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'The Whole Child' and Diversity - September 2011

posted 1 Jun 2014, 11:12 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 3 Jun 2014, 13:51 ]

In working with cared-for children we are invited to work with ‘the whole child’. But who is the whole child? And are we truly open to the whole child? To answer these questions requires considerable self-reflection and awareness in examining whether there is a common ground between the values and belief systems which organise how we work, and the values, perceptions and beliefs of the children with whom we work. One conflict emerges very commonly around cared-for children, in which staff may often find themselves 'dreamed-up' into different polarities, and that is the conflict of values between ‘wanting the child to function well and fit-in to society’ and the ‘appreciation of the ‘way-out’ behaviours and altered states the children may often occupy’. 

One conflict emerges very commonly around cared-for children, in which staff may often find themselves dreamed-up into different polarities, and that is the value conflict between ‘wanting the child to function well and fit-in to the ways of society’ and the ‘appreciation of the ‘way-out’ behaviours and altered states the child often occupies’.

When a child recently bared her breasts to me at work, and I expressed some disapproval, a close colleague asked me if I had really been offended by her exposure. I quickly realised that I wasn’t personally offended at all, but rather was responding habitually along the lines of what felt socially permissible. In such circumstances children have to deal with the meaning of our feedback, which may not be clear to them. The child, and indeed myself, are both here dealing with ‘society’ and ‘the urge to expose’ as aspects of our diversity.


By simply closing down the behaviour of the child, through identifying myself with society, I may well block the opportunity for her to find-out about the deeper meaning of her behaviour. Does she need to show more of who she is? Does she need to have an impact on those around her? Does she need other people (or herself) to recognise her feminity or sexuality? If I only support her to expose her breasts, thus dis-identifying my response from society (or the rules of the organisation), then no doubt the role of ‘society’ will become occupied by someone else in the organisation in reaction to both myself and the girl. The challenge here in interacting with the her wholeness is to bring all these different aspects to awareness, and to help unfold them in relation to each other.

In another situation a boy who wished to dress-up as a woman was discouraged by staff, because of what ‘people outside’ might think. Here we enter the complexity of diversity issues. Talking of what outside people might think is the use of a 3rd party to represent what people ‘inside’ already think (Consider the previous example in which I become unconsciously identified with ‘society'). Could we not equally say to the boy; “you may experience strong reactions but if you choose to explore dressing as a woman we will support you to deal with the reactions that come, and to keep yourself out of harm?” If we can’t do this it may be more relevant to discuss attitudes to cross-dressing within the organisation or staff team, or to be clear with the child that we ourselves are not comfortable with cross-dressing and that he may need to talk with someone else about his impulses and identity. 
It is understandable that we as professionals or parents may consider it important that the child learns to relate to the world in a ‘normal’ as possible a fashion, so that they can function well in the world. But we might note that normality itself is a socially constructed ‘reality’ with immeasurable other possible versions of reality. It is probably equally important to appreciate that whenever we are disturbed by a child’s behaviour, the aspect of their diversity which disturbs us may need more (not less) awareness, both for us as a member of staff, and for the child themselves. th cared-for children we are invited to work with ‘the whole child’. But who is the whole child? And are we truly open to the whole child? To answer these questions requires considerable self-reflection and awareness in examining whether there is a common ground between the values and belief systems which organise how we work, and the values, perceptions and beliefs of the children with whom we work.




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