Friday, October 26, 2012
I am in the middle of reading a wonderful book called, 'Roots of Empathy: Changing the world child by child' by Mary Gordon(2009). The title of this book really caught my attention as the idea of changing the world one child at a time is something that I feel teachers have the ability to do.
I had intended on reading right through the book and then putting some feedback on the blog but I have just read the chapter on emotional literacy and thought no I just cannot wait I want to share some of this book now. So here it is, I know that we all know this but there is no harm in a little re-visiting what we know and also maybe provoking some extra thought about emotional literacy.
"The illiterate of the next generation will not be those who don't know how to read, they will be those who don't know how to relate." Being able to relate starts from birth it is those warm caring looks from the family and caregivers that invite responsive reciprocal relationships. I was at a centre yesterday talking with an unqualified centre owner, who I am sure would not mind me telling the story. We had been in the children's room and were discussing exer-saucers, bouncers, jolly jumper and highchairs and there place in ECE. Later we were standing in the office and she said to me, "sometimes children feel safer though when they are up high and out of harms ways, it is just like being in their mothers arms - up high and safe." I said nothing and just waited. "Oh", she said, "they (the babies) should be in a teacher's arms shouldn't they because it is about relationships." Her light bulb moment made my day as I thought of the wonderful outcomes for children as her thinking developed through the conversations we have. She did say to me that she is like a sponge that is absorbing all the information.
"When we deny children the right to their feelings, such as when we repeatedly tell a child "there's nothing to be sad about" instead of acknowledging the sadness, she will stop sharing her feelings. The feelings will go underground, communication is thwarted, and the child's ability to seek out solutions to the problems that led to her fear is blocked. It is like living in an oppressive environment where you can't speak the language or aren't allowed to practice your religion."
Imagine the feeling of not being able to speak the language particularly if the adults around you are able to use the emotional language they know - acknowledging feelings of having a bad day, being sad or frustrated. This chapter in the book reminds me of the importance of the non-verbal communication for our younger children particularly as "emotion is an infant's first language". The book talks about the importance of the ongoing use of nonverbal communication that children uses even after language acquisition. These cues become an integral part of their communication system.
Finally, my last quote from this chapter, "Emotional literacy gives us the tools to take these innermost feelings and beliefs and give them voice." This makes me consider how am I allowing children to share their feelings, is there the time and pace in my day to stop and deeply listen with my ears, eyes and heart to what it is that children are saying?
Monday, October 8, 2012
Jonathan Boston: Three myths about child poverty
8 October, 2012
After reading this article from the NZ Herald you may wish to make a submission to the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, established by the Children's Commissioner, has been assessing the best available international and domestic evidence on how to reduce child poverty and mitigate its effects.
The writer of this article, Jonathan Boston is the co-chair of this group, together with Dr Tracey McIntosh, of the University of Auckland. In late August they issued a discussion document outlining their initial proposals. They have also prepared 20 Working Papers on a multiplicity of policy issues. These are available on the website of the Children's Commissioner.
This group would greatly welcome your feedback on our ideas and proposals. In particular, they would like to hear your views on what you think can make the most difference.
They have stated that they will take outsider views into account as they prepare their final report.
Why some widely held beliefs on the causes and solutions are wrong and why it matters to put things right.
Photo / Getty Images
There are well-established, internationally recognised methods for measuring poverty.
There is little or no child poverty in New Zealand.
The evidence suggests otherwise. There are well-established, internationally recognised methods for measuring poverty. These can be used to track trends in poverty rates over time and between countries.
One commonly used poverty measure is the proportion of the population living in households with less than 60 per cent of the median disposable household income, after housing costs. This is a relative poverty measure. On this measure, 25 per cent of children were in such households in 2011. This represents about 270,000 children. Such figures compare unfavourably with those in Australia and many European countries. The situation was even worse a decade ago when close to 30 per cent of children lived in poverty. Yet in 1986 the figure was only 11 per cent.
Using a more demanding income threshold, around 170,000 children or 16 per cent are living in households receiving less than 50 per cent of the median disposable household income, after housing costs. This compares with about 10 per cent in Australia.
Poverty rates can also be assessed in constant value or real terms over extended periods of time. On this basis, the children in the poorest 15 per cent of New Zealand households are no better off today than 30 years ago. This is despite a substantial lift in average real per capita incomes since the early 1980s. This highlights that economic growth alone in not enough to overcome child poverty.
Another way of measuring poverty is to consider how many households cannot afford certain items which the majority of people believe are essential. This includes keeping one's home adequately warm, possessing a phone and a washing machine, and paying important bills on time. This measure of poverty focuses on hardship or deprivation rather than income.
As the accompanying table shows, child deprivation rates in New Zealand in 2008 were around 18 per cent. This compares with rates of 6-7 per cent in the best performing OECD countries.
Worse, many children experience persistent deprivation. The international evidence suggests that such children are at particular risk of bad outcomes later in life. This includes poor educational attainment, higher unemployment, poor health and a higher incidence of crime.
Children are poor and deprived mainly because their parents are bad, mad, foolish or indifferent. In other words, children are going to school hungry, have worn-out cloths and shoes, and live in cold houses because of poor, incompetent parenting. Every family has enough income, it is claimed. The problem is simply that some people don't know how to live within their means.
No doubt many parents struggle to cope with life, make unwise decisions or get trapped with high debt. Some suffer poor mental health or have drug, alcohol and gambling problems. These issues are real and need addressing.
But there is little hard evidence that poor people, as a group, are much worse than rich people in their capacity to manage their finances. The primary problem is that some parents simply don't have enough income to provide adequately for their children. And this includes many people who are in part-time and full-time work.
To those who say that children are deprived because their parents are incompetent or don't care, consider the following: whereas about 18 per cent of New Zealand children live in hardship, only 3 per cent of those aged 65 years and older suffer the same fate. Why are so few older people materially deprived?
The answer, very simply, is that governments have implemented policies to minimise deprivation among the elderly. By contrast, New Zealand society has chosen to tolerate significant child deprivation. We could choose otherwise.
We cannot reduce child poverty simply by increasing the incomes of poor families. Throwing more money at the problem, it is argued, doesn't work. For instance, it is claimed that the additional funding for low-income families provided via the Working for Families package, introduced seven years ago, has not reduced poverty.
Such claims are flawed. There is good international evidence that increasing the incomes of poor families, especially those with young children, improves educational, health and employment outcomes. Likewise, the Working for Families package has lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty and significantly improved the financial circumstances of many other families. Broadly comparable policies in other countries have had similarly positive impacts.
But Working for Families is only part of the answer. More needs to be done, especially for the children of beneficiaries.
But what policy mix is best is by no means straightforward. There are various ways of increasing the incomes of poor families and not all of these are equally cost-effective or fiscally prudent. Moreover, while more money certainly helps, appropriate in-kind assistance is also important. This includes policies to address poor housing conditions, improve access to health care, educational and other services, and enhance employment opportunities.
How, then, can we improve the circumstances of the most deprived children in this country? How can we ensure that New Zealand is a great place to live for all our children? Over the past seven months, the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, established by the Children's Commissioner, has been assessing the best available international and domestic evidence on how to reduce child poverty and mitigate its effects.
I am the co-chair of this group, together with Dr Tracey McIntosh, of the University of Auckland. In late August we issued a discussion document outlining our initial proposals. We have also prepared 20 Working Papers on a multiplicity of policy issues. These are available on the website of the Children's Commissioner.
In sum, child poverty in New Zealand is unacceptably and unnecessarily high. It can be reduced, and it ought to be. Doing so would constitute a great investment in all our futures. But it will require public support, sensible policies, sustained effort and political will.
Jonathan Boston is professor of public policy at Victoria University and co-chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.