According to Waller (2005). there are multiple and diverse childhoods. A person’s identity is a complex process. Childhood is different for most people and not one size fits all. It is influenced by many factors such as family culture, the community they live in, the education they receive, disability and their experiences all of which help to shape a child’s multiple identity. A person’s identity is a complex process. It is not static and can shift due to life circumstances (Siraj-Blatchford as cited Pugh and Duffy (2006). We all have self esteem but it is different for every child. Children do not always belong to the dominant culture in their society which may cause them to have low self esteem because of the reaction of others towards them. Hurst and Joseph believe that it is necessary to have a positive self concept for healthy development. If children do not have this it may affect their future life chances. In order to address equality and inclusion in our society we require legislation and policies such as the Equality Act (2010). It attempts to address many of the issues that arise in Scotland today such as race, poverty and disabilities. The Act states that all people should be treated with due regard. According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2005) all children have a legal right to identity they note “The convention requires that children, including the very youngest, be respected as persons in their own right. Young children should be recognized as active members of families, communities and societies, with their own concerns, interests and points of view”. Throughout this paper I will reflect on the concept of multiple identity as it applies to policy and practice in an early years setting.
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The United Nations Convention on The United Nation Rights of the Child (1999) is not law but it has been ratified by 177 countries throughout the world and Scotland is bound to it by international law. It gives children a broad group of economic, social and cultural rights. The UNCRC (1999) has influenced legislation in this country today for example The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 reflects a number of articles such as Article 23 “States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community”.
The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) is very important due to the fact it brings to the forefront that fact you cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. It tackles discrimination against disabled people enabling them to have equality in all areas of life. It is illegal to refuse a child a place in a nursery setting due to their disability. Children in nursery settings must not be treated less favourably than their mainstream peers and should be included in all activities with adjustments made if required in order for them to participate. The standard of care and education must not be lower than that of mainstream children. All these measures help to encourage inclusion in society.
The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 fulfils the government’s obligations to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Act has three overarching principles one of which is “In relation to the provision of services for children by local authorities, due regard should be given, without discrimination, to a child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background”
The Equality Act (2010) is very important today as it promotes integrated services. It places the onus on public bodies to fulfil certain duties, one of which is “working closely with their key partners”, enabling and supporting organisations. This act brings together 9 existing discrimination laws, simplifying them and making it a more cohesive approach to equality and inclusion. It tackles barriers that hold people back giving everyone an opportunity to succeed. It shows a commitment to narrowing gaps in society arising from social class and income between rich and poor.
These acts meets the needs of disabled children and are in place to protect them from discrimination. Children should not be treated any less favourably than mainstream children in the setting. It is important that practitioners are supportive and positive about people’s differences as stereotyping can stop you seeing the child as an individual. Making assumptions about someone based on stereotypes could lead to limiting of expectations of their abilities. Young children do not have any fixed ideas about society and therefore practitioners could affect change through being good role models and accepting everyone for who they are. This would help to stop stereotyping. According to Siraj-Blatchford (2000) “…children can only learn to be tolerant, challenge unfair generalization and learn inclusiveness and positive regard for diversity if they see the adults around them doing the same”. In this setting there is a mixture of mainstream children and children with disabilities and I have observed that all children interact with each other, accepting each as friends, not noticing the differences. These children with disabilities are clearly valued. This will affect the way they see themselves and should give them confidence that they are accepted which in turn will help to achieve a positive identity. Children in this setting are growing up without prejudice. In this setting children with disabilities are encouraged to participate fully in all experiences and are not treated less favourably than others in accordance with The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) eg in order for this child to participate no specialist equipment was required. The experience was adopted to her level of ability. This meant that she could engage fully with her peers. According to Dickins and Denzilioe (2003 pg61) “Whenever possible, our aim should be to make the usual range of play and learning opportunities offered by early years services accessible to disables children. Having ‘special’ activities for the ‘special’ children and buying lots of expensive ‘special needs’ equipment does not help the development of inclusive services”. Staff in this setting work with other agencies in order to break down the barriers of participation that children face. A child in this setting has speech and language communication difficulties but by making reasonable adjustment with the help of a speech therapist and the use of a number of communication tools she is able to make her views known and can engage with others in the setting, see task 1b, observation 1, appendix ? 1, and task 1c appendix 1 (The Equality Bill “2010). Local authorities cannot discriminate against children with disabilities with regards to their education, they must identify the child’s needs and ensure a child can attend a mainstream setting or special school, whichever is in their best interest of the child (The Children (Scotland) Act 1995). This setting works in partnership with parents and other professionals in order to decide what is the best decisions for the child, see task 2b, appendix 1 ?.
Principles of equality and inclusion should underpin all work in the setting but practitioners will have to look at their own belief system when dealing with children with additional needs. Legislation won’t change anything if they do not have an open mind when dealing with children. Their actions could damage children’s self esteem, affecting how they feel about themselves. This legislation has made it possible for children to attend a mainstream setting and through the interactions with other children they have felt valued and made to feel included. This will shape their multiple identity in a positive way.
The Scottish Government policies put the law into practice. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child underpin all policy.
The Scottish Government is committed to tackling the increasing social divide in society today. With 17% of the population affected by relative poverty, of which 210,000 are children, the government has put in place policies that aim to tackle the root causes of these significant inequalities (Scottish Government (2008a).
A cause of these inequalities is poverty. According to Giddens A (2001) there are two approaches to poverty. The first being absolute poverty when an individual’s basic needs such as food and shelter cannot be met. The second being relative poverty which relates to the overall standard of living in a particular society. Poverty and social class can have a major impact on children’s lives. According to Yeo and Lovell (2002) class affect people’s life chances. Yeo and Lovell note “in general middle class people are wealthier and healthier than working class people”. Children may find it difficult to break out of cycles of deprivation because of discrimination relating to social background. People can end up being socially excluded through poverty, a lack of money preventing them from engaging with the wider society. The Scottish Government (2008a) have introduced the policy ‘Achieving our Potential’ which is a framework put in place to try and address problems that are related to poverty such as income, poor housing and poor health. The Scottish Government (2008a, pg13) note that “the distribution of poor health has an impact upon income inequality and can pass from generation to generation”. This is not a stand alone framework, together with The Early Years Framework the government hope to tackle inequality, which is closely linked to poverty.
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The Scottish Governments (2008b pg4) policy Early Years Framework vision states “children should be able to achieve positive outcomes irrespective of race, disability or social background”. This policy focuses on working in partnership with children and families, supporting parents to support their children to secure the best outcomes for them. One of its key aims is prevention rather than crisis management later on in a child’s life. It advocates play as a way of raising educational outcomes. According to Siraj-Blatchford (2000 pg 3) “Researchers have shown the connections between academic success and self esteem”. Positive interactions and relationships are very important if a child is to develop good self esteem therefore practitioners should use the curriculum to develop this. The Curriculum for Excellence is followed in the setting using play based learning. The child is at the centre of practice, engaged in active learning, see task 2a, appendix 1. Together with using child led planning and positive interactions children will have better outcomes and hopefully this will set a template for lifelong learning. This should mean better job prospects and a way out of the cycle of deprivation caused by poverty. It is important for practitioners to engage with parents advising of the importance of the home learning environment in relation to social and cognitive development as this may counteract social deprivation. Caneiro, (2006) as cited Johnson (2008) “showed that children with good social adjustment stayed in education”.
Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) is another Scottish Government approach to help improve the outcomes of children and families which complements the above frameworks. This sees the child at the centre of practice. Early intervention is the key to this policy. Children and families are at the centre of the framework working together with inter agency services such as health and education. One key worker will co-ordinate the plan to support the child and family. This approach also recognizes the importance of the children’s voice. The Scottish Government (2008a) Believe “There is a strong positive relationship between having the best start in life, enjoying good health , a good education, and having enough money to provide for yourself and your family”.
All these policies emphasise the importance of putting the child at the centre and treating each one as an individual, catering for their own needs which can only be a good thing for inclusion and social justice see task 2, appendix 1. These policies all advocate working closely with children building nurturing relationship which will help the children build a positive identity.
To promote inclusion and equality in the setting staff must adhere to government frameworks and be aware of legislation that affects children such as UNCRC. Working in partnership and having good relationships with parents is important to continue the child’s learning across home and the early years setting, see task 3, appendix 1. The ethos of the school should help children feel valued, safe and nurtured in order to help children learn. Good adult interaction with the child, listening to their ideas and acting upon them will make the child feel valued and respected (UNCRC). All planning should be centred around the individual child see task 2 appendix 1. S Blatchford pg??? notes 116 “All children have the right to an early childhood curriculum that supports and affirms their gender, culture and linguistic identities and background”. Treating each child as an individual is very important to ensure that their needs will be met. The Nation Framework for Inclusion is a tool that can be used by practitioners to help them embed inclusion into their practice. It challenges practitioners to think about their values and beliefs and how they may affect others. The Child at the Centre (2007) is a government issued guide which enables settings to evaluate their practice against performance indicators. Practitioners can reflect on the quality of their provision and identify the way forward for children. The type of exercise is useful as practitioners can become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. HMI Inspectorate of Education (2007) note “Since the first publication of The Child at the Centre, self evaluation has become increasingly embedded across Scottish Education and has contributed well to improving achievement for all children”. The National Care Standards provide a framework for assessing the services provided in the setting and focus on the quality of the setting (Scottish Executive 2005). The standards are underpinned by the rights of children laid down in the UNCRC (1999). This can be used by the setting as a guide to monitor service provided in the setting. A policy of inclusion should be available for anyone to see in the setting which is easy to understand Jones (2004).
Legislation exists to affect social change. It is the duty of local government and their partner agencies to work together to address the issues associated with poverty and disability that children face. Steps are being taken in the right direction with early years staff working in partnership with parents, see task 3, appendix 1 in order to improve children’s outcomes.. Children are having their voices heard and their learning experiences are tailored to their needs, see task 2a, appendix 1 The laws on equality and inclusion regarding disability do seem to be having an effect. Children with additional support needs are having their needs met in an inclusive environment, see task 2b, appendix 1. The policies are working towards eradicating poverty in the future therefore it is impossible to say if they are effective.
Childhood practice has changed in the last twenty years, staff are required to be more highly skilled. The Scottish Government (2008b pg17) note “The skills knowledge, attitudes and qualifications of the workforce are a key focus in improving quality, and the mix of those skills is also critical. We want the best people working in early years where they can have the biggest impact on outcomes.” The issue of knowledge and skills for existing staff has to be addressed in order for them to meet the aims of government policies.
Quote “Middle class children as still more likely than working class children to be successful in education. This is so even when the children are of the same measured IQ. Inequalities of income between the classes are important in this, but so are attitudes”. Yeo, A. And Lovell, T. (2002)
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