As part of my topic at the conference last week, I showed some data slides to the delegates, demonstrating how whilst working with a small child, they have the opportunity to influence the family and the wider community (the child not registered with a GP by age 5, will be the child who has poor attendance at school and the child with poor results on leaving school and the young adult with little in the way of job prospects). Interestingly this is true no matter where you live. I was challenged by a delegate for implying therefore that disadvantage doesn’t matter; doesn’t impact on life chances.
Of course it does – all the evidence shows that children from disadvantaged areas (usually measured by indices of deprivation, NIMDM 2010) have significantly more obstacles in their lives, which impact on their ability to learn and their future life chances. However, in researching for last week’s conference topic, I thought it important to point out to delegates that they should not be complacent when dealing with children who do not live in wards that have been deemed as ‘disadvantaged’.
The reason? I believe that disadvantage is not necessarily linked to your postcode, but to your personal circumstances – it is therefore unique to each child, and what may be seen as an obstacle to one, may not be to another, mainly due to factors such as personal drive, family’s involvement with education, vision etc…variables if you will…
This is a controversial opinion, as most initiatives are targeted within designated areas of disadvantage as all of the evidence shows that this is where resources should be targeted to make the most impact. I’m not disagreeing with the theory behind this at all. Especially with public money, a lot of time needs to be taken to work out where the best outcomes can be achieved for the £1. Undoubtedly taking a family specific approach costs more money. But in the real world, where we are not spending public money, we are not trying to ‘turn the curve’ and we are not trying to measure benefit realisation, we have the opportunity to think about each child and their barriers to learning, not as decided by the ward they live in, their parents employment status or the household income. This makes perfect sense, but unfortunately it is not how the powers that be spend money on our children, and whilst money does not make the world go round, it is handy when you need some services.
Take my children for example:
- both were born to the same parents in and live in the same house within a Super Output area (SOA) which is ranked 606 out of 890 therefore within the top 1/3 of SOAs in NI in relation to affluence
- neither parent claims benefit
- education status within the household is degree level +
- high level of parental engagement with children’s education
- children attend a school with a low rate of FSM entitlement (free school meals) *
…2 children who find learning difficult.
*how deprivation is measured at school level…
Can you see how the needs of the children are lost here amongst statistics?
It is a sad fact that disadvantage is often described in terms of household income, or relative income deprivation, but despite the outcomes based accountability approach being taken by many (most?) agencies at present, these tend to be described in terms of outcome for the £1 spent, as opposed to outcome for the child the £1 was spent on.
Of course, not every issue requires money spent on it, but it does take time and engagement to address them. And time costs money.
So my message to providers of early education and care within NI is:
- do not make assumptions about your cohort of children within your catchment area – look at each child and remember that, more than most, you can make a difference in the life of this child, their family and the community – you can do this by looking at the whole child in your care
- do not assume that if a child has a label, that is the reason for what you are looking at in terms of behaviour for example – it is not the reason, it is your cue to look further for the reason.
- remember that children do not behave in a particular way just to annoy adults, they do so because they don’t have all the answers yet (indeed often I want to stamp my feet, but resist in case I’m asked to leave Tesco). For example, the tantrum that you are looking at is not the issue, but a cry for help – if you remind yourself that the child is distressed rather than irritating this may influence how you react
- often a word is attributed to a child where many others may also apply, it just depends on which therapist got there first – forget the word, just look at the child.
- be sensitive to the needs of all of the children – not just those which are noted as ‘special’. Many more go undiagnosed with anything (which I personally think might be better).. but this can also mean they are overlooked or labelled as something else eg ‘loud’, ‘trouble’, ‘antisocial’.
- no matter what the age of the child or young person in your care, although I would urge you to trust your professionalism at all times, never believe that you have all the answers – always look, observe and observe some more. This is the key to ensuring that your practise truly meets the needs of each child in your care.
- and finally, care. Always care. Each child matters.