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Research by Professor Steve McKay Featured in Article on Family Breakdown and Child Mental Health

Lincoln School of Social and Political Sciences Professor Steve McKay has had his research featured in a new article, ‘Harry Benson’s marriage lines: Family breakdown and the toll on children’s mental health’.

‘In December last year the government produced its Green Paper on children’s mental health. The opening paragraph begins with an optimistic note that the state can make a difference. ‘Children with a persistent mental health problem face unequal chances in life. This is one of the burning injustices of our time.’ Alas, it’s all downhill thereafter: the scale of the problem, the consequences of the problem, and the difficulty of treating the problem make depressing reading. Treating the problem is one thing. But as the select committee on education, health and social care noted in its scathing review last month, although the role of families was acknowledged, there was no attempt to translate that into prevention, i.e. trying to control or reduce the demand for services.

To get an idea of the scale of children’s mental health problems, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) finds that one in eight 10-15-year-olds reports symptoms of mental ill-health. This has risen over time, as shown by the seven-yearly NHS Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. This shows a rise in anxiety among 16-24-year-olds from 1993 onwards but especially between 2007 and 2014 for women.

As for causes, the select committee highlighted exam pressure, social media, school exclusion, parenting and what are called Adverse Childhood Experiences. The most recent rise coincides with the introduction of smartphones which really took off around 2008 and is certainly evidence – but by no means proof – that hours spent gazing at the fun everyone else appears to be having is not good for your mindset. In the end, all these experts are arguing over ‘interventions’: things the state thinks it can do better, usually involving more money, services, and – as Laura Perrins pointed out – incursions into areas of life that could and should be done by families. But there’s an optimistic way of looking at this. Families can do things better and children’s mental health outcomes can be a lot better as a result. How?

My colleague Professor Steve McKay at the University of Lincoln and I have been looking at a big national survey called the Millennium Cohort Study, which followed a large initial sample of 18,000 mothers who had children in the years 2000 and 2001. The parents were interviewed when the children were newborns and when they were aged three, five, seven, 11 and 14. They are now mostly 17-year-olds. From this sea of data, we can look at the prevalence of teenage mental health problems and also identify some of the factors present in families over the years that either increase or decrease the risk that children will face problems as teens. The first paper we did on this last year found that the problem is much more widespread than the ONS reports. Whereas ONS and others look at OVERALL level of problems (from the widely used Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), we looked at whether children faced ANY kind of problem. A child who plays up at school or who worries unduly might not have an OVERALL problem but each of these children certainly displays ANY kind of problem. All in all, we found that 27 per cent of boys and girls have high levels of ANY problem – as reported by their parents – with boys tending to be more externalised and girls more internalised. This gender difference isn’t particularly new. Boys act out. Girls worry.

What was new was the sheer scale of the problem and our finding that family breakdown was the biggest risk factor for girls and equal first (alongside parent relationship happiness soon after the baby was born) for boys. So family breakdown is as important, or more so, than either the parents’ relationship or various background factors such as mother’s age, education and ethnicity. Being married also makes a difference above and beyond all these other factors.

We are currently extending this research by looking only at the parents who have stayed together, adding in a lot more relationship factors, such as the use of physical force over time, the quality of the parents’ relationship over time, and the closeness between child and each parent. I hope to report these new findings before the end of the summer and expect they will be newsworthy. Some of what we’ve already found could be really helpful in screening parents with newborns for risk through NHS post-natal clinics or Surestart centres. This would be a genuine early intervention, meaning specific families could be offered a parenting programme and follow-up before anything has gone wrong. If the state is going to stick its oar in, it’s far more cost-effective to do it this way than wait for problems to emerge and then play catch-up. But in the end all of this is a bit like repairing sand castles on a beach. Without dealing with the underlying issue of family stability, it’s going to be a losing battle that will involve ever more taxpayer money and state resources. In fact, children’s mental health problems have been on the increase since the 1970s, according to a Nuffield study. Yet the authors, as with so many enthusiasts for state intervention, go on to perform intellectual and verbal gymnastics to blame any aspect of social change except family structure. I don’t doubt that mental health is a complex area. Anyone who is a parent with more than one child will be bemused by the variations in temperament and character between children brought up in the same household. So there is a lot more in play than simply how we bring up our kids. But it defies the evidence we see with our own eyes as well as the empirical data to pretend that family structure doesn’t matter. What is really needed is a concerted government policy to encourage parents to begin family life on a firm foundation. The inescapable conclusion is that this means formal commitment and marriage before having children.’

You can view the original article at

Lincoln Psychology’s Dr Amanda Roberts on the new regulations for fixed-odds betting terminals


It was announced this morning that The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has agreed to cut the maximum permitted stake on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2. Lincoln School of Psychology’s Dr Amanda Roberts has done extensive research into gambling and it’s effects and she was pleased with the news, although warns that other forms of gambling can also be problematic and should not be ignored.

“I am in agreement with the proposed changes:
We (myself and Stephen Sharman) were part of the DCMS consultation on FOBT’s.  Working in partnership with one of the UK’s leading gambling treatment providers (the Gordon Moody Association) allowed us to quantify the variation in disordered gamblers behaviour patterns over the last 10 years. 
The key findings from this work were that the forms of gambling identified as problematic by those entering treatment has changed over time, driven primarily by increases in those identifying FOBTs and other sports gambling as problem forms. This data did not directly inform the consultation on the potential impact on gambler behaviour or gambling related harm that a significant stake reduction would have, however we provided empirical support for the notion that FOBTs are the most commonly identified problem form amongst treatment seeking gamblers. Furthermore, our data highlighted that since they were introduced to the UK gambling environment, the proportion of treatment seeking gamblers identifying FOBTs as a problem form has increased more rapidly than any other form of gambling. However, we also noted that sports gambling, and the use of the internet to access all forms of gambling are also increasing, and should not be neglected in favour of focussing specifically on FOBTs.”

You can find out more about Dr Robert’s research here

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Sunday Politics Show Featuring Research by Lincoln’s Sue Bond-Taylor Wins BBC Ruby Award!


An episode of the BBC’s regional Sunday Politics programme covering the Children of Lincoln project has been named the Best Sunday Politics Programme at the BBC’s Ruby Awards. The awards, which were announced at a ceremony on Friday 11th May, celebrate outstanding regional programming from across the country. Broadcast in December 2017, the programme focused on the rights of children and young adults in the city following the launch of the Children of Lincoln project, led by Sue Bond-Taylor and Dr Anna Tarrant.

The project aims to have Lincoln recognised as a UNICEF Child Friendly City. According to UNICEF, a Child Friendly City is one in which children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are respected and supported, where young people’s needs are considered and catered for, and where children’s voices are heard and contribute to local policy making and services.

Children of Lincoln is a collaborative partnership between Lincolnshire County Council, City of Lincoln Council, University of Lincoln and many other local organisations that work with and support young people, working together to make Lincoln a Child Friendly City.

Focusing on the experiences of local children, the programme was hosted by Tim Iredale from Our Lady of Lincoln Catholic Primary Academy, where pupils were given the opportunity to share their views on what could make Lincoln more child friendly as well as interviewing local councillors. The episode also featured interviews with Sue-Bond Taylor and footage from the Children of Lincoln projects launch event in November which saw 100 local children visit the University’s Isaac Newton Building for a day of activities.

The episode also featured short films by two of the University’s student vloggers, Gus Ailing, a third year Media Production student and Luke Birch, a first year Media Production student, who shared their unique experiences of the challenges faced by young people today.

Following the broadcast of the episode, the Children of Lincoln team is working to establish a Children and Young Person’s Steering Group to direct the future activity and priorities of the project, and are working in partnership with Visit Lincoln to develop their website as a hub for publicising community events for children and families within the city.

Reposted from University of Lincoln Staff News

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Student Blog | Experiencing Mental Health Difficulties As A Student Nurse

To mark International Nurses Day we would like to share this really thoughtful and inspiring piece by University of Lincoln Nursing student, Lyndsey Howard.

“Studying at university can be difficult and having a mental health condition does not make it any easier, especially within nursing. Somehow, as a student mental health nursing, I thought that it would all be okay; I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about my mental health anymore… Oh, how wrong I was. I’m where I want to be, I’m studying the degree I want to do, I’m on the road to success… So why do I feel so low?

Experiencing mental health problems as a student nurse is somewhat, terrifying, yet humbling. Gaining the knowledge and experience to treat people, whilst being involved in treatment yourself feels like you’re a failure and a burden, combined with an experiment. Yet, it gives you insight and first-hand experience of good practice, based upon empathy and compassion – everything you are taught as a nursing student, and more. Lived experience is something that cannot be taught. It’s the whirlwind of emotions that takes over your very existence. It’s the look that people give you when they see your scars or hear your story; it’s the very reason why breaking the stigma of mental health is so crucial and the pure motivation for my passion. It’s one of the many reasons I became a student mental health nurse.

Managing your own mental health is something everyone must do, whether you have a mental health condition, or not. It’s those first day nerves that causes butterflies in your stomach, to the sad feeling we feel when we fail or don’t achieve as we thought we should. It’s looking after our own wellbeing and having the confidence and determination to live the life that we want. It’s just one of those things, like cholesterol or blood pressure. We all must look after our own physical and mental health, to be able to survive a nursing degree. Because it’s hard, you know? There will be times when you want to drop out, when it feels like enough is enough, but there will also be times when you’ve made such a difference to someone’s life, that you remember exactly why you wanted to be a nurse in the first place.

Being a student nurse has been one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever experienced, and I’m only in the first year! It’s becoming a lifestyle, a way of living if you may. It’s everything you want to be and it’s everything you want to learn, and much, much more. It’s noticing the small things within people and caring enough to make a difference. It means realising what is truly important in life and carrying that as your philosophy – your moto for life. It’s the way you smile at someone, the way you make them feel, the way you can empathise with their struggles and the way you can adapt yourself to help them live a better life.

The most important thing that I’ve learnt so far is that failure is okay; if you don’t fail, you don’t learn. Expectations are there to guide us, not define us. If we don’t succeed, try again. Learning is a journey of failures. You failed? So, what? Dust yourself off and try again. Who says you can’t achieve next time? Only that little voice inside your head criticising your every move, your every thought. What lies ahead of that void is entirely up to you. Our hopes and dreams carve the way for our ambitions to be fulfilled within this amazing career, and life, which lies ahead of us. It all starts now.”

Lincoln’s Blue Dog Project Wins Award at PEARL Conference

The Public Engagement for All with Research at Lincoln (PEARL) Project is funded by RCUK and it recognises research that actively engages with the public. This year’s PEARL Conference featured speakers and presenters from across the University’s academic Colleges, detailing how people from the local community and professional practice can get involved in developing academic research ideas, participating in studies as subjects or researchers, and sharing or acting upon research findings.

Child psychologists whose work aims to help reduce the risks of dog bites in families with young children were among the award winners including the international group of researchers behind the Blue Dog Project who received the Team Award category. The team, which is led by Professor Kerstin Meints from Lincoln’s School of Psychology, has developed an interactive educational package for teachers, parents and young children that uses a cartoon dog to teach children about safe behaviours around pet dogs.

Another win for the School of Psychology went to Dr Niko Kargas who received a Staff Award for his work to support people with autism and other ‘hidden disabilities’ in the employment market.

Congratulations to everyone involved!

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Sunday Politics Special Featuring Lincoln’s Sue Bond-Taylor Nominated For BBC Ruby Award

A Sunday Politics special on Child Friendly Cities featuring research from School of Social and Political Sciences lecturers Sue Bond-Taylor and Dr Anna Tarrant has been shortlisted for a BBC Ruby award for best Sunday Politics programme!

The Children of Lincoln project is an initiative to progress UNICEF’s international Child Friendly Cities agenda within Lincoln. According to UNICEF, a Child Friendly City is one in which children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are respected and supported, where young people’s needs are considered and catered for, and where children’s voices are heard and contribute to local policy making and services. Children of Lincoln is a collaborative partnership between Lincolnshire County Council, City of Lincoln Council, University of Lincoln and many other local organisations that work with and support young people, working together to make Lincoln a Child Friendly City.
The project was officially launched in November 2017, with an event held at the University’s Isaac Newton Building for children, young people and their families. Over 200 visitors attended the launch, including 100 children, who all enjoyed a range of activities on the day including arts and crafts, virtual reality games and football with Imps in the Community. Local BBC reporters came to take a look and did some filming, including an interview with Sue. They were sufficiently interested in what the team were trying to achieve to build upon this piece for a special themed Sunday Politics show looking at Children’s Rights and Child Friendly Cities. Key to the episode was the participation of children, with the show hosted from Our Lady of Lincoln Catholic Primary Academy rather than from the studio, and with children given the chance to present and to interview local councillors about how child friendly Lincoln might be. Sue was interviewed again by presenter Tim Iredale, as were two University of Lincoln student vloggers who also contributed a short film about the challenges facing young people today.
Since the filming, the team has started work to establish a Children and Young Person’s Steering Group to direct the future activity and priorities of the Children of Lincoln project, and are working in partnership with Visit Lincoln to develop their website as a hub for publicising community events for children and families within the city.

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Participants Required For Study Into Self-Funded Care


Do you know someone who pays for their own care? Are they over 65? Do they have carers that help them home?

Researchers in the School of Health and Social Care want to find out how easy or difficult it is to find the right kind of help. So if you know someone who might be interested in taking part in an interview to talk about their experiences of finding and paying for help please let them know.

Participants will be interviewed on three occasions and there will be about six months between each. Interviews can take place at the participant’s home or at a location close to them.

The interviews will help to produce a report which local agencies can use to gain a better understanding of the challenges and benefits of paying for your own care and help.

To find out more please get in touch.

Claire Markaham: 01522 886121 / 

Mo Ray: 01522 886289 /

Dr Sundari Anitha Book Launch | Striking Women

Dr Sundari Anitha from the School of Social and Political Sciences has co-authored a new book, ‘Striking Women: Struggles and strategies of South Asian women workers from Grunwick to Gate Gourmet’ with economist Ruth Pearson, from the University of Leeds. The book is centred on two industrial disputes, the famous Grunwick strike (1976-78) and the Gate Gourmet dispute that erupted in 2005. Focusing on these two events, the book explores the nature of South Asian women’s contribution to the struggles for workers’ rights in the UK labour market. The authors examine histories of migration and settlement of two different groups of women of South Asian origin, and how this history, their gendered, classed and racialised inclusion in the labour market, the context of industrial relations in the UK in the two periods and the nature of the trade union movement shaped the trajectories and the outcomes of the two disputes.

This is the first account based on the voices of the women involved. Drawing on life/work history interviews with thirty-two women who participated in the two disputes, as well as interviews with trade union officials, archival material and employment tribunal proceedings, the authors explore the motivations, experiences and implications of these events for their political and social identities.

The two disputes also serve as a prism for examining particular continuities and changes in the industrial relations, trade union practices and their scope for action. This work challenges stereotypes of South Asian women as passive and confined to the domestic sphere, whilst exploring the ways in which their employment experience interacted with their domestic roles. Paying close attention to the events and contexts of their workplace struggles enables us to understand the centrality of work to their identities, the complex relationships between these women and their trade unions and some of the challenges that confront trade unions in their efforts to address issues posed by gender and ethnicity. This is the workers’ story.

You can order the book through Lawrence and Wishart Publishing

The book launch will be taking place on the 26th April at SOAS University of London. If you are interested in attending you can find out more here

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College of Social Science Enterprise Working Group (EWG) ‘Presentation Masterclass’

On Monday 18th June, the College of Social Science Enterprise Working Group (EWG) has arranged a ‘Presentation Masterclass’. This training event will be delivered at the Professional Development Centre by Paul McGee. Paul is a highly experienced and sought-after trainer who delivers keynote addresses and training courses to international audiences. This day is specifically designed to equip academics and other key college staff to present effectively to commercial, industry or popular audiences. The training will cover:

  • The 7 major mistakes people make when they’re communicating with others, the damaging impact they have… and how to avoid them.
  • How to maximise engagement and increase your influence when communicating your message.
  • How to project confidence and credibility and conquer anxiety.
  • How to pitch your message to minimise resistance and maximise buy-in.

 You can hear what Drew Povey, star of Channel 4’s ‘Educating Manchester,’ made of the Presentation Masterclass here and Paul McGee describes the class in his own words in the first half of this clip

 The EWG would like to maximise attendance and this masterclass is limited to 24 delegates.

 If you would like to attend the presentation masterclass, please respond to Jo Haresign by 31st March, confirming that you are available for the whole day on 18th June. Secondly, please give a short account (one or two sentences) of how you plan to use the training in enterprise and/or income generating activities.

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Social and Political Sciences Professor Steve McKay Featured in The Express


Professor Steve McKay, from the School of Social and Political Sciences has contributed to a study that has recently been featured in an article about planned pregnancy and it’s impact on relationships. The research, jointly undertaken by the Marriage Foundation and the University of Lincoln, used data from 18,374 mothers in the Millennium Cohort Study and was published to mark the start of Marriage Week. The study explains that less than a fifth (18 per cent) of married parents who planned to start a family had broken up by the time their child reached 14 years old, but almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those whose baby was not a joint decision had split by the same point. Amongst cohabiting couples, the rate of breakdown was almost half (47 per cent) while fewer than two in five (38 per cent) separated if they had made a plan to have children. But the contrast over the first three years of a relationship was especially stark, according to the Marriage Foundation analysis. Only four per cent of married couples whose first pregnancy was planned split up within three years compared to more than 20 per cent of non-married parents who never made it to their third anniversary after not discussing a potential pregnancy.

Professor Steve McKay adds that “Even after controlling for mother’s age, education, ethnicity, marital status and relationship happiness nine months after their child was born, the odds of a couple splitting up before their child becomes a teenager were 28 per cent greater if they had not planned the birth.”

You can read the full article here

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