Three groups of children, aged 8-12, from Sligo participated in the project: children who use the HSE Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service and Community Psychology Service, as well as children from a local primary school. Twenty-one children in total participated.
The initial aims of the project were to:
- Address the gap in provision of self-created child/youth publications about mental health;
- Provide a once-off opportunity for children & young people in Sligo to work with professional artists through a creative process that would support their integrity as individuals, build self-esteem and challenge and inform them about themselves and each other;
- Promote and celebrate children’s wellbeing and build mental health awareness at local and national level;
- Give status and visibility to children’s artwork and writing through a new publication that gives voice to the interests, challenges and needs of children living in Ireland.
The project partners wanted to engage local children in County Sligo in a meaningful experience through which they could explore ideas about mental health, and their thoughts about how to develop resiliency and positive strategies for managing the ups and downs of life.
Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership is a children’s arts organisation and publishing house that supports children’s individual creative expression through publishing and arts initiatives involving professional artists and children, across a range of contexts and settings. Our collaborative book projects provide opportunities for children to engage in a unique process that is context-specific and offers a framework for them to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences through artwork and writing. Our books give ground to the truth of children’s lives and provide a platform for children’s voices and artwork to be valued, recognised and shared with others.
As a collaborative process, the children worked closely with artist Vanya Lambrecht Ward and writer Lisa Vandegrift Davala over an eight-week period.
In their introduction to Bouncing Away, our partners from HSE Child & Adolescent Mental Health and HSE Community Psychology Service reiterated their desire for the book to ‘serve as a resource for young people to explore themes of resilience, to encourage its readers to talk about their feelings, the ups and downs that life can bring and how we cope and bounce with them.’ Reflecting on the process, they observed that: ‘A platform was provided for the children in a safe and caring environment. The focus of the work was on building confidence, fostering self-esteem and developing alternative ways of expressing themselves through art and story-telling.’ The healthcare professionals supported this process by being present at all of the creative sessions.
From the artist’s perspective, Vanya Lambrecht Ward said: ‘We delved into the world of emotional things and events […] We explored this in big marks and endless variety of line and intention. Sometimes words cannot say what we mean and we can often surprise ourselves with how beautiful even anger can look!‘
Writer Lisa Vandegrift Davala gave her own description of the process: ‘I felt privileged to merely take dictation. Folding the writing process carefully into the act of artistic creation using visual word games, group discussions or quiet moments of reflection were some of the many inventive ways their writings were created.‘
Subsequent to these creative sessions, Kids’ Own developed the children’s artwork and writing into a new publication which offers a support and insight for other children into mental health attitudes and ways for developing coping strategies for the ups and downs of life.
The key output of the project is the publication, Bouncing Away: The ups and downs of life and how to deal with them.
This new book launches in Sligo in October 2015 and will be distributed widely to schools, libraries and mental health services across the country. Bouncing Away is also available through the Kids’ Own online bookshop. Please contact Kids’ Own for more information on where the book will be available.
The project was evaluated on an ongoing basis, through the structure of a steering group, which comprised representatives from all partner groups.
The steering group members were:
Dr. Marian Duggan, Senior Clinical Psychologist, HSE Community Psychology Service, Sligo;
Sandra Gray, Psychologist, HSE Community Psychology Service, Sligo;
Elizabeth Henry, Social Care Leader/Play Therapist, HSE Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service, Sligo;
Jo Holmwood, Project Manager, Kids’ Own;
Orla Kenny, Creative Director, Kids’ Own;
Niamh O’Connor, Co-ordinator, Arts Initiative in Mental Health;
Gráinne Roche, Senior Occupational Therapist, HSE Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service, Sligo.
The steering group met on a regular basis throughout the project to monitor its progress and to guide its development throughout.
The launch of the book will mark the culmination of the project. To date, there hasn’t been an evaluation of the project with the participating children but these are some of their reflections on the process and what their book is about:
‘This book is about mental health. If you were stuck in situations, you could read this and it might help. It will give you ideas on how to help yourself.’
‘This book can be like a shoulder to cry on…’
‘We would like to give people encouragement to not be afraid to talk to someone you trust.‘
‘It’s about a range of emotions.’
‘We hope this inspires you to follow your dreams.‘
Documentation and Dissemination
The project was documented primarily through photography. As a book about mental health, the partners were aware of the sensitivities this presented for the children. The children opted to use pseudonyms to attribute to their artwork and writing and, with their identity protected, images of the project were limited to the artworks.
Kids’ Own used Yammer to develop a private shared space for the artists and the project partners. This offered a reflective space and a platform for discussion and documentation of the project. It provided an easy way to chart the progress of the project visually, and allowed easy communication among the group in response to this.
For more information on the project see: http://kidsown.ie/projects/childrens-mental-health-project/
Following the launch in October 2015, Bouncing Away will be available to buy from the Kids’ Own online bookshop.
HSE Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Sligo
HSE Community Psychology Service (PCCC), Sligo
A local primary school, Sligo