On this occasion, we would like to share with you a long-awaited interview by our team: the one with Dr. Dai Quian. Graduated from Edinburg University, Dr. Quian is a Children and Development Psychologist and a lecturer at Sichuan University. Apart from having published numerous papers and researches published about left-behind children, she is also co-founder of Tianqing Mental Health Services, where she provides mental health counseling to people in need.
Throughout the following interview, she will talk about a situation which most of us do not know about, including the results in her research and experience with the population of left behind children, with whom she works in her region, in Western China.
The first part of this interview focuses on childhood in Western China:
– What is the place given to children in the Chinese family structure?
The work of Tianqiang Mental Health Services is carried out in the city of Deyang, Sichuan Province, Western China. The total population is 656946人(according to population census conducted in 2008). Deyang City is a political region that includes one district (a more urban area), two counties (a more rural area) and two cities (combination of rural and urban area). Chinese family structure in Deyang city is consistent with national family structure policy.
Since 1979, the one-child policy was introduced in response to an explosive population growth, and mandated that couples from China’s Han majority could only have one child. However, there were some families living in the rural area that may have had more than one child. When we conducted the research with left behind children in village schools, we identified that most of them had siblings. It is worth to mention that Chinese government has implemented a new family planning policy in 2016 changing the birth control policy to a universal two-child policy. The purpose for new policy changes comes to off set potential labor shortages and a burgeoning aging population that could pressure the Chinese economy.
– What type of work do you do with children in your community services?
Tianqing Mental Health Services work with children and families with the concern of children’s health and mental health well-being.
Our services support two groups of children:
- Left behind children. When we talk about “Left behind children”, we mean that one parent or both of them have gone away from their home to work for more than six months and that children are left at home.
- Children under difficult circumstances, such as children who live in difficulties due to poverty, disabilities or lack of custody.
So far our services have included these possibilities:
- We have invited health professionals to give child care talks on subjects such as child development, child safety and communication skills with children. We have sent volunteers regularly to village schools to have a half-day play session with left behind children.
- The “Warmhearted mail box” project. We organized an exchanging letters activity between volunteers and left behind children. Left behind children are encouraged to write their feelings and what they think to volunteers, and trained volunteers write letters back to these left behind children.
- We have cooperated with education bureaus and schools to provide health survey to examine children’s psychological health and well being. We also attempt to conduct a longitudinal survey to track children’s mental health.
- We provide counseling services to individual children who are referred by the school.
- For children or families in difficult situation, we conduct home visits in order to assess children and family’s needs.
Researchers showed that many of these children have anxiety and depression, and that they exhibit high rates of juvenile delinquency and poor school performance. In addition, from our teacher’s interview data, most of the staff has very limited knowledge on children’s psychological development.
– How is growing up in Western China? Which social problems do families have to face and specially children?
It is hard to say how children are growing in Western China. Western China is a big area and in general it is not as developed as Eastern China. However, I think the social problems that children from rural areas are facing are different from those faced by children from urban areas. In some big cities in Western China, such as Chengdu (14.000.000 inhabiants), children have better access to education resources, better social welfare and better community services. The main problem they face, I think, is loneliness, as most of them are the only child in the family. For children who live in villages in Western China, which is a large population, our big concern are “left behind children”. For example: We did our research and community work in Zhongjiang county, located in Deyang city (nearly 4.000.000 inhabitants), we found out that in Western China 470,000 workers migrate every year and we have estimated that there are approximately 70,000 left behind children that live in Zhongjiang county. Those “left-behind” children, are often left under the care of older relatives or are left abandoned. Researchers showed that many of these children have anxiety and depression, and that they exhibit high rates of juvenile delinquency and poor school performance. In addition, from our teacher’s interview data, most of the staff has very limited knowledge on children’s psychological development.
– How has the rapid growth of Chinese economy influenced the family structure? Have you observed any effect in chilhood because of this economic growth?
We need teachers who could teach children what they need as daily knowledge and we also need teachers who could be able to take special care of needed children and who could implement inclusive education in the schools.
Chinese family structure is influenced by Chinese economy, such as changing one-child policy to two children policy. China has reached a certain level of social and economic development where low fertility and aging population aging are two factors that define demography in China . This new policy is a step forward, but China’s gender population and gender imbalance may create difficulties for decades.
As far as we are know, there were some influences on children development with China’s economy rapid growth. The observed difference was the giant gap between rich and poor. I have seen many children from rich families who attended private schools from kindergarten up to high school, and afterwards went abroad to do college studies. Nowadays there is a trend for Chinese adolescents to pursue their university degree in developed countries, examples of these are United States of America, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom amongst others. These young people become quite materialistic, self-centered and they don’t rely on traditional values. In the meantime, we found out that Chinese government has spent quite a lot of money in infrastructure and has built local schools. The schools built are very beautiful, nevertheless the problems of education have to do with the qualification of professionals and the need of highly skilled teachers and professionals. We need teachers who could teach children what they need as daily knowledge and we also need teachers who could be able to take special care of needed children and who could implement inclusive education in the schools.
– Which are the characteristics of Child and adolescent mental health services in China?
As far as I know, psychiatrists and mental health doctors in hospitals assess Children and adolescents in mental health services. There are some non-profit organizations that provide help to a specific group of children and adolescents who have mental health problems.
– What type of developmental issues is seen in children in your region?
mental health problems in children are a new phenomenon in China and it is an embarrassing topic in Chinese culture.
Besides my work as lecturer at Sichuan University, I also work half a day a week in a primary school as school counselor, I work with two children with ADHD, one child is Down Syndrome, and five other children have emotional and behavior problems. The worry I have is that many parents are not aware of the developmental problems that their children have, and they are reluctant to take their children to hospital to get diagnosis and treatment. I think that the underlying reasons for this, is that mental health problems in children are a new phenomenon in China and it is an embarrassing topic in Chinese culture.
– What is the main type of therapy children receive when having a psychological difficulty?
I mainly use art therapy and play therapy when I encounter children who need a psychological treatment. Here you have some pictures of child and adolescent counseling services in a local district.
– What is the general opinion in your region about the administration of psychopharmacology to children due to psychological symptoms?
To be honest, I do not know much about the administration of psychopharmacology in my region. What I feel is that the government started to really take care about children’s psychological symptoms and special needs children with mental health problems deserve not so long ago. They have started to put forward many new policies, such as asking community authorities to investigate how many people have mental health problems in the region and each person receives a 800 RMB (116 dollars) subsidy to face their treatment. The inclusive education is implemented in the primary schools in order to help children live in a more fair and cared environment.
– What do you know about adopted Chinese children in European countries?
We do not have much information about this question.
(Interviewers: Carmela Salillas y Trinidad Hernández)