent adolescents tend to be young men whom target their mothers. And so, anger management and other strategies are discussed in sessions. However, young people in attendance often feel blamed and don’t want to talk.

An aspect of the TARA session geared at parents is ‘family origin’. That is, parents think about the way they were parented and how it has impacted upon their parenting style. Some families are not ready to talk through the issues stemming from family origin issues.

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The notion of self-care is vital to the ability of parents and caretakers to look after their family. Parents need the strength and energy to do things differently at home, and in addition to this, adolescents are telling parents that they need boundaries.

Early intervention and an openness to working on family dynamics are a starting point in tackling violence from an adolescent.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Wellbeing Workout Part 2

 

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When you consider the definition of wellbeing, it becomes clear that it is more than simply the absence of illness.

There are varying levels of wellbeing – languishing to flourishing.

[Wellbeing] is the subjective experience of life satisfaction, positive emotions and high levels of functioning in life.

There are many social and work benefits to a greater wellbeing.

So, what determines wellbeing?

Jo divides it into three sections:
50% set range – your genetics; although this is a huge chunk, it’s not everything!
10% circumstance – something that our culture perhaps over emphasises (your age, gender, education, income, class, having children, ethnicity, intelligence, physical attractiveness)
General findings state that once you have the basic needs to live well, cars, clothes, holidays, cosmetic surgery, and education don’t necessarily increase happiness. There may always be a feeling of wanting “more”
40% intentional range – this is exciting because this is the most controllable, where an individual has the most influence. It is the ways we think, feel, and do.

Jo quotes, “Action may not always bring happiness but there is no happiness without action”. She speaks of micro-moments in our everyday lives that create significant change over time. Small thoughts, words, deeds that make a large difference in our live and the lives of others. Positive emotions, for a brief moment, broaden and “open up the world” to an individual. It broadens their thinking and behaviour. These positive moments, when frequent, broaden and transform people into an “upward spiral”.

Basically, over time, positive emotions increase work productivity, physical health, and better wellbeing.

The next activity involved getting audience members to pair up. One of each pair would be A, the other would be B. Both were told to stare at one another, stoically. Then A was told to smile. Somewhat amazingly, B smiled as a response. And vice versa, when told to do it again. (Fun fact: Adults tend to smile 40 times a day, while children over 400.)
So, try your best to smile as much as possible.

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Overall, Jo’s workshop was an informative, inspiring and productive session that really did foreground some of the important issues surrounding mental health and wellbeing. There were some great tips on how to maintain mental fitness, and help maintain a strong sense of wellbeing.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.