'That's not my child'
“That’s not my child, that’s Caden. He’s from Darren’s room and Kate is his worker. Kate’s away today, so I don’t know who’s ‘on’ him.”
Meanwhile, Caden is happily exploring all areas of the service without a shadow to interrupt him and intervene in his play. However, “he behaves much better when Kate is here, but it’s because she helps him."
CADEN IS YOUR CHILD
The stress of catering for every child that comes your way can be challenging. However, Caden IS your child. ALL of the children are your children.
As educators, we have a responsibility to know every child’s way of living and being (DEEWR, 2009, p.13). It is not simply up to Kate to know, or even for Kate to leave notes for the day she is away about how to know. Sure, some children and adults just ‘gel’ better; this is important for attachment and security and all that juicy brain-growing stuff (Gonzalez-Mena & Widmeyer Eyer, 2010).
BUT (where there’s a brain, there’s a butt) - we need to ask ourselves if employing staff to shadow children with ‘challenging behaviour’ (the term in itself being a whole other blog!) is an effective way to support the inclusion of every child in the service community, and if it’s an effective use of the funds parents have decided to apply to your service.
We have come a long way from what Allen and Cowdery (2012) describe as the ‘forget and hide approach’. (Think Caden in an institution, on the hill, in far away place where nobody sees.)
Times and hairstyles changed, and we ‘screened and segregated’; so, “it’s ok to be different, Caden, but you can’t come here”. Hairstyles became slightly better, and we began to ‘identify and help’; “Ok Caden, you can come here, you poor thing, and we will do everything to try and fix you, but only for half a day as we are exhausted from helping you!” Hairstyles have done full circle, and we need a big change to freshen up…
POLICY AND PRACTICE
Usually when we evoke change, we must re-write the policy. Are you simply led by policy? (Corbett and Slee, 2000 cited in Petriwskyj, 2010).
I see inclusion policies which say:
- We provide access to all families who enrol in the service
- We enable full participation in the daily program
- We access extra support for children with disabilities and developmental delay
But do you really? What does this look like? Is Kate’s role actually interfering with Caden’s inclusion? Maybe, maybe not. Have you ever reflected upon this?
WHAT DOES INCLUSION LOOK LIKE?
Close your eyes and imagine a world where hairstyles are wholesome and we ‘include and support’ (Allen and Cowdery, 2012, p.7).
In an inclusive service, Caden can come and participate in HIS way without educators fearing he will not be kept under close watch without his ‘worker’. If you’ve decided that 1:1 support for periods of time IS what Caden needs, how did you come to that decision? What evidence have you recorded of his play that shows he requires this, and is it all day? Or just some periods? Why is it in this period of the routine? Can you change something about that period rather than trying to modify Caden?
HOW DO WE DO IT?
It’s not up to Kate. We all need to find ways to be flexible so that the lovely Kate is not ‘excusing’ Caden all day long. Kate is exhausted. I’m happy we're using money to ‘get more hands’ on the floor for children with additional rights, but I keep wondering if we're utilising this to the best of our knowledge. We know better, because we have all read the Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR, 2009) (one would hope!), where a million times over it says, in not so many words, ‘CADEN IS YOUR CHILD’. You do not need a separate document to tell you this.
THE EYLF says ...CADEN IS YOUR CHILD.
‘…flexible spaces that are responsive to the interests and abilities of each child.’
Caden is your child. Allow Caden to visit your room if his gets too overwhelming.
‘Educators are responsive to children’s ideas and play…’
Caden is your child. Support your fellow worker, who has decided that Caden needs to be outside when everyone is inside so he can follow his urge to be up high and enclosed in a fort.
‘Acknowledges and responds sensitively to children’s cues and signals…’ Caden is your child. Look at him without fear that he is out to wreck your plans.
‘Actively support the inclusion of all children in play…’
Caden is your child. Smile and stand/sit with your body open when Caden approaches an experience the children are enjoying. Advocate for him when he bowls in and ‘wrecks’ the game. Tell the children he wants to play; coach his peers to talk him through it.
If Caden’s peers see you ‘helping’ him all the time, how will they know how to support him when you are not around? Don’t worry, Kate will do it. Kate will fix him. Well, guess what!? Kate is going to the Bahamas for three weeks because she is EXHAUSTED.
INCLUSION IS FOR EVERYONE
'Othering' of Caden pushes us so far from the idea of inclusion that we may as well go back to the house in the hills and ‘forget and hide’ with our bad hair. Exclusion can be subtle; ignoring a child who is not in your room or helping them too much are common practices we all slip in to.
But if we upskill, educate and support our paraeducators (Kate) into being just one part of Caden’s inclusion, the benefit is not only for Caden. The richness that acceptance for diversity brings to our community and the catalyst it can be for social justice and attitudinal change is for everyone (Ashman and Elkins 2005 cited in Petriwskyj, 2010).
Sure, you can talk to Kate or Jenny about what has been decided about optimal support for Caden. But EVERYONE has a responsibility to Caden, even the office staff, even the cook - and yes, even that parent who walks past in disgust.
So yes! have a Kate.
But don’t make her skate,
All over the shop,
In order to stop,
What is natural and real.
Get ALL folk in on the deal!
Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments (2009) Being, Belonging & Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Commonwealth of Australia.
Allen, K. Eileen & Cowdery, Glynnis Edwards, (author.) (2015). The exceptional child:inclusion in early childhood education (8e). Stamford, CT Cengage Learning
Westling, David L & Fox, Lise (2009). Teaching students with severe disabilities (4th ed). Pearson, Upper Saddle River, N.J