Time to make a difference: improving the lives of children and their families

Janet King, Sector Manager Education and Childcare at CACHE

With the rise of mental health issues in children and young people during recent years, according to the Children’s Society, children’s happiness with life is at its lowest in a decade. As a nation, there’s never been a more imperative time to talk, make a difference, and improve the lives of children and young people in our communities.

Along with national awareness campaigns which aim to shine a spotlight on the importance of mental health, the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has recently launched 5 Big Questions, a campaign which aims to spark the biggest conversation on early years and build the healthiest generation in history by giving each child the best start in life.

Supported by Heads Together, the campaign is giving the UK a unique opportunity to have their say on the future of the country, and invites everyone aged 16 or above to complete the 5 Big Questions survey.

The impact of experiences in the early years is very much researched and shows the vital importance to everyone’s lives. We know from previous studies the potentially life determining effects of adverse childhood experiences on an individual’s future, and the effects of this on the country’s hardest social challenges.

Advancements in neuroscience allow an insight into how our brain ‘maps’ to memory and emotion and therefore conditions our ‘fight or flight’ response systems in situations that are stressful (Conkbayir, 2017).

Exposed to safe and nurturing environments, a young baby will typically thrive. However, when a child’s environment is one of hostility and fear, there is the potential for such adverse experiences to impact their mental health and wellbeing for the future.   

Children are often described as ‘resilient’ and I have often thought what this actually means in context. Manipulative? Adaptable? Flexible, bendy and superiorly agile in relation to emotional strength a superpower? Anyone looking for a succinct definition for resilience is likely to find this a labour intensive experience as there are so many diverse perspectives to be found.

We are often reminded of the impact of culture and context to an individual’s wellbeing and the subsequent significance of this for approaches to intervention.

The Resilience Framework shares an approach that supports children and young people and those working with them through a set of five aspects that help to engage conversations around what matters, and these are underpinned with ‘noble truths’ capturing underlying beliefs, values and attitudes: acceptance, conservation, commitment and enlisting.

What is critical to remember is that all experiences can be categorised, the impact and how this is therefore personally internalised, less so. It is important to keep what really matters at the forefront of intervention strategies: the child, young person and family.

You can help create a national conversation and bring about positive, lasting change for generations to come by taking part in the 5 Big Questions survey 

References:

Conkbayir, M., 2017, Early Childhood and Neuroscience, London: Bloomsbury

Lester, S., and Russell, W., 2008, Play for a change: Play. Policy and practice: A review of contemporary perspectives

Nutbrown, C., and Page, J.,2008,  Working with Babies and Children Under Three , London: Sage

Ungar, M., and Theron, L., Published Online December 2, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1016/ S2215-0366(19)30434-1

https://youngminds.org.uk/media/1486/interactive_resilience_framework-002.pdf