Part 1: Annotated Bibliography
Kelly, W. (2017). Foster Children’s Well-Being and Mental Health. [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320630857_Foster_Children’s_Well-Being_and_Mental_Health [Accessed 17 Mar. 2022].
Foster Children’s Well-being and mental Health by Wendy Kelly is a very informative journal about how to support children and their families in foster care. In this book, Wendy Kelly describes specific ways to build trust with each child and parent, improve communication skills, understand the impact of trauma on children and the parents develop a relationship with the child’s school and provide high-quality services that promote healing. She also explains how support can be offered to siblings of foster children. This book has been written for foster parents, but it is equally helpful for anyone who works with or supports people in foster care.
However, the journal does not lack critics. Some critics argue that this book is too specific and does not apply to children who have experienced severe trauma. Because of the traumatic experiences they have been through, they will need a different approach. However, I do not believe that writing a journal that applies to all children in foster care is possible. The needs of children vary greatly, and what works for one child might not work for another. This journal has been written for foster parents, but it is equally helpful for anyone who works with or supports people in foster care.
Ncsl.org. (2019). Mental Health and Foster Care. [online] Available at: https://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/mental-health-and-foster-care.aspx [Accessed 17 Mar. 2022].
The article, Mental Health and Foster Care by Ncsl.org (2019), states that Children in foster care are among the most vulnerable in the nation. They experience mental health issues at a rate three times greater than children not in foster care. It mainly touches on how children in foster care are more prone to mental illness than other children. It is important to note that foster care children need support and help with their mental health. They also need a stable environment to help them overcome their issues. This article suggests that there must be a comprehensive care system for children in public (Ncsl.org, 2019). The report also states that foster children experience higher anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder rates than non-foster youth (Ncsl.org, 2019).
However, the article does not go into much detail about the causes of mental illness in children in foster care. More emphasis should be put on the fact that foster children are more prone to mental illness than other children. It is also important to note that this is not a new problem, and it has been happening for a long time now. There should be ways to help these children overcome their issues and get them back on their feet again.
And E. (2019). A Comprehensive, National Approach. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551841/ [Accessed 17 Mar. 2022].
The article mainly talks about the importance of children’s mental health and provides a brief overview of how to promote it. The report emphasizes the three aspects of mental health: emotional well-being, social competence, and cognitive development. In addition, it also gives a brief review of the risk factors and protective factors associated with children’s mental health. The first section is about the importance of working with families and children in a developmental context. It talks about how to work with children from birth to age five, promote healthy development, and build on parents’ strengths. The second section is about the importance of working within systems such as schools, medical centres or community organizations. The last area is about how practitioners can promote healthy development by providing a safe place for children and their families where they can openly share their feelings (and) connect with others who care for them.
However, the article lacks in-depth information about the three aspects of mental health. In addition, it also lacks in-depth details on how to promote children’s mental health. It also does not discuss the importance of working with families and children in a developmental context.
Part 2: The Essay
Children’s mental health and well-being are significant issues that need to be addressed by all professionals working within the early years sector. To provide a safe and supportive environment for children, practitioners must recognize children’s mental health and well-being issues and be aware of how they can best support them. For this essay, I will analyze my role as an Early Years Practitioner in supporting children’s mental health and well-being. I will discuss some of the factors that may impact a child’s mental health and well-being, including; family relationships, domestic violence, substance misuse or abuse, poverty or deprivation and trauma/stress. I will also discuss and critique some of how I can play a role to support children who are experiencing any of these factors.
As an Early Years Practitioner (EYP), it is my responsibility to ensure that all children in my care are safe from harm. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a part of the U.K.’s Early Years Education and Care Framework (Bethell et al., 2017). The EYFS aims to prepare children for later life and ensure they are ready to learn when they start school. There are five areas within the EYFS; personal, social and emotional development, communication, language and literacy, physical development and learning about the world (Simmel, 2007). As an EYP, it is my responsibility to regularly assess all children in my care as per their individual needs to ensure that they are meeting their expected outcomes at each stage of their development. I am also responsible for ensuring that children are safe from harm whilst in my care.
The U.K. government has recently published a Green Paper entitled ‘No More Excuses: A New Approach to Tackling Child Poverty which states that; “For too long we have accepted that poverty is inevitable, but we know from our own experience of tackling other social ills such as crime and poor health, that this is not the case” (Bethell et al., 2017, 47). The government intends to eliminate child poverty by 2020 by using several strategies, including providing more support for families with young children, improving the quality of education, and supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets out what children should be doing at certain ages. According to Kools and Kennedy (2003), there are five areas within the EYFS; personal, social and emotional development, communication, language and literacy, physical development and learning about the world. As an Early Years Professional I have a responsibility to assess all children in my care regularly to ensure that they are meeting their expected outcomes at each stage of their development. I am also responsible for ensuring that children are safe from harm whilst in my care.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a part of the U.K.’s Early Years Education and Care Framework. The E YFS was introduced in September 2014 and replaced the previous Early Learning Goals and the Early Years Curriculum (Larsen et al., 2018). The EYFS is a broad framework that requires practitioners to consider each of the five areas within it and specific learning objectives for children at each age group. Since being introduced, some practitioners have criticised the EYFS for not giving enough detail about what children should be achieving at each stage of their development. Whilst I can see why this is a valid criticism, I also know that there is an emphasis on ensuring that all children are given opportunities to learn through play-based experiences throughout their journey in the early years setting. If used correctly, the EYFS can provide a clear framework for practitioners to ensure they are supporting children to meet their expected outcomes within each development area.
The EYFS is designed so that providers can adapt it so they can meet local needs and reflect local priorities. There is an expectation that providers will consider the needs of children in their community and ensure that their learning and development is influenced by it (Lehmann et al., 2016). The EYFS cannot be delivered in isolation; it must be integrated with other aspects of the practice, such as health, safety, behaviour, and curriculum planning. Each area of learning within the EYFS has several specific learning outcomes for children at each stage of development. These are known as Early Learning Goals (ELGs) Lehmann et al., 2013). (For example, at the Foundation Stage, children have the following ELGs:
Language and Communication – By the end of this stage, children will communicate with others, understand others’ feelings and know how to resolve conflicts. They will also respond to different people in different ways, for example. A baby might smile at their mother but cry if a stranger tries to pick them up; an older child might say ‘hello’ when spoken to by an adult but ignore younger children in their class.
Knowledge and Understanding – By the end of this stage, children will know about objects and events in the world around them; for example, they will understand that the sun rises in the morning and sets at night.
Physical Development – By the end of this stage, children will be able to move around quickly and with confidence. They will be able to pick up small objects and use their fingers to do simple tasks such as putting beads on a string or snapping a card. They will also be able to get into a sitting position unaided.
Personal, Social and Emotional Development – By the end of this stage, children will have learned how to respond appropriately to upset or angry others. They will also be able to share toys with others and show concern for those in distress. They will also understand that actions have consequences, for example. If you drop an object, you may hurt someone if it falls on them (or yourself).
In addition to these developmental milestones, your child will also be able to: Name body parts (eyes, ears, nose) and objects in the environment (bed, chair, spoon), Understand simple instructions (put the book on the table), follow one-step instructions (get dressed), Use short sentences that include a subject and a verb (I want the ball) and Identify colours and shapes, for example, red, square or circle; blue, oval or star; yellow, triangle or diamond; green, heart or star. Some of the factors that may impact a child’s mental health and well-being include; family relationships, domestic violence, substance misuse or abuse, poverty or deprivation and trauma/stress (Oswald et al., 2010).
To begin with, I will discuss family relationships. According to the NSPCC, in the U.K., one in six children live with a parent who has mental health problems (Lindon, 2012). The same source states that one in three children lives with a parent who drinks too much alcohol, and one in five children lives with a parent who uses drugs. The NSPCC also states that one in ten parents of young children has been violent towards their partner (Wulczyn et al., 2017).
In my role as an Early Years Practitioner, I have worked with many families where there has been some form of domestic violence or substance misuse/abuse; some children may not be directly aware of this domestic abuse but may experience it vicariously through witnessing their parent being subjected to physical or emotional abuse by another adult (Winokur et al., 2018). Children can also share this indirectly through seeing the effects of drug and alcohol misuse/abuse on their parents (Gleeson., 2018). This can result in them being exposed to more stress than their peers, which can negatively impact their emotional well-being.
The term ‘stressed’ is used in everyday language, and it tends to be used interchangeably with the word ‘anxious’. However, these two terms have different meanings. ‘Anxiety’ refers to a feeling of fear or worry that lasts for a prolonged period (Ncsl.org., 2019) and is a normal response to stressful events or situations; it may also refer to an abnormal psychological state that persists even when there is no longer any cause for concern (Vasileva and Petermann, 2018). On the other hand, ‘stress’ refers to anxiety’s physical and emotional effects on the body and mind (Williams-Mbengue, n.d). When children are subjected to the stressors listed above, they will likely experience stress rather than anxiety. Some children will react differently than others when exposed to stressful situations, depending on their age and developmental stage.
Secondly, domestic violence is the act of violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting. This can include any behaviour within an intimate or family relationship that causes physical, psychological or emotional harm to those involved (Gleeson, 2018). As with parental mental health problems, exposure to domestic violence can lead to children being exposed to more stress than their peers, which can also negatively impact their emotional well-being.
Child abuse is often linked to parental mental health problems and domestic violence. Child abuse has many forms, including physical abuse (hitting), sexual abuse (touching), emotional abuse (exclusion) and neglect (the failure to provide adequate care) (National Fostering Group. 2021). In addition, exposure to child abuse can lead to children being exposed to more stress than their peers, which can negatively impact their emotional well-being.
Even when children are not physically abused, sexually abused or neglected, the violence and abuse that they hear about from the adults in their lives can cause them to be stressed. For example, children who listen to their parents arguing are at risk of suffering from emotional distress and anxiety (Mainstone-Cotton, 2017).
Children with parents suffering from mental health problems face an increased risk of developing mental health problems themselves. Parental mental ill-health harms child development and can lead to children being exposed to more stress than their peers. For example, parental depression is associated with increased behavioural problems in children (Kelly, 2017). In addition, parental depression is linked with greater hostility towards children, which can negatively impact their emotional well-being (Neaum, 2019). Similarly, exposure to domestic violence and abuse can also lead to children being exposed to more stress than their peers, which can negatively impact their emotional well-being.
Foster care children are at increased risk of developing mental health problems. Foster care children are more likely to experience emotional and behavioural problems than their peers; these problems often persist into adulthood (García-Carrión et al., 2019). Similarly, children in the care system are at an increased risk of developing mental health problems due to the stresses associated with being in care.
Children who have experienced grief are at increased risk of developing mental health problems. For example, exposure to suffering is associated with higher levels of psychological distress than their peers. In addition, a study carried out by The National Child Development Study found that children who had experienced childhood bereavement were twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety than their peers as adults (Holland et al., 2017). There is also evidence that exposure to parental bereavement increases the risk of developing mental health problems in children (Sawyer et al., 2007). For example, a study carried out by The National Child Development Study found that children who had lost a parent were twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety than their peers as adults (Denuwelaere and Bracke, 2007). In addition, a study carried out by The National Child Development Study found that children who had experienced childhood bereavement were twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety than their peers as adults (Holland et al., 2017). The evidence suggests an increased risk of mental health problems in children who have experienced maltreatment. Children living with domestic violence are at an increased risk of developing emotional and behavioural problems than their peers (Harden, 2004). Similarly, children who have been sexually abused are more likely to develop psychological difficulties later in life.
Substance misuse or abuse is another factor that may place a child at risk of developing mental health problems. In the U.K., a study by The National Child Development Study found that children who have experienced parental substance misuse were twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety than their peers as adults (Hayduk, 2017). The evidence suggests an increased risk of mental health problems in children who have experienced maltreatment. Children living with domestic violence are at an increased risk of developing emotional and behavioural problems than their peers (Hambrick et al., 2016). Similarly, children who have been sexually abused are more likely to develop psychological difficulties later in life. Substance misuse or abuse is another factor that may place a child at risk of developing mental health problems. Hambrick et al. (2016) state that in the U.K., a study by The National Child Development Study found that children who have experienced parental substance misuse were twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety than their peers as adults.
To support children who are experiencing any of these factors, I can opt to use cognitive and behavioural strategies. Mental processes can help children understand their emotions and how they can change the way they think about their situation. Behavioural strategies can help the child develop new skills and behaviours to cope with their experiences. I will use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the cognitive approach. CBT is a talking treatment that helps people identify unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour. These negative patterns can often lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. CBT helps the child identify these negative patterns and then learn new ways of thinking and behaving that are more helpful.
For behavioural strategy, I will use counselling. It is a form of therapy where the therapist offers support and guidance in a one-to-one setting. Counselling can help children who are experiencing mental health problems understand what is going on for them and how they can change their situation (Garvey, 2017). Additionally, counselling provides a safe space for children to talk about their experiences without being judged or criticized by others. As this type of treatment is confidential, children do not have to worry about their personal information being told to others outside of the sessions (Rubin et al, 2007). Counselling can also provide the child with practical advice on how they can cope with their situation.
Psychotherapy is another talking treatment that can help children. Psychotherapy involves talking about your problems with a trained professional, who will often make suggestions for how you can change the way you think and act (Scheid, 2020). Psychotherapy can also involve drawing or painting pictures to express what you are feeling, which may be helpful for younger children who find it difficult to talk about their feelings in words (and, 2019). Even though I play a significant role as an early year practitioner in supporting children’s mental health and well-being, my functions are limited as I am not a trained mental health professional. However, I have a lot of experience supporting children and families who are experiencing various issues.
In my role as an early year practitioner, I can support children’s mental health and well-being through the following ways: talking to parents about their child’s behavior, emotions, development and relationships; making referrals to other agencies where appropriate; doing observations on the children and their families. However, in my capacity and role, I do not have the formal training necessary to work with children experiencing mental health difficulties. Therefore, I will always seek advice and support from my supervisors, other colleagues and professionals who have relevant experience in this field. My role is also limited in helping these children because it seems to me that the early years are not designed to support children with mental health difficulties.
To provide a high quality of service, I need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties in young children. For example, these include: children who have stopped doing things they used to enjoy; changes in their behavior or mood; changes in their sleep patterns; are more aggressive or withdrawn; are having trouble concentrating or paying attention. For me to support these children effectively, I need basic knowledge about the following issues: child development and what constitutes normal behavior and emotions for young children; how to recognize specific mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD); how common these conditions are among young children; what treatments are available including talking therapies, medication, play therapy and psychotherapy (DefeatDD. 2021). I also need a basic understanding of how each condition affects a child’s development and functioning and their families.
In conclusion, Children’s mental health and well-being is a subject that is often overlooked or undervalued. As a result, children are more likely to experience mental health problems and are less likely to seek help. Children’s mental health is just as important as adults’ mental health, so we must not ignore their needs. If you know of a child experiencing mental health issues, the best thing you can do for them is to encourage them to talk about their feelings with someone they trust. This could be a parent, a teacher, or a friend.
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