Homicide of children with a disability

Children with a disability are at greater risk of death at the hands of someone else – through homicide or the effects of maltreatment – than children without a disability.

John Frederick* has led a systematic review looking at the theories that explain why this is the case. Here is John:  

There is growing recognition of the increased vulnerability to abuse of children who are disabled. Specifically, within the literature on homicides and maltreatment-related deaths of children, disabled children have been identified as likely to experience a greater risk.

We systematically reviewed the empirical literature to better understand the risk factors involved and assess support for the theories that have been proposed to explain this greater risk.

To start with the latter, what are the theories to explain disabled children’s higher risk? They respectively focus on:

  1. The stress of caregiving;
  2. Altruistic intent;
  3. Lack of bonding with the child;
  4. The challenging behaviours of the child;
  5. Cultural beliefs about disabled children; and
  6. Evolutionary imperatives.
Continue reading

From Trauma to Recovery – A blog post on the 35th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) in Boston

Curious to know what the recent ISTSS conference was all about? Many thanks to Yoki Mertens for this reflection on the meeting! 

It is early morning in a freezing-cold Boston and Judith Herman presents as the first keynote speaker of the 35th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). One might assume the organizers scheduled it this way to ensure everybody arrives on time and it worked: The room is filled with over 1,700 attendees, more than ever before. It’s been 27 years since Judith Herman published her renowned book “Trauma and Recovery” and introduced the concept of complex PTSD. Back then, the New York Times called it “one of the most important psychiatric works to be published since Freud”.

The prevailing question of this annual meeting is: How far has trauma research, trauma therapy, and policies come in helping individuals with (complex) PTSD recover in the past decades? And which paths to take to move forward? After three days of attending symposia, panels, and poster sessions, it can be convincingly stated that steep progress has been made. Meanwhile, some challenges are left to be solved for the current generation of trauma researchers and clinicians. Continue reading

Audio installation: Ubiquity

The audio installation “Ubiquity – New Perspectives on Traumatic Experiences” will be exhibited 11-13 December 2019 at The Dax Centre in Melbourne (including an event with the makers on 12 December!)

The installation is based on audio snippets taken from our Ear for Recovery project, a study of trauma recovery among children who experienced a serious injury. The audio snippets allowed us glimpses of their daily life afterwards, taking us into their kitchens, to their living rooms and showing us their favourite TV shows, and sharing their sorrows or fragments of their stories.

The sound installation presents these snippets related to the study’s findings and aims to create a space that invites listeners to reflect on what life is like. It confronts the visitor with tensions between the mundane and the deep, the emotional and the practical, and the worlds of adults and children – with all the ordinary routines and beauty of daily life.

The installation is a collaboration between musicologist and sound artist Miriam Akkermann, programmer and composer Andre Bartetzki, psychology professor Philipp Kanske and myself.

The installation at The Dax Centre is open to the public on 11, 12 and 13 December between 12pm and 5pm. The festive opening event will take place on 12 December, from 5pm until 7pm, and includes brief talks by Miriam, Matthias Mehl (developer of the EAR), myself and Charmaine Smith, Director of The Dax Centre. For those in Melbourne, it would be wonderful to see you there!

Highlights of the European Conference on Traumatic Stress 2019

Didn’t get the chance (like me 😦 ) to attend the conference of the European Society of Traumatic Stress Studies this year?  

Maya Meentken and Marie-Louise Kullberg help us out!

We are Maya and Marie-Louise, two Dutch PhD Candidates, sharing some of our ESTSS conference 2019 – both scientific and non-scientific – highlights with you. It all started on Thursday with the inspiring pre-conference paper-in-a-day workshop: A collaboration of 7 young researchers from Germany, Israel and the Netherlands with an interest in (child) trauma, but with a widely varying focus: From burn injury-related trauma to childhood maltreatment, and an MRI study on dissociation to EMDR for medical-related PTSD.

During this year’s paper-in-a-day, hosted by Anne Krause and Lonneke Lenferink, we focused on child trauma utilizing the data from the Prospective studies of Acute Child Trauma and Recovery (PACT/R) archive. The archive includes data of 32 child trauma studies from e.g. US, UK, Australia, Switzerland, representing data from 5500+ children exposed to a single incident trauma, such as injury, disaster, interpersonal violence etc. and is openly available (!). Throughout the whole day Nancy Kassam-Adams from the PACT/R team joint us to answer all our questions and share her ideas on the rich dataset.

Just a sneak preview of our findings; with a latent class analysis we distinguished three groups based on presence of acute stress disorder symptoms and predicted group membership by several trauma and background characteristics. Discussing the methods and our findings plenary and in subgroups answered many of our questions and generated new ideas. The final paper can be expected soon! To all (early-stage career) researchers: We would highly recommend to participate in a next edition to encourage cross-border collaborations and sharing knowledge. (Eva: yay 🙂 )

On Friday the conference was officially opened with a wonderful performance of the four dancers of Amenti Collective. The next three days, many fantastic keynotes, masterclasses, symposiums, posters and talks followed. Just to mention some of our favorites: Talya Greene’s masterclass on network modeling of PTSD symptoms, the keynote of Mark Jordans on global trauma care and the sharp symposium on early screening for PTSD following emergency department admission by Mirjam van ZuidenJuanita HaagsmaKatharina Schultebraucks and Miranda Olff.

During the ESTSS Young Minds lunch on Saturday we did some speed-dating with other early-stage career researchers from the psychotrauma field. During the ‘speed dates’ we discussed various topics such as ‘life as a PhD student’, supervision, development etc.,  a nice way to meet some peers!

A last impressive program part we would like to mention is the screening of the documentary Reconstructing Utøya by Steffen Svedsen on Sunday. Next to all high-quality clinical and research presentations, the documentary added the compelling perspective of 4 victims from the horrific 2011-event. It gave interesting insights into the different personal perceptions of the event and the long course of recovery afterwards. It made us realize how vulnerable people are, but also how resilient they  can be, which underlines the relevance of all the research we absorbed the past three days.

Thank you to all the presenters and organizers, we’d hope to see you during a next ISTSS/ESTSS conference!

Thanks Maya and Marie-Louise, and everyone who made the ESTSS conference possible this year! The next ESTSS conference will be in Belfast (16-19 June 2021). The theme: Trauma and resilience through the ages: A life course perspective

Maya and Marie-Louise’s blogpost also appeared on the website of the NtVP

The Africa Science Leadership Programme

boy showing hand with rubber

The Conversation just published our thoughts on supporting early career research leaders in Africa! Together with Bernard Slippers:

It is widely accepted that the future of scientific development lies in enabling teams made up of people from different countries and disciplines. To do really great work, these often need to be quite big teams.

But training programmes for scientists don’t typically include the types of leadership skills needed to pull this off. The kinds of skills needed to lead projects with diverse, multidisciplinary teams include reflective practice, strategic planning, engagement with a host of stakeholders, effective communication, and the ability to foster a culture of collaboration.

These kinds of skills in research programmes are especially important in the developing world. But it’s also where programmes for their development are in shortest supply.

But there are some glimmers of hope. One of these is the Africa Science Leadership Programme, which was launched in 2015 and is coordinated by Future Africa.

In this programme we are grappling with questions around science leadership, such as how to be more intentional in providing the support base and skills for young African researchers to lead initiatives. We aim to inspire the best talent to enter and stay in the system; to expand investment in their careers; and to simultaneously grow the quality of research outputs.

By training young scientists on the continent to step into leadership roles and guide major projects, we hope to transform the system to more effectively contribute to solving Africa’s challenges.

Capacity gaps

It is clear that the speed and quality of the development of science capacity in Africa depends not only on infrastructure and the technical training of people.

It’s also intimately linked to the quality of people who are able to inspire and lead change.

Countries in Africa lag behind the developed world in terms of scientific capacity and output. And the situation is not improving fast enough. Despite substantial investment over the past decades, developing countries – with the exception of Brazil and China – appear to be losing ground in research. Many of their brightest scholars have been trained around the world. Those who return home battle with poor infrastructure and a lack of support. Others emigrate for good.

Across the continent the bulk of the responsibility of developing science falls to scientists who are currently at an early stage of their career, or sometimes mid-career. Very few are supported or equipped for this task.

Africa’s science capacity needs to expand by more than 10 times to have half the number of scientists per population that the UK has. For some countries it needs to expand by as much as 100 times to reach that level.

It’s a huge challenge to build this capacity given that resources are low, support systems are weak and competition is strong.

One way to fast track the process is to focus on raising leaders. That’s because they have a greater multiplying effect: they are equipped to inspire and lead the transformation of their environment.

A tough journey

It’s worth sharing one of our inaugural fellows’ stories to illustrate how tough the continent can be for young researchers who are expected to step up as leaders.

When Connie Nshemereirwe returned home after her PhD in Education Science in the Netherlands, she resumed work at Uganda Martyrs University. It’s a small and relatively isolated rural university.

She could identify only two women in the whole country who worked in the same domain of educational measurement. Both had moved out of academia. She also lacked the high-performance computing power needed for her analyses. Although talented and highly motivated, she didn’t see a way to move forward: she had no community, no mentors, and no infrastructure.

Through a stroke of luck, in 2015 Dr Nshemereirwe heard of the Africa Science Leadership Programme. As one of its inaugural fellows, she was able to develop her leadership skills and find a network of peers. Importantly, the programme helped to clarify her vision on the role she could play as a scientist in her society.

Today Dr Nshemereirwe is the elected co-chair of the Global Young Academy. With a prominent voice, she is facilitating science capacity development in every region of the world, with an emphasis on Africa.

Our programme and others need to support more people like Dr Nshemereirwe if we’re to develop the science leaders African countries need. So far, we’ve trained 104 researchers from over 60 institutions in 19 countries on the continent. Taking the multiplier effect into account, this means we’ve reached many hundreds of people – but more is needed.

Lessons learned

Over the five rounds of fellows the Africa Science Leadership Programme has worked with, we have seen the value of being intentional about science leadership development. This allows us to refine the visions, grow the networks and develop the skills that young researchers need to transform our world.

Unfortunately there are too few programmes like ours and they cannot service all the continent’s needs. For example, we had more than 650 applications for the 20 spaces available on the programme this year.

Fortunately, our model can be applied in various other contexts: in research programmes, as well as at institutionalregional and globallevels. All the resources we develop and use are available via the programme’s fellows and organisers.

Our hope is that an increased focus on science leadership development will provide support and networks for young African researchers who feel isolated and unsure of how to become the scientific leaders the continent so urgently needs.