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. 

A Simple But Radical Approach to Ending Entrenched Disadvantage

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“While we are the lucky country, it’s not lucky for everyone,” David James, General manager of Children’s Ground.

After 20 years working with communities facing the reality of sustained socio-economic disadvantage in remote areas, it was found that things had not improved; rather they had worsened…and probably wouldn’t improve.

This called for a complete rethinking of how to end entrenched disadvantage. This approach started with thinking about the needs of the community and ended with the building of the Children’s Ground platform.

Children’s Ground is a set of ideas and steps that can be implemented from within the community as opposed to being imposed upon it. It aims for families and communities experiencing entrenched disadvantage to realise their aspirations for the next generation of children – to be free from trauma and suffering. If this feels like a big commitment, that’s because it is!

This is a preventative program and a huge part of its success is starting early, even before the birth of the child. This commitment gives the child the best possible start at life and then this child is supported by the Children’s Ground platform for twenty-five years.

David JamesWithin this time, the platform places focus on the child first, then the family and the community as a whole, whilst still being implemented from within the community. This bottom-up model for community led action is perhaps the biggest achievement of Children’s Ground.

It allows for deeper engagement and builds a relationship with a generation who can pass information and knowledge on to future generations.

The Children’s Ground platform is currently being used in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and West Arnhem Land. Here the platform was offered to the community with no strings attached and no further communication with Children’s Ground if the community didn’t seek it.

This giving up of ownership is was makes for the community led success of this project.

For more information on the approach please visit their website: http://www.childrensground.org.au/ 

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

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

Importance of relationships for the developing child – Dr Bruce Perry

Bruce Perry Keynote Day 1” I think its always important to be reminded of how important it is to create safe, developmental experiences for children,” Dr Perry.

Dr Bruce Perry was referring to the Good Childhood Conference, reiterating how essential it is for society to understand that at every point in time, we are in “the process of inventing the future”.

The presentation, recorded in his Chicago hotel room, resonated with the themes of the conference, focusing on brain development at an early age and building healthy communities.

Sociocultural evolution has, over time, lead to the changes in the way we construct our society: our language, religions, childrearing, family structures, art, science and technology.

Dr Bruce Perry

The focus of Dr. Perry‘s presentation lay with the relationships and interactions children are offered at a young age and the profound influence intimate moments such as talking, touching and holding eye contact can have.

Human beings have also absorbed thousands of learnings from previous generations. But this is not always a good thing.

“In the process of inventing the future, we have invented some things that are really wonderful…and we have invented some practices that actually are quite disrespectful of some of our genetic gifts,” Dr Perry said.

Our greatest biological gifts are the power of relationships and the brain’s malleability.

Dr Perry referred to the case where a young girl was, essentially, raised by a pack of dogs and, with no human interaction in the early stages of her life, she essentially acted like a dog. Dr Perry co-authored a book on another similar case, emphasising the malleability of human brains to learn from and adapt to their surroundings.

He then went on to explain how relationships in modern society have taken a turn for the worse because we are now based within huge networks of people unlike the small clans of hunter-and-gatherer times. Children are no longer raised surrounded by extended family and small tribes of people but spend countless hours surrounded by other humans who they don’t know and don’t interact with. Furthermore, technology is a distraction and is reducing the amount of intimate interactions children share with others.

“You might have 100 friends on Facebook but you might not have one single person to have dinner with,” he said.

In what he termed “modern tribalism”, Dr Perry said the ways in which society compartmentalises itself has resulted in material wealth yet “poverty of social relationships”.

“A healthy human being is a related human being.”

Humans are wired to feel stressed and threatened by other humans. After all, we are our own main predator. This stress can be managed throughout life if productive interactions and and healthy relationships are forged during childhood.

But, according to Dr Perry, the way our culture is currently organised induces a state of social and cultural neglect in our children.

Any programs that decrease physical, social and emotional isolation will be effective in making a difference. Currently, the percentage of children in “high-risk” categories is growing and the apparent “poverty of relationships” is a leading reason.

CEO Sandie de Wolf at The Good Childhood Conference

Dr Perry said programs and initiatives such as the Good Childhood Conference are important in encouraging investment into children and developmentally-appropriate ways to raise children.

Berry St CEO, Sandie de Wolf AM, agreed saying: “Relationships are at the core of everything we do”.