he voices of young people are seldom
heard in the tribunals of educational and treatment planning. With very
few exceptions, the child or adolescent is only an object for our
examination, and not a participating subject. Brian Raychaba has said
that young people must become partners in their own healing. This will
require the creation of new ways of teaming youth with professionals,
much as we seek to do with parents.
What are the barriers that prevent
access of young people to responsible team participation? As in any case
of oppression, the subjugated are "kept in their place" by prejudicial
stereotypes and rationalisations which justify paternalistic authority.
Among these myths and misconceptions are the following:
Youth would not want to participate
in team meeting anyway.
Typically, youth who try to avoid participation have had bad
previous experiences with such meetings. Their meeting avoidance may be
rooted in the expectation that nobody really cares what they think, and
powerful adults will remain in control of what happens to them. With
such youth it will be important for adults to take time and effort to
rebuild the trust needed to overcome their reluctance to participate.
Schultz tells of a psychiatrist who confronted a teacher about the
absence of a student at a conference about the child’s behaviour:
"Doesn’t he know we are talking about him? If you were in that position,
wouldn’t you rather be on this side of the door?" As Adelman and
colleagues suggest"...there is an Increasing body of research suggesting
that many youngsters, even pre-teenagers and those with
psychoeducational problems, are capable of participating competently in
decision-making forums". If we do not bar the door, youth will enter.
Children would not understand what’s
happening at the meeting.
Many adults have the same problem. Parents may not fathom the fine
points of the team meeting: the procedures, the vocabulary, how the
systems of a school or agency work, or what role they have In the
meeting. The result is that parents tend to be passive participants or,
like youth who have meeting aversions, simply avoid them altogether.
Professionals are often just as confused when drowned in jargon or
overtechnical vocabulary. When "insiders" use language as an instrument
of power and domination, others are robbed of their right to understand
and participate in important decisions.
It Isn’t necessary for children to
attend the meeting. Parents or other adults can tell them about It later.
Those locked out of the meeting run a great risk of misunderstanding
what happened in their absence. Sometimes students receive almost no
information about discussions held at the meetings. In other cases, the
"designated messenger adult" brings a tale so cursive or distorted that
the child cannot possibly comprehend what has transpired.
Second-hand information often stresses
what the child has done wrong. Receiving only negative feedback from a
team meeting discourages children and compounds the feeling that adults
do not appreciate the child’s efforts or feelings. Such
miscommunications exacerbate conflicts between the child, the parents
and other team members.
Having the child participate In the
meeting will take too much time away from "doing the business" of the
Democratic processes are slower than snap authoritarian decision
making. Gaining a group consensus is more cumbersome than top-down
patriarchal management. However, any advantage of ‘boss management’ is
lost when it comes time to implement decisions. People are notoriously
reluctant to support a plan in which they had no input. But when the
team has a sense of ownership and understands the decision, the
commitment to action has been built. When we "team up" without the
child’s participation, without considering the child’s priorities or
Interests, we cannot blame the child for being resistant or passive.
While excluding the child may streamline meetings, it impedes
Students might become resistant,
disruptive or manipulative and would upset the meeting.
Shea and Bauer found that some parents were reluctant to have their
children present at conferences. They were afraid that the child might
disclose private family information, that the child’s presence might
inhibit them or other team members from speaking openly, and that the
meeting might be too stressful for the child. Other parents may fear
that the child will show the same kinds of negative behaviours that
required a meeting in the first place. Professionals also may be
concerned that the child right say or do something embarrassing. The
child’s opinions and actions are less predictable than those of most
adults and may not be couched in -terms and behaviours that are socially
appropriate. As adults we must overcome the fear that we will be unable
to "control" the child during the meeting, and become courageous enough
even to risk being uncomfortable or embarrassed. it was, after all, a
child who announced in the middle of an otherwise dignified and formal
procession: "The Emperor has no clothes!" The candour of children can
free us all from polite little lies that cloak the nakedness of our
Children need to be protected from
information that might be damaging to their self-esteem.
Children are realists concerning their own performance and behaviour.
Very young children are capable of making comparisons between themselves
and others. Schools send all sorts of messages about winners and losers:
report cards, tests graded on the curve, creative writing corrected with
red ink, ‘special’ curricula, and so on. Children are also aware of
labels given them by their peers that are much more potent than the ones
we use In meetings, many so colourful that we won’t repeat them here.
Children and youth need reliable, factual information about their
abilities and their disabilities. Unfortunately, we have not done a very
good job of giving them accurate Information, Recent literature on
helping students with disabilities bridges the gap between school and
adult life and tells us that many students do not understand their
disabilities. Yet such understanding is vital to students’ academic and
psychological growth, and can be provided to students as early as in the
elementary grades. Keeping children out of team meetings may serve to
enable undesirable behaviours such as avoidance, denial of
responsibility, and learned helplessness, all of which further undermine
self-esteem and contribute to discouragement.
This feature: An extract from Bacon, J.
and Brendtro, L. (1993) The missing team member. The Child Care
Vol. 11 No. 3 March 1993,
p.5. Originally published in Reclaiming Children and Youth,