By CELA on 15 Jun, 2017

Oh no! This can’t be last one! I could talk about inclusive practice forever, but okay: let’s wrap up this series with a post about hard conversations.

Not conversations between you and I as such, but rather THOSE hard conversations we have to have with families. Or, often, the conversations we know we should have but don’t.

This post is going to sound strange coming from me, a dyed-in-the-wool advocate for inclusion and early intervention, but bear with me while I question the prevailing wisdom which says that if you don’t have those hard conversations with the family then you cannot be doing your job for the child in question.

Early intervention is proven to be effective, we all agree on that.

I spent many years in a support role. I worked 1:1 with children in mainstream settings both ECE and primary school and in early intervention. I spent many years as a mainstream teacher too. I also coordinated transition to school for children with complex support needs which meant countless hours liaising with paraprofessionals and school principals. It was interesting work and required Ringling Brothers juggling skills at times.

The one stakeholder in that circus I never had trouble collaborating with was the parent. I saw myself as an advocate for everyone, not just the child. I was able to make parents feel comfortable with schools and have them drive the diagnosis train, I even recognised when the parent was able to drive the train and I could just sit for the ride. The rule of thumb was that it was always best to bring up a concern with a family very early to ensure the child has the best chance at having a diagnosis or support before they left us and started formal schooling. Early intervention is proven to be effective, we all agree on that.

But then there was Anna.

Anna had some pretty heavy stuff to deal with in her life and according to Shelley, who taught Anna’s daughter, she was completely unavailable to the idea that her child, Emma, had shown some developmental delay, despite Shelley’s gentle attempts at dropping the hint. I visited Emma once as an advisor and all my sound knowledge and years of experience (and that little feeling in my tummy) told me that it was time. Time to have a hard conversation.

But Shelley couldn’t do it. She disagreed with me. She told me that I had no idea how this would affect the relationship between her and Anna, moreover the safety of the child. You see Emma had been removed once before and Shelley feared that if we said anything, this would all happen over again.

Anna needed us to simply love and care for her child right now.

Here’s how it went down.

Anna walked in to the service the morning of the meeting. She was tired and Emma was crying for breakfast. Shelley picked Emma up and gave her a hug, took her to the kitchen and got her breakfast. Anna sat down in the staff room where we were to have a meeting.

Anna was sitting with her back to me when I greeted her and asked of she would like tea or coffee. ‘No,’ she replied.

I waited for Shelley to return and when she did Anna started to cry and describe some difficult situations that had occurred in the three days since Emma had last attended the service.

This was supposed to be a transition to school meeting. We had planned that I would guide Shelley through this particular hard conversation, asking Anna the tough questions and prompts like:

  • What have you noticed at home?
  • We have noticed here…
  • When is your next visit to the doctor?
  • I am going to give you a referral to…
  • We need to get this moving for school next year…

However as I listened to Anna’s anecdotes it became quite apparent that Shelley was in fact right and Anna was not ready to hear any of this. Anna needed us to simply love and care for her child right now.

She was championing collaboration and social justice through trust and empathy.

But what about school? And what about the child’s severe delay? She was already five and … but …

But I had to put aside my plan.

Shelley didn’t articulate this earlier but her intuition was telling her that this mother was not at a stage where she was ready to accept that we needed to seek further advice for her child. Shelley was moving beyond her responsibility as a teacher identifying issues. She was championing collaboration and social justice though trust and empathy. Shelly was enabling the ‘access’ feature of inclusion by keeping her door wide open regardless of Anna’s actions.

(The three defining features of inclusion are: access, participation and outcomes.)

Relationships are more complex than a calendar and clock.

I simply made the coffee. The entire time I stirred with the tea-stained spoon my ethical cauldron was bubbling like mad.

One part of me was saying I had to get this sorted. I had to push this conversation in order to get participation and outcomes right?

But the other part of me asked a hard question of its own: what was it that I needed sorted?

Are there just some relationships that need more time? I am not suggesting that we excuse ourselves from our responsibilities in the name of love but on occasion, for some families, maybe time can stand still until the storm passes and we launch them into what can be a lifetime of escalating interventions, meetings, medication, appointments and agenda.

In my final blog post I will leave you with these questions to consider ahead of your next hard conversation.

  • Do we need to rush through processes because children are going to school?
  • We have a duty of care don’t we?
  • Is it enough to say ‘we don’t need to get them ready for school, school should be ready for them?’
  • Can you make a policy that all delays must be acted upon by term 3?

Relationships are more complex than a calendar and clock.

Shelley may never know if she did the right thing, but that day in the staff room, drinking terrible coffee from the wrong cup (never touch the directors cup) she was an everyday inclusion hero to me.

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Meet the author - Rebecca Thompson

Rebecca Thompson

Spanning 20 years in a variety of early childhood, early intervention, primary school and tertiary education, Rebecca's hands-on experience backs her commitment to advocacy for every child's right to quality care and education. She has also engaged in action research and community wellbeing programs for children and families from marginalised groups.As founder and early childhood consultant at Stone & Sprocket, Rebecca supports services wanting to bring new light to children’s behaviour, re-think inclusion through nature connections, relationships and meticulous observation/data collection for informed decision making.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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