The role of agency: Understanding children’s safety in the context of family violence

Anita MorrisAnita Morris from the University of Melbourne, presented the findings of her PhD thesis.

What do we currently know about children experiencing family violence?

Undoubtedly it has a negative impact on children’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being but some children appear to have a certain level of resilience compared to others.

Anita’s research fills the gap in family violence research by bringing the voice of the children forward.

The study was based on the question ‘How is safety realised in the context of family violence?’

Anita scaled her participants on a scale from “Vulnerable and Unsafe” to “Safe”

Towards the vulnerable and unsafe end participants reported; forced or intrusive contact with the perpetrator, poverty, substance abuse, poor maternal physical earth, child sexual abuse, chronic mental health/trauma effects, limited informal supports and the role of formal interventions.

Some participants had positive experiences with interventions (relief etc) but for others it had caused unease or worry.

Key Finding: Mothers and children lacked agency for the above reasons.

What does agency mean?

Anita explored different aspects of agency through the interviews with participants and analytical theories.

She defined agency as, children being able to:

  • Act for themselves,
  • Seek and receive answers,
  • Be aware of their roles in the family,
  • Be able to make decisions about who they trust and have that respected,
  • And, that they acknowledge they play a role in family resiliency.

Mothers & children suffering family violence often lack agency

Anita finished the presentation showing a variety of quotes selected from her interviews with mothers and children exposed to family violence, who provided a variety of complex insights into a very complex issue.

Read more about family violence and a book on the subject in a previous post.

Written by bloggers from SYN Media.

Outdoor adventure experiences for vulnerable adolescents: what are the benefits?

Helen SkouterisIf we keep having this top down effect where ‘mum says’, ‘school says’ and ‘society says’, we’re not really making our young people active agents of change.

On an annual basis, thousands of adolescents participate in outdoor adventure programs that usually aim to connect these young people with their peers and nature.

When Associate Professor of Psychology Helen Skouteris started her research into these programs she found that it crossed over different areas of study such as socio-emotional development, cognitive development and obesity and weight gain. She also found that the benefits of participating in outdoor adventure programs are not limited to vulnerable adolescents.

Benefits of participation in outdoor activity programs include gaining a sense of belonging and growing an understanding the social environment. We can see how these would be hugely beneficial to vulnerable adolescents who are also enabled, through these programs, to achieve social goals, build trusting and meaningful relationships, meet more people and learn to control anger.

Hiking on the Gippsland Wilderness Program
Young people on the Gippsland Wilderness Program are encouraged to challenge their boundaries.

There are so many skills to be gained from this type of participation, including cognitive (e.g. problem solving), emotional (e.g. forming relationships) and physical (e.g. canoeing or hiking).

The outdoor environment pushes young people out of their comfort zones and allows them to take on responsibility and become an active agent of change for their own wellbeing and that is hugely beneficial to all adolescents!

Canoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness ProgramCanoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness Program
Canoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness Program

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

What’s a Dog Got To Do with Education? Presented by Bern Nicholls, PhD.

Dr Bern NichollsIn meditation you focus on your breathing to anchor yourself, [the students] focussed on Gus [the dog] to anchor themselves, to be calm in the classroom.

Many of the keynote speakers spoke about the benefits of forging strong relationships for children but there are other relationships that can enrich a child’s environment and childhood – like the one you have with your pets!

Bern Nicholls, PhD, presented her Masters research findings on the effect of Gus the dog’s presence in the secondary school classroom environment. As a high school teacher for many years, Bern took her Masters research as an opportunity to introduce Gus to her class and to study how Gus affected the classroom environment.

In the classroom, Gus would sit under tables, put his head on students’ shoes, sit next to particular students and, for the most part of the day, sleep. His presence was definitely felt, with students reporting that they felt:

  • More relaxed,
  • More trusting of the classroom environment,
  • A stronger connection to the class and other students,
  • More understanding and empathetic of other students,
  • It was easier to concentrate in class, and
  • Safer in the classroom.

Most noticeably, Gus gave students more confidence to speak up in class. Many students who were often shy or afraid would speak more freely if Gus was sitting at their feet.

So, what’s the explanation?

Koda Kayaking
One of the instructors in our Gippsland Wilderness Program is studying Animal Assisted Therapy, you can see his dog Koda loves the kayaking!

There’s a connection to the evolutionary history of people and dogs: they evolved with us, became our protectors and then a part of our families. Gus became this sort of canary in the classroom, wherein he had a calming effect on all the kids, and with a calmer mind, there’s more room for learning.

Bern’s research can be used to think about how teachers work with and form relationships with their students.

Bern highlighted three areas in her research where teachers could change their practice to form stronger relationships and improve their students’ learning environment:

Trust and care: acknowledging the courage it takes to teach and then acknowledging that students want teachers to care about them to build relationships with them, just as Gus did,

Relationships: understanding that children want meaningful and respectful teaching and, in turn, working to build this relationship, and

Educating with the brain in mind: remembering that stressed brains don’t learn and trying to create a relaxed environment in the classroom.

Whats a dog got to do with education

For more information on Bern’s work, see her company Learning Labyrinth.

Post by bloggers from SYN Media.

The rhythm of life, relationships and individuality

Simon Faulker presenting Drumbeat workshop“The most powerful thing for me is that the repetitive nature of drumming provided a regulating experience”

Simon Faulkner developed Drumbeat based on his experience in addictions counselling. After travelling across North America researching rhythm-based therapies and working with Native Americans and African Americans, the impact of drumming as an analogy to relationships, community and expressing yourself became the basis for the music therapy.

For Drumbeat, the emphasis is taken away from musical ability. Upon determining that the group at the Conference was largely musically inexperienced, Simon began to lead the circle into drumming exercises that would be undertaken in the workshops with younger members.

Simon Faulker presenting Drumbeat workshop

Despite the lack of actual drums due to a mix up, the group managed to generate enough noise to fill the room. The exercise kicked off with a core beat, what Faulkner described as a “mongrel beat”, mimicking the simple heartbeat. Once everyone was comfortable with slapping their knees, Simon threw in a hand clap and before long, the sound of foot stamps, hand rubbing and voices dominated the ground floor of the venue.

Simon concluded the workshop with the analogy of rhythms within life. Everybody has various rhythms, whether it be at school or in the home, but a person’s own individual rhythm can fit within a community’s.

If you make a mistake and miss a beat, the community is still there to support and help you get back into your rhythm.

During the lunch break, just before Simon’s workshop, students from Corpus Christi Primary in Melbourne had demonstrated Drumbeat to anyone interested; see the video below:

If you’re interested in music therapy, read further information about Drumbeat here.

Blog post by: SYN Media bloggers

Children’s voices & the power of an image: exploring ways in which children let us know of difficult life experiences

Children's Voices and the Power of an ImageTwo staff from the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s Gatehouse Centre For The Assessment & Treatment Of Child Abuse and Trauma, Mary Raftopolos (Psychologist) and Olivia Dwyer (Art Therapist & Child Psychotherapist)  focused on how children communicate their inner-world through art therapy.

Art therapy is generally divided into two concepts:

  • art as therapy, as a cathartic process ( for the purification and/or purging of emotions); and,
  • art in therapy, as art made in the context of psychotherapy.

Regardless, emphasis is placed on the process, not so much the final product.

Images and artwork produced by children who have suffered family abuse and breakdown were displayed to the audience, and we were challenged to consider how we experience and interpret these images.

These images included paintings, drawings and Sandplay Therapy that children, who typically are unable to verbally express, use to convey their inner world.

Sandplay Therapy involves the child making a picture in a tray of sand, and without any further direction, allowing the therapist to observe the process in which the child forms the art piece. Miniatures are chosen as they create an image/world in the sand.

Many of the themes conveyed in the featured pieces of art included:

  • Self regulation (fences, police, natural boundaries),
  • Poor relationships,
  • Fear,
  • Chaos,
  • Growth,
  • Containment,
  • Journey,
  • New beginnings,
  • Hiding treasure/finding treasure,
  • Gathering of energy,
  • Or, celebrations/rituals.

Mary and Olivia concluded the workshop with some of the positive results from art therapy over time, including the process being used as a tool of catharsis, in addition to allowing children to convey thoughts and feelings they would otherwise not be able to verbally.

Art Therapy & Sandplay have indeed proved wonderful, non-intrusive ways of working with children who have experienced trauma and/or neglect.

Blog by: SYN Media blogger

Children Living with Domestic and Family Violence – Professor Cathy Humphreys

Prof. Cathy HumphreysIs our approach to family violence effective? Does it manage the intake of children affected by domestic violence well? Does it provide appropriate intervention where necessary? Are long term aims for the protection of children achieved? Does the system promote respect and justice for children and others affected by domestic violence?

Cathy Humphreys’ exploration of our sectors approach to family violence centred around these questions.

After her study, she deduced that “child protection is not necessarily well set up to respond to family violence”.

With only 6.5% of reports about the risk of harm from domestic violence made in NSW in 2007-2008 substantiated/ followed up, her questioning of our approach to family violence seems valid.

But reforming the process is not simple. Cathy stressed that if the scope of the child protection system is widened to cover more cases, there is a risk that the level of service available to victims of family violence will decrease.

And, the system is already overwhelmed.

But it’s not merely the level of reporting that was questioned. Cathy placed importance on involving children in the intervention process where appropriate.

“The children are saying ‘we want to be told what’s going on, no one speaks to us and tells us what’s happening'” she said.

Above all, Cathy stressed the importance of having an effective and efficient process for managing family violence.

“There are a group of children who really need the child protection system… without it they may die” she said.

Social Work and Domestic Violence: developing critical and reflective practice, by Lesley Laing and Cathy Humphreys

Social work and domestic violence‘, a new book by Cathy Humphreys and Lesley Laing will be launched at the Good Childhood conference later this afternoon.

Read more about Cathy’s views on the book in a previous post.

Written by bloggers from SYN Media.

A Vision for Young Australians in the 21st Century

Jan Owen AM

 

Courage.
Imagination.
Will.
3.1 million young Australians have this.

“it is indisputable that we’re living in a world that’s changing”

 

 

CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), Jan Owens AM explains how young Australians today have much of the attitude, beliefs and tools required to thrive and excel in life and work.

However, they still require strong support from key organisations and their communities.

Drawing from her theory of the Where’s Wally Effect (or, as some media put it, the ‘mental health epidemic’) Jan raised the question of whether due to the changing world we’re losing who we are, who we’re identifying as and where we fit in society.

Imagine a world where everyone’s ‘Wally’; we’re all the same, we all blend in and we’ve lost our unique point of difference.

However, though the 21st century may be creating a more “blended in” society, studies have shown that in fact, young people now more than ever connect to their families, stay at home longer, have a closer circle of friends and live both local and global lives simultaneously.

It’s also shown that young people now have the attitude to adapt well to changing environments and that adults are projecting their own inabilities onto them.

FYA works with hundreds of thousands of children all around the world. In a movement to “create a world class outward-looking education system, one that connects young people to the real world”, Jan presented the idea to “future-proof our young people”.

Hoping to generate job creators not job seekers within our youth, Jan brought to the table the fact that young people will have 15-20 jobs in their lifetime, with 10 of the top jobs available to them today having not existed in 2004.

But it’s not only jobs that Jan wants to help encourage throughout the 21st century youth. There is also the movement to encourage the “reimagining of what volunteering looks like” among young people and organisations.

One such organisation is Young People Without Borders, a program that enables young people to volunteer just one day at a time. The motivation for this? That “over time we will see tens of thousands of young people volunteering who wouldn’t have”.

Jan Owen is “optimistic about the youth” and believes “they have the skills and attitudes to shape the places they live in and the drive to make change”.

If there is one piece of advice she’s willing to spread, it’s that she “encourages you to be optimistic too”.

You can follow Jan on twitter at @JanOwenAM or @FYA_org_au

“There is a new generation of young people in this country…young people that are leading movements for change”

By: SYN Media blogger