First day at the Champion EI Centre, Burwood Hospital, Christchurch, NZ

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Today was my first official day of observations at the Champion Centre and after a brief orientation meeting last week, I was ready to observe children and talk to staff early this morning.  Researching with children (especially vulnerable children) rarely goes according to plan and today was no exception.  Children with complex needs are susceptible to illness and the child I was going to observe was absent due to family illness.  In addition, the sad news that one of the children who attends the centre had passed away made my attendance at staff meetings insensitive when there were delicate and confidential matters for staff to discuss.

Fortunately one of the families who did attend today allowed me to shadow them for the morning. The child in question has Global Developmental Delay and is placed in the Transition Group (aged 4 -6 and preparing to go to school).  His schedule for the day included music therapy, computer skills, occupational therapy, play therapy and social groups such as snack time and goodbye/singing time.  Unlike other EI services where the child would normally attend these sessions on his own, the child’s mother joined in with all of the sessions and participated fully.  She described how important this was for her relationship with her son and unlike other services they had previously been offered. She found it really useful to join in with the group sessions where she could talk to other parents and share stories.

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In line with other social spaces in Christchurch, signs of the earthquake culture are evident with the drill for earthquake situations translated into signs and symbols and placed around the building to remind children and families of safe procedure.  One of the Social Workers employed by the centre is particularly concerned about the effect of the trauma from earthquakes on families.  She wonders how the stress of repeated quakes and tremors has affected attachment, bonding and relationships, not to mention babies in utero at the time of serious quakes.  As she explained, ‘you don’t just loose your home, you loose your neighbours, your community, your way of being.  You’re in the same place, but everything around you has changed and you have no way of knowing when it will change again or how’.  Things are continuously in a state of flux for people in Christchurch and it does seem appropriate and timely to ask questions about the effect of this on children’s development.

The Champion Centre is part of the NZ Institute for Language Brain and Behaviour.

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More NZ hospitality and beautiful coastal scenery

Enjoyed a relaxing day with Susan and David Foster-Cohen at their beautiful home on the North Island coast.

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Lunch included home-made pizza, salad with herbs from the garden and the lightest almond and Crème Anglaise desert.  A drive around the outskirts of the City revealed more earthquake damage including Susan and David’s own previous home. The effects of the destruction on human emotions are never far from the surface and it’s clear that people are still traumatised.  Yet they’re willing to share their stories with visitors which is extremely humbling.

Next week observations of children and interviews with parents and professionals.

Exciting schedule ahead!

So excited about my forthcoming schedule:

Monday 31st August – Tuesday 15th August – Champion Centre, Christchurch The Champion Centre

Monday 31st August – Observe child1/Attend multi-disciplinary team meeting

Tuesday 1st September – Observe child2/Attend multi-disciplinary team meeting

Wednesday 2nd September – Observe monitoring programme/Attend staff meeting

Thursday 3rd September – Observe child3/Attend EICS meeting – remember to celebrate birthday!

Friday 4th September – Observe child4/Attend multi-disciplinary team meeting/Interview past parent

Monday 7th September – Observe child5/Observe  baby massage session

Tuesday 8th September – Observe child6/Meeting with SLT

Wednesday 9th September – Attend preview visit of specialist service standards review team

Thursday 10th September – Observe child7/Deliver FASD presentation at Christchurch University

Friday 11th September – Observe child 8/Attend Multi-disciplinary team meeting

Monday 14th September – Observe child 9

Tuesday 15th September – Observe relating and communicating programme

Wednesday 16th September – Travel to Aukland/Deliver FASD session to schools with Positive Path International Positive Path International

Thursday 17th September – Deliver FASD session to schools with Positive Path International

Friday 18th September – Tuesday 22nd September – sightseeing and discussion

Note to self: Remember to pause for breath and enjoy the experience!

Enjoying the hospitality of NZ people

The hospitality and friendliness of NZ people is something that stands out wherever you go – from shops, bars and restaurants to professionals and colleagues.  Today I spent my first weekend in NZ with the lovely Anne and Peter Gibbs, who showed me the lovely Tannery Boutique Shopping Centre on the Banks of the Heathcote River in Woolston and the coastline near Lyttleton.  After stopping for coffee (we managed to resist the cakes!), they kindly cooked lunch for me in their own beautiful home (shared with their very friendly dog – Rocky).  Anne’s own inspirational travels around the world are evident from the large number of artefacts and furniture around the house – the vase pictured below is just one example.  The house is a treasure trove of multi-cultural art. Many people that you speak to here are well-travelled, maybe because the island is small (population the size of Scotland).

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Anne is an Educational Psychologist on the island and works with many children affected by the earthquakes.  Children with SEND in particular rehearse their trauma through unusual behaviour such as being hyper-vigilant to everyday sounds that remind them of the experience.  Looking forward to hearing more about this as I meet children and families next week.

WCMT Travelling Fellowship – the journey begins with a walk around earthquake shattered but still beautiful Christchurch

The city is surrounded by beautiful parkland which is just coming into blossom
The city is surrounded by beautiful parkland which is just coming into blossom

My journey to Christchurch started on Monday and took me to five different airports and through five different time-zones.  Still I arrived safely on Wednesday and dedicated today to finding out more about Christchurch.  I’m staying on the outskirts, but a 40 minute walk found me in the middle of what used to be Christchurch City Centre.  I talked to a retired teacher on the way.  He explained how the city is still under re-construction and many people are still living in temporary accommodation over four years after the 2010 earthquake and over three years after the 2011 earthquake.  The effect on family life was quite profound he said. For example people are still paying for mortgages on properties they no longer own at the same time as paying for temporary rented accommodation.  Some families are in severe poverty situations, which inevitably affects family stressors, resources and interactions.

As I approached the City I could see what he meant.  We walked alongside 500 acres of beautiful Hagley parkland.  But the shopping centre is now replaced by temporary buildings on one side of the city called the Re-start Mall – charming to visitors but frustrating for locals according to the people I spoke to. However, people are very friendly, positive, resilient.

The museum dedicated to the earthquakes features stories from earthquake survivors.  Listening to these brave people is humbling, stories of mothers searching for children and children searching for parents in the midst of chaos, people being rescued by firefighters and the trauma of losing limbs to stay alive.

I found myself talking to a shop assistant who had a child with severe Autism after a complicated birth.  She explained how the Champion Centre (where I’m working for the next three weeks) had opened up her world and changed hers and her son’s lives – simply by showing her how to understand her son and giving him basic skills such as achieving and maintaining eye contact with people.  I’m really looking forward now to meeting the staff there and working with them. When I worked in pre-schools, we rehearsed the fire drill with children to prepare them for marginal threat that we would encounter one.  In NZ children  also rehearse an earthquake drill, which children then share with their parents according to the car hire assistant who helped me.  Children then share this with their parents at home, sometimes rehearsing the panic they felt in the last earthquake.

Here are some pictures from my first day.

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The signs of a city on alert are obvious
The signs of a city on alert are obvious
Christchurch is beautiful but overshadowed by the constant threat of earthquakes. People try to stay positive.
Christchurch is beautiful but overshadowed by the constant threat of earthquakes. People try to stay positive.
The city museum is dedicated to telling people's earthquake survival stories - humbling
The city museum is dedicated to telling people’s earthquake survival stories – humbling

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The earthquake museum
The earthquake museum

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