The birth of our book
“I think we should write a book about children’s well-being” I said, naively and optimistically to Zeta in 2015. “Great idea” Zeta replied, “what will the book include?”. “I haven’t thought that far” I responded, and that was that. Fast forward five years, and two promotions, two changes of institution, major surgery and the welcomed arrival of a baby for us….and the book is published.
In 2015, children and young people’s mental health and well-being was officially declared in crisis. Mental health and well-being for the 0 – 25 age range had been under-focused, under-resourced and misunderstood amidst escalating needs and subsequent failure of services to meet these needs. Policy to promote, protect and improve mental health, The Future in Mind (2015), assured promotion of resilience, preventive work and early intervention.
The case for action stated there was a compelling moral, social and economic rationale for a change in culture in the way we support children and young people’s emotional well-being and mental health. A key factor for achieving these aspirations was to develop workforce competencies, and hence this book for students and practitioners supporting children and young people in educational environments was born.
The themes of the book
As editors, we felt expertise of educational outcomes would be best drawn from a broad range of potential contributors from higher education institutions. Following issue of an expression of interest, we received many more suggestions and ideas than anticipated and hoped for. A considered sifting resulted in 32 authors from academic backgrounds collaborating to produce a broad range of chapter topics, including international perspectives. These contributors came with a wealth of knowledge and expertise that have made this book what it is. We have been privileged to work with this amazing group of advocates who campaign effectively to support children’s well-being and resilience. The diversity of topics- listening to children, peer interaction, families and school based interventions, including mindfulness and solution-focused resilience work to name a few, and the 0 – 25 age range catered for are a real strength for the book.
The book focuses upon the recent buzzwords in education, ‘well-being’ and ‘resilience’, and includes challenging discussions regarding the complexity attached to their definitions. As every child is unique, to conclude that their well-being and resilience might also be unique should be expected but the journey to this conclusion caused much deliberation. Should a single definition of well-being and of resilience be provided? If not, why not? Would readers feel more informed and supported if a single definition was provided, or would this over-simplify concepts which are multi-faceted and impacted by varying contexts and diverse environmental factors; socio-cultural and economic factors. We came to the conclusion that it was important to show the complexity of these terms, but at the same time highlight ways that childhood well-being and resilience can be supported in practice.
We felt it essential that the book focused upon children and young people’s sense of agency regarding their own well-being and resilience. Reflecting upon why this was so important to us, we recognise that our role as parents likely informed the sense of empowerment we wanted all children and young people to acquire. This resulted in scrutiny of the professional’s role in enabling children and young people to develop positive well-being and good levels of resilience. It also brought to the forefront of our minds the significance of the family’s influence on their children’s well-being and resilience and our responsibility as professionals to embrace the positives in this and harness its potential.
Authors explored holistic interventions and influences which could take place outside of the classroom whilst still impacting positively on educational outcomes. I was privileged to visit the ancient Welsh woodland which was the location for chapter 8, Well-being and outdoor learning. The sense of peace, tranquility and calm emanating from a leafy learning pod (a facility/environment for housing groups) will forever remain in my heart. Children who are able to practice mindfulness here cannot help but immerse themselves in a world away from educational targets, tenuous peer relationships and family difficulties.
Five years ago when we started this book together we could have never imaged how timely its publication would be. We felt then, as we do now, that childhood well-being and resilience should be a significant priority in education. This however is even more the case now we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. We were two weeks into the first COVID-19 lockdown as we wrote the conclusion for this book. The book includes a chapter on the emergence of digital lives, debating the positive and negative impact of the virtual world on well-being and resilience. Since then children and young people have had to become more reliant on this world for digital learning and socialization. It is not yet apparent how much the pandemic has and will affect children’s well-being and resilience. However, communities have found strength and comfort through a resurgence of the big society, with volunteering networks formulated, community cohesion strengthened and a general ethos of kindness and compassion. We are reminded of the African proverb referred to in Chapter 5, that it takes a village to raise a child and can hope that children and young people’s resilience might be strengthened by improved community support throughout such difficult times.
Department of Health (2015) Future in mind: Promoting, protecting and improving our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing
Sarah Mander with Zeta Williams-Brown, November 2020
Sarah Mander is currently a Staff Tutor for the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sports with the Open University. She has previously worked in Higher Education Institutions across the Midlands region in Course Leader and Senior Lecturer roles. Sarah’s practice experience has been gained in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors where her focus is mainly within early intervention and preventative work for children, young people and their families. Research interests include children and young people’s well-being, mental health and safeguarding and she is currently studying for her Doctorate in Education.
Zeta Williams-Brown is a Reader in Education for Social Justice at the University of Wolverhampton. She is leader of the Education Observatory’s Childhood, Youth and Families research and scholarship group and is currently Chair of the British Education Studies Association (BESA). Her technical research expertise specialises in qualitative methods, including Q-methodology.
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