Poor diet and cyberbullying – invisible forms of family negligence

International experts in the study and implementation of family policies this morning addressed a number of different invisible situations of negligence related to diet, mental health or cyberbullying at UIC Barcelona. This was part of the 2nd International Symposium: Care and Negligence in the Family Environment. The symposium was organised by the Institute for Advanced Family Studies and the Faculty of Education at UIC Barcelona, as part of the Childcare and Family Policies Chair, which is supported by the Joaquim Molins Figueras Foundation.

Harriet Ward, emeritus professor of the Rees Centre for Fostering and Education at Oxford University, opened the symposium and focused her speech on negligence as an omission and not solely as an action.  Ward, who has spent over 30 years researching and designing public childhood policies, underlined the existence of another type of “invisible” negligence.  It is different from the negligence of ill-treatment or physical abuse, and this type of negligence is growing in Europe and requires clear indicators in order to ensure effective and professional decision-making and to design educational and social intervention programmes. 

Over the course of the morning, examples were given and good practices discussed on how to tackle invisible forms of family negligence in areas such as diet, mental health or cyberbullying. 

In the case of cyberbullying, Dr Juan Calmaestra, lecturer at the University of Cordoba and member of Laboratory for Studies on Coexistence and Violence Prevention, claimed that certain family patterns have a correlation with bullying at school and he classified them as three types: authoritarian, permissive and democratic. Each of these patterns have a different impact both on aggressiveness and victimisation.  Calmaestra, expert in cyberbullying, insisted that “it’s necessary to carry out prevention programmes rather than intervention, and to bring families, teachers and students together.”  Irene Montiel, coordinator of the University Master’s Degree in Cybercrime at UIC Barcelona, presented data on the growth of online child victimisation in recent years.  Montiel highlighted the impact of social networks in this process and their use in cyberbullying. Both experts agreed that families have to be made aware that they have to monitor their children on the internet and find out about the pages they visit. 

As for mental health, Montserrat Dolz, head of the psychiatry and psychology unit at Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, presented the project “Acompanya’m” (Stick by me) which they launched in the hospital as an example of intervention in teenagers with serious and complex disorders. This is a unique project in Spain which is innovative in its design as it involves providing guidance to the families of the participants and this is precisely one of the main reasons for the success of the project. Marta Poll, director of the Catalonia Mental Health Federation, gave some insight into the situation in Catalonia with data on mental health in young people: 4.7% of the population under 18 years has received treatment in a child or juvenile mental health centre.  “1 in 8 young people currently have a serious mental health disorder”, she revealed. In response to this situation, Poll presented the project “Activity for mental health” run by the Federation and which is based on peer support, which in this case are the families.

Family photo of the speakers

Another form of invisible negligence is a lack of proper nutrition in childhood. Talking about this issue, Cristina Ribes, director of the Gasol Foundation, highlighted that today’s children are the first generation which will live less than their parents due to diseases largely caused by diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. “The hours and quality of rest as well as children’s emotional well-being are key to obesity”, she stressed. Ribes explained the importance of focusing on the family in order to improve this data and presented some actions being carried out by the Foundation in order to do so.  

Rosa Trenado, lecturer in psychology at the Universitat de València and member of the research unit “Aggression and Family”, also spoke at the symposium. “Being treated well during childhood and giving families support in raising their children, especially in the first years of life, when secure attachment develops, is the main protective factor to ensure socioemotional well-being throughout childhood and adolescence”, Trenado outlined, as findings of the data collected by her research unit have shown. 

At the end of the morning, three practical workshops were given by the speakers at the symposium in order to tackle the different problem areas in a practical manner.