“OK, so s/he needs somewhere to live, away from the family. What have we got available?’

“Mm, more problems with behaviour in school – let’s get them a place in the one down the road.’

‘S/he’ll be 18 in a couple of months, let’s start the countdown to independent living.’

Sound familiar? Of course it does – we’ve all come across these kinds of scenarios time and time again.

But it shouldn’t be like this!

This post – the latest in our series about being child-centred – is about one common way we get things wrong for kids.

Too often we are fitting kids into services, rather than providing the services that individual children need.

Too often we ask:

    • What have we got?
    • What can we afford?
    • What’s available?
    • What’s the nearest we can manage?

Instead we should be asking one simple question:

    • What does this child need and how can we make that happen?

The difference may seem minor, but in reality it’s massive.

This is the difference between fitting the child into the services available. And providing the services needed by the child.

What’s this about?

We wouldn’t do this for our own children, would we?

Imagine going into a shoe shop and being told that they have no shoes in the size your child needs. You wouldn’t then ask, ‘OK, but what’s the nearest size you have, we’ll try those?‘ To do so would be to achieve only one of two possible negative outcomes:

    • your child’s feet hurt because they’re squeezed by shoes that are too small; or,
    • they trip up and fall over because the shoes they’re wearing are too big.

To work well, they have to be the right size.

But we do this all the time with kids who need our help. We settle for a lot less than is actually necessary to help them recover from the past, stabilise in the present and start working towards a more healthy and useful future.

Why is this?


Here are some of the reasons we can be persuaded to settle for less than is needed:

    • Money ‘We just don’t have the resources to provide this, that or the other.’
    • Time‘If I spent the necessary time doing such and such for this child, who would pick up the work with all the others?’
    • Services‘We have a service that does ‘X’ – it’s not exactly right, but it’ll have to do.’

Focus on needs…

If we’ve taken the time to get to know a child and their family, and if we’ve done the work of assessment properly, we should be clear what their needs are. In short, we know what’s required to help them move passed their current problems. If we, as professionals, can help with these things, then that should be our focus.

If there is no ready-made service or resource to meet the need, then let’s keep what is needed front and centre and do what we can to make it happen.

Our role, as child-care professionals and advocates means we are the ones who need to shout for children to ensure their needs are fully known by those with the power to provide what’s required.

We may not be able to make those decisions, but we can influence the focus of those who can – the focus must always be to meet needs, not to squeeze children into services ill-suited to meet those needs.

Don’t take ‘no‘ for an answer!

Too often, the hard work of thorough assessment and intervention planning is over-shadowed by the limited availability of poorly targeted resources. In other words, not only do we lack enough resources, we lack enough of the right resources. To extend the analogy, not only do we not have shoes in the right size, we’ve only got boots anyway – double-whammy!

It’s our job to say ‘no’ to inappropriate offers of help that don’t fit the identified needs. It’s also for us to think outside the box and push for something creative and well-targeted that actually meets the needs – properly. Here’s how:

Be clear what the needs are – clearly link suggested interventions to the assessment; giving a well-argued reason can help swing the argument.

Be creative about how the identified needs might be met: think outside of existing resource-types, make suggestions that break the mould if it’ll meet the need.

Be consistent in keeping the focus on what’s needed rather than on what’s available. Don’t give up at the first deflection or hurdle that gets in the way. Go back to the assessment and push again for what’s needed.

Final word…

Resources will always be tight and it’ll always be cheaper to channel children and families into existing resources rather than provide bespoke solutions. Or will it?

If we know our child development, if we listen closely to families and what they need, sometimes giving them what they need – rather than the nearest we’ve got – may actually be cheaper…

*  – Learn more about Jonny’s book here…

What do you think?…

Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts:

– Being Child-Centred 1 – Is it ‘a Thing?’

– Being Child-Centred 2 – Language is Power…

– Being Child-Centred 3 – Our Real Job is to Serve…

– Bring Child-Centred 4 – Speaking Up: Advocacy…

– A Model to help troubled kids recover (TRM)…

– The Power of Encouragement…

– Redeemability…

– How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 1…

– How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 2…

– Empathy 1 – What It Isn’t… (get the audio version of this post as part of the ‘Total Blog’ package on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 2 – What exactly is it?…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 3 – A child’s-eye view…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 4 – Being non-judgmental…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 5 – Understand another’s feelings… (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

Pass it on…

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© Jonny Matthew 2019

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