If it takes a village to raise a child, who needs to step up when a child is excluded? The child or the village?
No child lives in a vacuum. They are under the constant influence of their home environment, primary caregivers [parents], siblings, grandparents, extended family, peer group, neighbourhood, the society at large and all the laws and policies of the land that are meant to protect their rights. There is only one thing common to all children – their rights. However, no parent enters the journey of parenting with any concrete knowledge or skill about raising a child, leave alone understanding child rights. When they are tasked to raise a child who is not developing as per expectations, their vulnerabilities are compounded. Exclusion is born here. An exclusion of basic knowledge about child development as common knowledge imparted to all and more specifically to prospective parents.
Within a strict bio-medical model, diagnosis is based on the deviances and shortfalls, observed in a child, from a prescribed norm. This makes the parents feel more ill equipped to raise their own child. Thereafter, the thrust on parents is on techniques and strategies they need to follow to fix and fit the child to the norm. This approach gives little or no regard to nurturing the relationship between the parent and child that was born out of unconditional love. Exclusion is nurtured here. Exclusion of the understanding about a child more on who they are rather than who they should be.
Therapy and interventions are now specialised to such an extent where even a regular activity with any child is classified as therapeutic. Such therapy comes with a high price in the name of individualized approach for children with disabilities e.g., art, music, dance, movement; why? Even the basic right of a child, education, is deemed as special. These activities are then done in artificially created setups where the parents are not present or kept waiting outside the one-to-one sessions. They are cited as interference in the intervention process and progress of the ‘specialized’ work with the child. Exclusion grows here. Exclusion of parents from being an active and involved part of understanding how to work with their child.
With minimal or no consideration of the psychosocial influences on the child, the process is neither individualised nor inclusive. Professionals working with a child may have little or no insight into the social and emotional health of the parents, the support systems of the family, the financial situation and more. Each professional works in a segregated, disjointed manner on a particular skill deficit based on their training and the parents are to make sense of the whole and integrate it to their daily living. The little interaction with the family is mostly with the mothers who are passive spectators of the process. Yet they are tasked to take forward the home programme which is set with minimal understanding of their home. Needless to say, the strengths of the child and the family too remain unexplored and unutilized. Exclusion strengthens here. An exclusion of knowledge that is specific to one child and the family on what works for them and what does not.
Soon starts the woes of fitting the child into an education system. A system designed in the British era to create people in uniform, who would follow strict instructions, and do desk jobs without questioning authority. With stringent pass and fail criteria any child that learns a different way and has a different interest will need a disability certificate to be able to pursue a subject of interest within the mainstream. A childhood of 15 years goes believing that they are misfits as their interest and skill do not fit the norm. Excelling in reading, writing, spelling or arithmetic as considered superior to excelling in arts, music or sports. The parents and schools segregate children to what is called resource rooms or learning labs or special rooms. Their dignity and social and emotional health are compromised heavily at the expense of yielding results in academics. Exclusion becomes the norm here. An exclusion of certain kinds of skills are secondary and lesser than other skills as prescribed by the norm.
At the end of 15 years in such a system, it would be no surprise if families find solace in belonging to segregated villages, ashrams, clubs or forums that are focused on making ways to include their children. Where, their children are finally celebrated and acknowledged. The community outside this circle then calls these abilities as “different” or “special” and the children as ‘specially abled’ or ‘differently abled’ for the sake of inclusion. Inclusion becomes a joke here.
If we need to work towards true inclusion then let us focus on those who exclude. When there are policies that mandate inclusion without imparting the knowledge or skills on how not to exclude, we are leaving our children to be raised in ‘villages’ that are not equipped to include.
When we focus on co-creation of knowledge by not excluding the experiences of each family;
When we simplify the intervention programs by not excluding what the child can do;
When professionals see their role as trainers who are to support the families rather than to fix the child;
When every engagement boils down to nothing but basic child development skills which can be common knowledge;
When every education board is not as much focused on result of learning as they are in the process of learning;
When the peer group, the neighbourhood and society at large collaborate and takes collective responsibility and accountability for exclusion;
Then we can say that it takes a village to raise a child, for inclusion is the norm.
(The author is a mental health professional with over 20 years of professional experience. Her expertise is in areas related to mental health, education and disability. She is also the founder of ‘Together We Can’, an advocacy forum that has been instrumental in bringing about policy level changes)