29 June 2018

Building Blocks: A Q&A with the creators

What are some key features that learners can expect to find within the course?

Perhaps I’m biased, but I think the fictional families are the ‘beating heart’ of this course. The fictional parents describe their parenting triumphs and challenges in monologues, and we also see some of them engaging with practitioners and interacting with their families in the home environment.

The course also uses lots of interesting features to engage adult learners. The written content is intended to be minimal; flip-tiles and links provide further information for those learners who want to know more. Written content is broken up by video content – including interviews with experts, fictional families, practitioner responses – and slideshows which present key concepts in a concise, visually appealing way. The course also includes exercises that encourage reflection, and a final assessment that tests the learner’s knowledge.

The fictional family stories highlight how the concepts in the course are experienced in ‘real life’. How does it feel to be the parent of a curious toddler? What does the increasing independence of a pre-pubescent child mean for a devoted father? Why does a son’s connection to culture mean so much to an Australian-born mother whose parents were born in China? The fictional families bring a ‘human’ element to the course – something which is often missing from traditional e-learning courses.

True to its name, the course takes learners through the core building blocks of children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Why is it important for practitioners to have a meaningful understanding of these?

I think practitioners want to do the best they can for the families they work with. And parents want to do the best they can for their children. But a host of factors have made it difficult for both groups to talk to each other about parenting and children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Practitioners might be wary of raising the issue with parents, for example, because they feel like they don’t know enough about it. Parents might not know who to ask about their child’s social and emotional wellbeing or might not know what a social and emotional difficulty looks like in a child.

Some practitioners will already be familiar with the building blocks of children’s social and emotional wellbeing – so the course is a good refresher for them! However, other practitioners might not feel as confident. By outlining the building blocks of children’s social and emotional wellbeing, we can help enhance practitioners’ understanding of what matters when it comes to children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Practitioners working directly with children and families can then help to nurture those foundations.

Even for practitioners who work in the adult sector?

It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that practitioners who don’t work with children could benefit from learning about the building blocks of children’s social and emotional wellbeing. If they don’t work with children, why would it even matter? I know of two key reasons why it does (and there probably a lot more!)

Firstly, some of the adults that practitioners work with will be the parents of children aged 0-12. We know that the wellbeing of one’s children is a powerful incentive to making positive changes in one’s life. So, practitioners who are working with adults may be able to help them make those positive changes by highlighting the way it could benefit their child’s social and emotional wellbeing. This requires an understanding of the building blocks of children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Secondly, it is likely that if the parent of a dependent child is struggling with something in their life – such as mental health issues, relationship difficulties, gambling-related problems, financial stress, serious illness – their children will be affected also. Sometimes in families a kind of ‘feedback loop’ develops – the parent is stressed, which affects the child’s behaviour, which increases the parent’s stress, and so on.

If practitioners who work with adults know about the foundations of children’s social and emotional wellbeing, they can more easily initiate a discussion with them about the potential impact their issues might be having on their relationships and their child’s social and emotional wellbeing. It is likely that parents will already be worried about the impact on their children – and it may be a relief for them to be able to talk to someone about it.

How about parents/caregivers? What can they take away from learning more about these important building blocks?

Parenting has an impact on every aspect of child development. If parents understand the building blocks of a child’s social and emotional development, they will not only know what children need, but also feel more confident about the things they’re already doing really well! 

It’s not always easy to start these discussions. What are some ways that practitioners can approach meaningful conversations with parents/caregivers about their children, including utilising or creating opportunities to do so?

I think it’s important to acknowledge that having conversations with parents about children’s mental health – even when everything is going well for a family – can be difficult.

My first point would be that not every conversation about children’s social and emotional wellbeing needs to begin with a ‘problem.’ Regardless of how a child and family are faring, all parents can benefit from knowing about the factors that are important to their child’s social and emotional wellbeing. Those discussions can reassure parents that they’re doing a great job; and they can also help them be mindful of what their child might need during a difficult time in the future.

My second point would be that the parents of children who do have a mental health issue will often be aware that there’s a problem but have trouble articulating their concerns. They may come to a practitioner with something that they believe is not related to social and emotional wellbeing – such as a physical symptom, or a behavioural issue. When that happens, it provides an opportunity for a practitioner to have a conversation about the child’s social and emotional wellbeing. That doesn’t have to mean ‘diagnosing’ the child, it simply means having a conversation and being curious about the parents’ concern; when did they notice the problem? what’s been happening at home lately?

My third point would be that any conversation with a parent about their child is going to be easier if you have a pre-existing relationship with them. Obviously, not all practitioners will have the opportunity to work with parents over an extended period of time. But for those that do, building a relationship of respect and trust with parents will provide a foundation for future discussions. Parents may be more willing to raise difficult issues with you if they know and trust you.

Given the diversity of family context, cultural influences, parenting styles, children’s temperaments, life events, differing values and attitudes and much more, there is no ‘single’ picture of what positive social and emotional wellbeing should look like. What is your advice for practitioners about selecting good, evidence-based information that they can share with parents/carers about child social and emotional wellbeing?

There are a few things to consider. Firstly, because of the diverse factors noted here, it’s important to consider a family’s needs and circumstances before you provide them with information. For example, does the information recommend services that the family can access? Is the information consistent with the family’s core beliefs and values? What format are the parents comfortable with and most likely to use (e.g. hard copy, website, app)?

Aside from those practical considerations, it’s important to think about how the resource could be used by the parent to support their child’s social and emotional wellbeing. In other words, is the resource addressing the type of concern that the parent has raised? Does it relate to what we know to be the foundations of children’s social and emotional wellbeing (e.g. positive parent-child relationship, routine and predictability, networks of support)?

Secondly, it’s important that the information practitioners share with parents is good quality and evidence-based. By good quality information we mean information that is: relevant, up-to-date, reliable, accurate and accessible.

Many practitioners will already have tried and true sources of evidence-based information for parents. It can be difficult to assess the evidence-base informing some online resources. There are things you can do to assess the quality of online health information. The type of questions you might want to ask about a resource include:

  • What are the qualifications of the author(s)?
  • Who published the content?
  • Are the sources of information (described in the resource) provided? (e.g. references to journal articles, books etc.)
  • Is the resource encouraging readers to purchase something?
  • Is the information balanced and unbiased? Has it been independently reviewed?

The course provides more information about assessing whether a resource is evidence-based.

Tell us a little about the process of developing the Building Blocks course.

The course involved multiple stages of development and a diverse range of contributors. This required the core team of five people – from research, practice, knowledge translation and creative arts backgrounds – to be flexible, dynamic and focused.

From the initial scoping workshops through to final testing and go-live, each element of the course was developed according to the same basic process: discuss, draft, seek feedback, revise and finalise.

One of the most interesting aspects about the development of this course was the way it blended the ‘left-brained’ world of research and theory with the ‘right-brained’ world of the creative arts, especially through the development of the characters and storylines for the ‘fictional families’ who appear in the course.

The fictional family storylines were influenced partly by our consultations with practitioners and people with lived experience, as well as a two-day workshop that involved a group of actors and the core team.

The actors – who came from diverse cultural backgrounds – used their own stories and creative skills to fashion characters that spoke to some of the broad themes relating to the course. The core team provided their own knowledge of research, theory and practice to further develop these initial stories.

The development of rich, authentic narratives for the fictional families required the core team to put aside their focus on deliverables and deadlines for the duration of the workshop, and instead immerse themselves in the creative process.

 

Visit the Building Blocks course here.