If it takes a village to raise a child, who should step in when a child is excluded? The child or the village?
No child lives in a vacuum. They are under the constant influence of their family environment, primary caregivers [parents], siblings, grandparents, extended family, peer group, neighborhood, society as a whole, and all laws and policies in the country that aim to protect their rights. There is only one thing that all children have in common: their rights. However, no parent enters the parenting journey with concrete knowledge or skills about raising a child, let alone an understanding of children’s rights. When they are tasked with raising a child who is not developing as expected, their vulnerabilities are compounded. Exclusion is born here. An exclusion of basic knowledge on the development of the child as common knowledge transmitted to all and more particularly to future parents.
In a strict biomedical model, the diagnosis is based on the deviations and failures observed in a child, compared to a prescribed standard. This makes parents feel less equipped to raise their own child. Subsequently, the focus on parents is the techniques and strategies they must follow to fix and adapt the child to the norm. This approach places little or no importance on nurturing the relationship between parent and child that is born of unconditional love. Exclusion feeds here. Exclusion of a child’s understanding more of who they are rather than who they should be.
Therapy and interventions are now specialized to the point that even regular activity with any child is classified as therapeutic. Such therapy comes at a high price in the name of individualized approach for children with disabilities, eg, art, music, dance, movement; Why? Even a child’s basic right, education, is considered special. These activities then take place in artificially created configurations where the parents are not present or make them wait outside the individual sessions. They are cited as interference in the intervention process and the conduct of “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 little or no consideration of psychosocial influences on the child, the process is neither individualized nor inclusive. Professionals working with a child may have little or no information about the parents’ social and emotional health, family support systems, financial situation and more. Each professional works in a segregated, disjointed way on a particular skill deficit based on their background, and parents need to make sense of it all and integrate it into their daily lives. The little interaction with the family is mainly with the mothers who are passive spectators of the process. Yet they are tasked with driving the home program which is set with minimal understanding of their home. Needless to say, the strengths of the child and the family remain unexplored and unused. The exclusion is reinforced here. An exclusion of child- and family-specific knowledge about what works for them and what doesn’t.
Soon begin the misfortunes of the insertion of the child in an educational system. A system devised in British times to create people in uniform, who would follow strict instructions and perform clerical work without questioning authority. With rigorous pass and fail criteria, any child who learns in a different way and has a different interest will need a disability certificate to be able to pursue a subject of interest in the mainstream. A 15-year-old will believe they are misfits because their interests and skills don’t fit the norm. Excelling in reading, writing, spelling, or arithmetic is considered superior to excellence in the arts, music, or sports. Parents and schools separate children into what are called resource rooms or learning labs or special rooms. Their dignity and their social and emotional health are seriously compromised to the detriment of school results. Exclusion becomes the norm here. An exclusion of certain types of skills are secondary and lesser than other skills prescribed by the standard.
After 15 years in such a system, it would not be surprising if families find solace in belonging to segregated villages, ashrams, clubs or forums that focus on the inclusion of their children. Where, their children are finally celebrated and recognized. The community outside this circle then labels these abilities as ‘different’ or ‘special’ and the children as ‘specially able’ or ‘differently able’ for the sake of inclusion. Inclusion becomes a joke here.
If we are to work towards true inclusion, let us focus on those who exclude. When there are policies that mandate inclusion without imparting knowledge or skills on how not to exclude, we leave our children to be raised in “villages” that are not equipped to include.
When we focus on co-creating knowledge by not excluding the experiences of each family;
When we simplify intervention programs by not excluding what the child can do;
When professionals see their role as trainers who must accompany families rather than caring for the child;
When every engagement boils down to nothing but basic child development skills that may be common knowledge;
When each school board is not as much focused on the outcome of learning as it is on the process of learning;
When the peer group, neighborhood and society as a whole work together and collectively take responsibility and accountability for exclusion;
So you could say it takes a whole village to raise a child, because 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 driving change at the policy level)