True equality

Here's the key...

There are some values that everyone working with troubled kids needs to have.

Image courtesy of ©123rf/Eduardo Huelin

Image courtesy of ©123rf/Eduardo Huelin

I reckon this one is non-negotiable.

Let’s see if you agree…

Here goes:

                                             Every child you work with is your equal.

…or at least we should consider them to be our equal. OK, let’s qualify this a little.

Yes, there are huge INequalities and power differences between us and the kids…

Image courtesy of ©123rf/Kheng Ho Toh

Image courtesy of ©123rf/Kheng Ho Toh

  • Money
  • Authority
  • Knowledge
  • Social credibility

But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about something more fundamental. Something visceral.

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What really matters…

Our values drive our practice. Our practice is where we impact the kids who need our help.

So our values really matter. Your values really matter.

But not since college have I heard anyone talk about them!

Other than pulling each other up when someone says something politically incorrect, I don’t know if open reflection about values are part of our professional culture. Not really.

Ask yourself:

  • When did I last have a conversation with a colleague about our values?
  • When did my own reflections on how I work last include a self-examination of my values?

Now maybe you have had these kinds of conversations – if so, great! But in my experience they are few and far between.

The great leveller…

There’s probably only one thing that links us with every other person on the planet. One shared attribute that both joins us and defines us.

Our humanity.

‘Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.’  – Nancy Astor
Image courtesy of ©123rf/sergeyp

Image courtesy of ©123rf/sergeyp

That includes those children and young people we work with. In our humanity, we are equal.

Despite the legion of differences and almost inexhaustible variety, we are all people. Before they are a foster child, a young person who’s offended, a case or a service user, they are a person.

This is what makes us the same. This is the basis of our humanity.

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We’re worth it…

Because both we and the kids we work with are people, we are equal.

  • Equal in value
  • Equal in essence

The same.

So here’s the rub: if we really believe this to be true, surely our practice will be impacted?

Here are three quick thoughts on how:

  • The child IS the agenda – so often we practice with such a clear idea of what we need to achieve, that the human dimension gets a bit lost. Considering a child your equal will change that. It’ll become less about the tasks and more about the person. We are here to help the child, not fit them into our system!
  • True child-centredness – when we make a human connection and truly connect with a child, being child-centred is implicit. It comes easily to those who, seeing children as their equals, readily understand that their feelings and preferences matter. That’s being child-centred.
  • Advocacy makes a come-back – when we connect with and truly listen to children – understanding them more fully – we can advocate more easily and more powerfully. This matters. After all, the reason these children need us at all is because life has disadvantaged them. They need us to level the pitch a little by speaking up for them.

Actions speak louder…

If we really believe that troubled children are our equals, this will influence the way we behave.

In his excellent guest blog post (Believing is Seeing), Alex Clapson challenged our tendency towards
confirmation bias.believing-is-seeing

If we want to up our game and avoid the pitfalls of seeing what we expect to
see, examining our values is a great place to start.

Final word…

How did you react when you read the words, “every child you work with is your equal“?

Did you think, “Of course they are; I knew that!” Or did you balk a little, internally?

Either way, I hope you’re now thinking about your values and about the kids you serve. And maybe, with reflection, your practice can be challenged too?…

What do you think?…

  • Do you think it’s professional or even desirable to see children and young people as our equals? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2016

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mark Bick

    Yes, Yes, Yes. For me this is hugely important, is often missing in the way agencies work, is practiced by many individuals, but often puts them at odds with the system in which they work. Things like money (or value for money), passing inspections, targets (particularly exam targets for schools), protecting the institution etc. to often take precedence. Truly valuing young people is costly emotionally, in time, in potential conflict with those in authority and in other resources. Each one of us, if we are honest and take time to reflect, know that we don’t always do it. I know that it is possible to be honest with young people about the practical limits to practicing equality, but even attempting to do it in a contemporary context without going under with the stress and exhaustion is hard. As I said to a colleague recently who had been off with stress for 4 months “your problem is that you are someone who cares, in a system that is dysfunctional!”.

    • jonnymatthew

      Hi Mark – yep, very true. There are plenty of people who practice like this but the toll is high and the supports are thin. What we need is a system that frees people to work in this way but provides the clinical supervision to protect, empower and support them properly. Hey ho, onwards and upwards… :0)

  • Mark Bick

    Whatever happened to “Every child matters” (this is for people in England)?