We wish for every child that they grow up with a healthy sense of themselves as worthwhile and with a strong connection to family, community and culture.
How to turn this aspiration into practice for children in care was the question 85 attendees at the Charter Champions’ Forum in November last year set out to answer.
They concluded that family, variously defined, is vitally important to the development of identity and it is especially important to understand and record who the child values as important to them. Knowledge about other cultures is essential, or at least how to seek advice and support in working with children and families who have different cultural backgrounds to your own. With knowledge comes the opportunity and responsibility for workers to nurture and support the child’s connections with their family and culture.
Beyond the bounds of family, school is for many children the first bridge into the wider world and workers rightly focus on getting and keeping children in school. Supporting extra-curricular activities such as sports and hobbies and fostering friendships outside of school allows a child to see themselves as belonging to a world not defined by being ‘in care’.
Attentive workers can pick up on comments made in conversation to offer or suggest that the child might want to take up a hobby, interest or community activity such as volunteering to help people or animals. A small investment in time and resources will pay enormous rewards in the development of a strong sense of identity and connection.
It is beyond the reach of any single adult in the child’s life to build identity and belonging and the workshop placed a premium on people working together. Participants regarded regular meetings as essential, where concerned adults can confer and cooperate to share ideas, review progress and ensure the work of therapy is carried into the child’s everyday care experience.
Permeating all of this was the importance of the relationship and the conversations between worker and child. Sustained over time, respectful, enjoyable and open-ended conversations with a worker can, in themselves, help to support a child’s sense of worth and belonging. Beyond that, the opportunity to envision with the child, exploring ‘who do you want to be?’ and ‘what do you want to do?’ can allow the child to dream and to imagine a future and give insights to all that will help sustain those dreams.
Read more about about Debbie Noble-Carr’s and the Australian Catholic University’s work on identity and belonging or check out the the pdf Charter Champions’ Forum Takeaways.