Addressing children’s issues singularly holds no benefit for the professional or the child. We need to better understand the child’s lived experience which means understanding the context in which they live. This means understanding their family environment including their neighbourhood and extended network. We cannot expect to effect lasting change in any system if we only change part of the system while the others remain the same. Either the change will dominate causing conflict with the rest of the system or the change will be overshadowed by the familiar in order to maintain status quo – which, is always easier than change.
Our children do not grow up in isolation so why is this our approach to effecting positive change in their lives? As adults we are supposed to be the authority. As professionals we are supposed to be the experts. How is it then that we continue to ignore vital information about a child’s reality? Parents/carers are a child’s reality. If they are to progress we have to recognised and challenge the aspects of this relationship that are either facilitating the child’s troubles – actively or passively – or contributing to it. Where this relationship is the cause of the troubles, we need to intervene to change the trajectory of the child’s life path. When did everything else become more important than the life chances of a child?
We need to critically evaluate programs calling themselves family services that are unable to see and work with the connection between outcomes for adults and the outcomes for the children. How do we separate the two and expect lasting change?
How can we do better? How can we focus on the child while addressing the needs of the parents? The latter is easier to answer. We have to recognise during assessment and planning that if we improve circumstances for parents we can then help them better focus on what their children need. I know some may say that parents need to know that they’re children come first and I wouldn’t disagree. However, the reality is, it is difficult to focus on someone else when basic needs are not being met or one’s own needs are so pervasive they inhibit meeting one’s own needs. If they could cope with this, frankly, we wouldn’t need to be involved. It doesn’t make them bad parent, they just need help. And that is what, as social workers, we are here for – to help.