The blueprint to your childs early development with Nana Bonsu

In today’s episode we get into a topic that we have not had a chance to explore before on our podcast. Recently we have been talking a lot about the importance of building chatting, playing and reading with your child into your daily routine, especially since the UK Governments launch of the Hungry Little Minds campaign.

Our special guest today is Nana Bonsu – Head of Systemic Practice – Croydon.  Nana joins our podcast to share her thoughts and insights on how we can develop a strong home learning environment and why it is critical for parents to be involved in their childs early years.

– David Shosanya
Hello to everybody that’s visiting it is fantastic to be able to communicate to you again from the desk of The IOW – The Institute of Wellbeing and to talk about some of the projects that we are doing. We’ve just had a fantastic meeting with Nana Bonsu. Who’s the head of systemic psychotherapy at Croydon Council and she’s doing some really exciting stuff. Nana is here with us, Nana Please tell us a bit about what systemic psychotherapy is and how long you’ve been in the role and the kind of work you do. Just tell us a bit about this.

– Nana Bonsu
Sure, thank you David and so as you said my name is Nana and I’m Head of Systemic Practice in Croydon. I started in June this year and the remit of my role is to develop systemic psychotherapy and expertise within social care contexts. So that means recruiting clinical therapists to be co-located within a health and children’s social care to support social workers and families sharing their expertise around systemic principles and practices that help families through the process of change and supportive social workers learning around systemic principles. So we have just commissioned systemic social work to train five cohorts of staff, hundred and fifty five staff to do either systemic practice foundation level or a systemic supervisor manager training level.

Systemic practice principles essentially mean that you look at individuals within a context so that you don’t pathologize individuals and attribute problems and locate them within one person you recognize that individuals are in the context in terms of their fan context community context societal context cultural context and you recognize how those contexts mutually influence any individual in terms of how they behave, how they think and how they position themselves. So systemic principles will very much be a strengths based collaborative approach seeking exceptions to the problems recognize that individuals and families have agency and helping them to think through their challenges and their problems not for problematising pathologizing frame.

– David Shosanya
That sounds like a big shift from what things used to be and perhaps how we how we tend to approach particular challenges and problems, tell us a bit about how that approach is going to work in your context.

– Nana Bonsu
Yes.

– David Shosanya
And just tell us a bit about you explain to the teams domains, this sounds quite interesting for us tell us a bit about that and how it can inform parenting aswell.

– Nana Bonsu
Ok thinking about how systemic fits a social work context I see them as you know bedfellows or cousins if you like. If you think about social work practice it’s very much around advocate of families, supporting families for a process of change and enabling families to find their agency and systemic psychotherapy is very much of that ilk. It kind of came about in the 40s when their recognition of the schizophrenic patients who would be treated in hospital and then when they returned home to their families their symptoms would continue. There was a recognition that actually there was some kind of contextually that was contributing to the symptoms that individuals are having.

So moving away from this kind of siloed intervention to looking at matters relationally. So if I think about the work that comes through social care it’s all relational. There’ll be a relationship that family members will be having with each other that may be challenging or difficult, there’ll be a relationship that families will be having with institutions whether it be school whether it be police that they’ll be challenging or difficult or relationships that people have problems such as addiction or mental health. So for me everything is relational I see and think in a relational way, I don’t see things in that kind of individualistic way.

And therefore for me in a social care context systemic practice fits really really well. The thing I am speaking about in terms of one of the theories that is used in having therapy is looking at different domains and thinking about how we interact in different domains so domain of production where we’re very active in doing, the domian of explanation thinking about the why or how we come to be where we are and the domain of aesthetics, the artistry the value that one holds. And often I think when these campaigns such as the one that you are trying to – create a shift in a change in how families are engaging with young children around reading and communicating and one of the things about trying to create any change is to think about how do you get people to buy into what it is that your trying to get them to buy into and what I was saying earlier as we focus just on the domain of production that’s the doing so that might look like I imagine going on one of your online resources and getting the family to engage with them with their children. That doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the artistry or to the value of what we’re trying to do and that you have to pay attention to that just as much as the production. So just as much as creating the portfolio which families will support their children, you have to give as much credence to why what you say that you are hoping to see and that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing.

I think most people can have what type of therapy we call first order change so first order change is typically when an external factor will be organizing you to change your behaviour. So if I think of a social care context an external factor could be your child protection plan or you going to court proceedings or your child being removed. That may organize you around change but that will not be sustained and it’s not internalized. Second order change is where you begin to change your narrative and beliefs about who you are and what you believe about yourself.

So for instance taking it back to your campaign. If families can have an identity change around the importance of reading and communicating to their children that is going to be more effective in sustaining in the long term rather than “oh I’m doing this because you know I went to a workshop and they said that there’s e- portals online and I’m doing it for a period of time but I’m not really buying into it”. So it’s just about paying as much attention to the domain and production as you do aesthetics and explanation in order I think for change to be sustainable and for people to buy in and understand what you’re doing and why.

– David Shosanya
Thank you, a really valuable insight. Rox tells us a bit about the project and the campaign that Nana has been eluding to and you will also hear from other members of the team in short while.

– Rox Hussain
Thank you Nana for explaining what you do, so at the DfE we launched a campaign – 2nd of July called Hungry Little Minds and the idea is to support parents with parent-child interaction in the home because we know from the evidence that what a parent does in the home resonates right across a child’s attainment journey. I was particularly interested in what you were saying about agents of change and the different domains. And one of the things that we’re trying to do is with the campaign is to take that approach in terms of how your empower parents to make decisions in the home and it’s not about telling parents how to parent but when we are talking about the most disadvantaged parents and a number of different layers that they may be experiencing in terms of disadvantage.

– David Shosanya
Well thank you Rox. Really helpful. Nana – what unique insights does a systemic approach offer to parenting?

– Nana Bonsu
I think for me one of the things I love about systemic psychotherapy is its ability to think in a complex way but to apply it simply and that takes skill and experience.

The fundamental thing that you would do with the family is the that a systemic psychotherapist also known as a family therapist is a genogram and a genogram is essentially a family tree, and through that experience she can have conversations with people about where did your dad come from, who named you in the family, is anyone else in your family have a similar name, who in your family would you describe being close to, who would you describe having challenges with challenges with or distant relationships with, are their migration stories in your family, are their stories around difference in your family.

So genograms can give you just a basic (seems like a basic) pictorial representation of the family but one can be very creative in trying to elicit information about family and then from that conversation you can start to identify what we call unique outcomes. So if for instance your grandmother passed away but if your grandmother was here what would she say about what’s going on currently. What advice do you think she’d be able to give you.

So it enables one to think very broadly very widely. I think to also have a system of psychotherapy is very attuned to power and difference. So one of the things concepts that we use is called the social graces that the graces is an acronym. So G is for gender, R is for race/ religion, A is age another a is ability, C is class, the last C is culture, E is ethnicity and another E is education, sexuality and spirituality and just having that acronym makes one to think about what other stories and narratives that may be lending itself to the GRACES that this family inhabit and what GRACES may I inhabit that means that when I join the family I may be thinking about matters of similarity or difference and what other areas may I not be paying attention to. Is sexuality something I must be paying attention to in this family. Is ability something I need to be paying attention to, is class.

So again, it enables one to have a broad spectrum of thinking that apply in a way that is useful for families and I like reframing, so Rox is talking about that earlier. The idea that if one uses dialogue such as “well this child is very challenging” and develops a narrative around that or I could challenge that and say “this child is very passionate” and develop a narrative around that. It’s a very different discourse and a different entry point. So one of the other things I talked about is that often when we meet the families that we have referrals is often organized around the problem or worry and rightly so as they come to us for a reason but what other stories might not be privileging about this family and my experience and experience of all people that I come across and I love working with people is that people are survivors and they may not tap into that as a resource or a story.

So family therapy will talk about subjugated stories, stories that shine stories, stories out and come to the forefront read me and stories that people are not necessarily in tune to themselves and therefore agencies may inadvertently replicate very kind of problematised stories. So there’s more bad the narrative that somebody is presenting me.

– David Shosanya
Thank you again, very helpful insights to help us with what we’re doing and to help our listeners. I’m going to come back to you in a few moments. I’m going to ask you for your three top tips for parents with children aged 0 to 5. Three top tips, but it struck me as we had this conversation one of the things is that we’re all really concerned about is wellness and well-being. How do we promote wellness and well-being whether it’s in the staff that you work with you talked about your use of the team counsel getting training and systemic counselling or systemic therapy. You talked about parents being overloaded maybe not, not being able to function well because they’re overloaded. Again that could induce some toxic stress in children. That’s one of the things we’re going to talk about in our subject expert day so look out for that we have a subject expert day coming up soon. Comeback to this website to this podcast will send out a bit of information about that. But even in our three activities of chat, play and read with children we’re looking at the wellness of children as well. There was a question asked earlier in our conversation by Clare about wellness and well-being.

– David Shosanya
Throw that question out there and see what we get..

– Claire Kelly
It was regards to the Hungry Little Minds campaign, in your area of expertise how do you think we can integrate chat, play, read or how important do you think it is to parents for parents to integrate that into their routine?

– Nana Bonsu
I mean I think it’s such a great initiative and I think it’s vital, we are in a digital age and I think the digital age has its advantages and disadvantages. And I think that that’s a disadvantage could possibly be you know devices being used as a way of as a way of replacing you know human interaction forms of a better word describing that sometimes when I’m on the bus I see a child with their parents and they’re in a buggy the child will be crying for the parents phone and the parent will give the child the phone.

That’s the interaction. There isn’t anything else I see on the other side. Devices are great because I know my children learnt Spanish through dual lingo and there’s a game they play called wordscapes and its brilliant you know you go up the levels how many words can you work out.

So you know is this such beauty in anything and I think it’s you know when one abuse is it that’s when the problems become so I think chat, play, read should be taken focusing very much on the importance of that communication with the child and I think I know that research talks about the brain development of children 0 – 5 It’s fundamental, it’s almost the blueprint there on after. There is a period in adolescence where the teenage brain always goes through a kind of computer analogy it kind of shuts down and rewires itself again…

– David Shosanya
Is that called teenage [jokingly]

– Nana Bonsu
Neuroscience showed that that neural pathways that get that can be changed and that the brain has a lot of plasticity. So it’s not to say that if things are not done at the 0-5 then it can’t be done later on so that’s important to say. But I think in terms of it being a foundation and a blueprint chat, play and read such nice little words ,really easy little words to remind parents of the importance of interaction.

– Nana Bonsu
And I think my experience of working families around attachment and thinking about how children interact and how they learn about themselves and their identity and learn relational connectivity is done through those very three things chatting, playing and reading that I was saying earlier that it has to be the same fundamental as washing a child, has to be the same level of need as feeding a child because one cannot nurture without interaction and we are relational beings. You see a child when the child is first born and a child looks at you it mimics what you do if you hold a newborn baby and you make facial expressions that baby will do the same to you.

– Nana Bonsu
So we are social beings from the very get go even with a baby in the womb. You know you can interact with a child in the womb. You know when I was pregnant and I used to tap my belly my boys would tap me back. So we are international social beings so that chat, play and read is interactional and social and it’s necessary for brain development and for identity. So I get to see some many things going forward is that the blueprint of all foundation.

– David Shosanya
For those of you that are listening within the London Borough of Croydon, exciting piece of work with various partners in Croydon. I’m just going to ask Rox to just tell us a bit about a partnership between The Institute of Wellbeing and the National Literacy Trust and then I’m going to come back to Nana who going to tell us about three top tips for parenting. So please Rox tell us about this exciting new initiative that’s going to take place over the next six months with the NLT and IOW.

– Rox Hussain
So part of the Hungry Little Minds Campaign and what we recognize is that once you can give national messages you do need to also kind of take those messages and embed them within community settings so they are place based and so we’re taking place based approach working with National Literacy Trust and we are going to piliot across six places across the country of which Croydon is of them and IOW will be leading on that – to bring together community partners across grass roots organisations, local authority health services that range of partners where you can interact with parents in their everyday settings to embed the messages of Hungry Little Minds – Chat, play, read and thats what i think we are tryign to do and there will be collective measures in terms of the heads to tell the narrative in terms of how our collective approach works much much more strongly in terms of an intervention than if we had projects working in silos.

Thank you very much Rox. Look out for updates on our website, some of them are going to be updates that come in terms of our newsletter that comes out once a month. So if you if want to receive a newsletter from the Institute of Wellbeing – the IOW then just sign up on our website and we’ll you would love to get you along. You can sign up there. We’ve got an online black history resource – 10 things you can do with your child between the age of 0 – 5, 35 things that you can do with your children between age of 0 – 5. We’ve got five top tips for your wellbeing, there’s a lot of resources that are complementary. You can download and you can tell your friends about it. And so we’re excited about what we’re going to be doing in Croydon and across London and across the UK.

– David Shosanya
So Nana…

– Nana Bonsu
No pressure!

– David Shosanya
Ofcourse not, we’re sure that your contribution is going to be insightful so what would be your three top tips for parents….

– Nana Bonsu
The first one I would say is predictability. I think it’s important for children to have routine and structure and having that predictability regulates emotional regulation. It enables a child to have a sense of purpose. I think that’s important. And then the other top tip is acts of kindness. Acts of kindness to oneself as a parent. It’s very challenging emotionally challenging but it’s also very rewarding and I think sometimes we can have we’re very good at judging ourselves against others judging ourselves against a sense of what we society tells us we should be doing by now as a parent and I think we’re very good at being judgmental myself so acts of kindness for ourselves and acts of kindness for others.

The third and final one put me on the spot, is recognizing that we all have capacity. I think that we are capable of great things and I dont say that light heartedly, I dont say that from a place of privilege I say it because I worked with many many many families that is 17 years where they have gone through the most terrible and awful traumas but they are still here and that gives me hope for for how how we as humans are capable of being amazing creatures and we have we have capacity.

– David Shosanya
I thought you were going to say chat, play, read, I’m joking, I’m joking, I’m just teasing you [laughter]. One last thing you talked about was acts of kindness and I thought that was very powerful and we’re all about wellbeing and the last question, thank you for your time – you’ve been absolutely generous today. So we really appreciate that.

– Nana Bonsu
That’s alright you’ve fed me well, so that’s good! [laughter]

– David Shosanya
The question I want to ask is “what does wellbeing and wellness mean to you”?

– Nana Bonsu
That’s a nice question.

– David Shosanya
Its Claire’s question.

– Nana Bonsu
It’s a lovley question.I think and it’s almost like going back to that artistry again. I think it’s about being authentic. I think being authentic with yourself enables you to be true to yourself and you make others to treat you from a position of truth and I think that’s, that’s what wellbeing is. Not allowing yourself to be something you’re not. Not allowing people to treat you in a way that you shouldn’t and that if your authentic to yourself It’s almost a way of navigating through life really..

– David Shosanya
Well thank you very much. Nana Bonsu, Head of Systemic Practice – Croydon. We’re confident with people like you in place the services that we offer people in Croydon and in other boroughs. It’s gonna make a difference in people’s lives. So thank you very much.

– Nana Bonsu
Thank you for having me. I wish you the best with chat, play and read.

In this podcast you will learn:

  • About Nana Bonsu’s role at Croydon Council.
  • What systemic practice is and who it is used by.
  • Some insights into how systemic practice can help parenting.
  • The theory of domains and the importance they play in delivering change.
  • An example of how family therapists use genograms to help individuals / families.
  • Why Nana feels that chatting. playing and reading with a child is fundamental to a child’s development.
  • How the DfE is reaching disadvantaged parents through its national campaign (Hungry Little Minds).
  • The concept of social GRACES and an example of how they are used by family therapists / social workers.
  • Nana Bonsu’s three top tips for parenting.
  • What wellbeing and wellness means to Nana.

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