Early on I recognized my passion for working with children. I started off periodically babysitting for family friends which grew into nannying for families year-round. My passion for working with children got stronger when I accepted a position as a family relief support worker at Community Mental Health. Now, for the past three years, I have been working at a local elementary school preschool and daycare including my job at Community Mental Health. In the course’s exciting opportunities working with children, I developed a sense of needing to save the children through my interactions.
There is one child in particular that I remember wanting to take home with me because I assumed I could give her a better life. This child was striving for attention just wanting to be seen by others. Several times after our weekly outings we had to wait for their mother to return home. The mother often seemed uninterested in hearing how the visit went and rarely communicated back to me. I can remember bringing the child home from an outing at the park, excited to share that she reached her goal of positively interacting with peers. After sharing my observations, I was surprised when I did not get a reaction or response from the mother. Establishing days and times for outings was a challenge as it was difficult to get a hold of the child’s mother.
Looking back I realize I was clearly in the first stage of my developmental path, “save the child”. I made many assumptions about the family and focused on the negative aspects of my experiences. This judgment led me to believe that I could provide a better life for this child as I could protect and offer ideal care. I made assumptions and judgments based on the little bits of information I had about the family. I filled in information about parts of the child and family’s life that I didn’t know about based on my opinion and past experiences. I failed to recognize the strengths that this family presented. I learned that oftentimes we pay attention to families’ risk factors and that’s exactly what I did in my interaction with this family. This created a barrier that limited our ability to create a positive relationship. Michelle Stevens a guest speaker in my child development 225 class made a statement that stuck with me “families already know the things that they are doing wrong, they don’t need to constantly be reminded”. I missed the opportunity to identify important information about the child and family.
Here and now, I have had more experience working with children and their families. I have recently embarked on a journey from “save the child” to partnering with families. Through my coursework at Lansing Community College, I have learned the importance of implementing a strengths-based perspective. Instead of focusing on risk factors, I have reframed my thinking to support families and identify their strengths. As educators, we need to identify and start with families’ strengths in order to begin creating a family-teacher partnership and empower families. This is no easy feat: we must check our assumptions and reflect on our own biases. An intentional teacher once said, “It is important to broaden our view and thinking when working with families”. It is only then that we can identify, value, and respect the strengths families demonstrate. In doing so, we can connect with families on a deeper level. I believe that when we begin with the family’s strengths, then we can create a strong partnership.