Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Striving for excellence or accepting reality

Occasionally I have clients with whom, for whatever reason, maybe even for just a few moments, I identify. And sometimes in these conversations I briefly let down my social worker filter and I just talk to them. I don’t mean that I do this in an inappropriate way. On the contrary, it’s a way of thinking about clients that I believe is essential to providing good services. What I mean is that I let go of a little bit of the “us vs. them” mentality. I think about what I would want or would do, if chance dealt me the same hand it dealt them. I open my mouth and find myself giving the same advice or empathy that I would give a friend.

The other day I was meeting with a mother. She was speaking with me about her daycare dilemma, about the conflict between staying at home with her child and going out into the world and pursuing money and knowledge. This is practically a universal debate among modern women. I did a research project on this issue back in high school, I debated about it with my college roommate who was studying social policy, and flame wars are fought daily about it on the mommy internets. I found myself spouting information about research that shows that high-quality daycare does not harm children or their attachment with their parents. And as I was soliloquizing about this, my client looked at me and asked in a concerned voice, “what do you mean by ‘high-quality’?” I stopped. Awareness of who I was talking to seeped back into mind. I answered, honestly but with a filter, “well, things like not just sitting in front of the TV all day doing nothing else.” “Oh,” she replied, with the same level of concern in her voice. Yes, it turned out, that is primarily what her daycare provider does. My attempt to reassure had backfired horribly. In all honesty, her child is doing great. The toddler is developing normally, is loved, and is certainly solidly attached to the mother in front of me. I finished as gracefully as possible, encouraging the mom to provide stimulation outside of daycare hours but also reassuring her that daycare would not be damaging.

But it left me thinking. Do I believe that this mother should have to settle for the TV babysitter? By saying yes, I perpetuate poverty. Decades of research on Head Start show how important early childhood education can be. But high-quality daycare is a limited and expensive commodity. I turned on my internal social worker and backpedaled to say “it’s okay.” Maybe I was even right. But I know it’s not what I would say if I was having the same conversation with my sister, or a friend. Can it somehow be true both that it’s okay for her child and that it’s not okay for my nephew? Would I do my client a better service by saying “no, it’s not okay, but it’s all you can get”?

1 comment:

  1. We had to move Liam out of a wonderful daycare associated with the hospital I worked with after I switched jobs. I struggled with the new daycare we chose for him, mostly because the "caliber" of teacher there was not as educated as the teachers at his previous daycare. I finally came to the realization that not many people go to college to work at a daycare...some do, but mostly you will find the best daycare providers are those with kids of their own or who just enjoy kids. Liam had some great college-aged teachers and some who were moms themselves. It came down to how comfortable I felt leaving him. I knew he was safe and well taken care of, was learning, playing with other kids and having fun. It's no one's #1 choice to leave their kid with someone else, but when you have to you want to find the best care at the price you can afford.