Books: implementing a school anti-discrimination policy

22nd November 1996 at 00:00
This book addresses the need for an anti-discriminatory framework when working with children of all ages. It examines the legal obligations of the 1989 Children Act, requiring care workers to provide for children's racial, religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It challenges discrimination and forces those working with children to examine their own attitudes and how this may affect their work.

Providing an anti-discriminatory environment is not always easy. Many people have stereotypical ideas about those different from themselves. As discrimination is usually based on ignorance rather than fact, this book is packed with information. There are guidelines to all the major religions from Hinduism to Islam. The book also explains the beliefs and practices of different cultures that care workers are likely to find in their nurseries or playgroups. Armed with this kind of information, workers will at least be aware of what they should do.

Knowing about different cultures and religions is one thing, but what should care workers do when confronted with cultural values very different from their own? The book's advice is to accept there are many differences in the way children are brought up and that "this does not make one culture right or wrong unless they are harmful to the child".

The book emphasises the importance for children of different races and cultures to feel accepted in their school or nursery setting or they may feel "torn between two cultures" and, as a result, develop poor self-esteem. This is particularly important for black children growing up experiencing "prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping".

Research in America and Britain has found that children as young as three can show signs of prejudice. But children are not born prejudiced - they are influenced by the attitudes of parents and society. They also learn sexism in the same way. Care workers are in an important position to influence children.

They should provide positive images and activities covering all the racial and cultural backgrounds of the children in their care. Children from poorer homes and those with special needs are also entitled to equal care.

Care workers should be aware that children who might have a poor hygiene routine, for instance, may live in bed and breakfast accommodation and not have the facilities for regular baths and washing. Workers are advised to be non-judgmental, but if hygiene becomes a problem they should talk sensitively to the parents and try to help them.

Rosalind Millam warns carers not to make stereotypical assumptions about children with special needs; they should assess and treat each child individually.

This book shows the enormous legal and moral responsibility placed on child care workers. They are expected to be non-judgmental, sensitive and well-informed about the varying backgrounds of children in their care. This, the book says, can sometimes seem like walking along a tight rope. Care workers end up trying to please everyone.

The author reassures care workers that sometimes mistakes are made but the important thing is that they try to make their setting anti-discriminatory for the sake of the children.

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