Every child deserves a magical childhood, one full of laughter, play and learning. Yet for many little ones, their reality can be far from that.
Children who grow up surrounded by crises have to navigate a world very different to those who are fortunate enough to have had a secure, loving childhood. In many situations it is actually access to education that provides children with a safe space to grow, develop and work through crisis-caused trauma.
We recently spoke to Dr. Cheryl James-Ward, an established teacher, exceptionally qualified professor, inspiring educational leader and a greatly valued Trustee at the Anita Mendiratta Foundation, on the topic of equal access, education and its role in supporting children through crisis and trauma.
YOU HAVE SPOKEN PASSIONATELY ABOUT EQUITY AND ACCESS WHEN IT COMES TO EDUCATION, COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE MORE ON THIS?
“No one chooses the circumstances they are born into. Children can’t pick the country they live in or decide on the state of education in their local area. They also can’t select their caregivers. Some parents and guardians are having to work all day just to put food on the table and naturally come home carrying trauma that will pass on to those around them.
Because of this, so many children lose out on opportunities, are facing painful trauma and do not have equitable access to social, financial, emotional and educational capital.”
SO, WHY IS ACCESS TO EDUCATION SO IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN WHO ARE EXPERIENCING OR HAVE EXPERIENCED TRAUMA?
“Childhood is such a formative time for all of us and sets the stage for our adult lives. Kids in their first six months to a year learn how to deal with the world. They learn if they have to fight, if they live in a calm place, whether love flows, and then they learn how to address it – all in just the first 12 months. For many children that experience of trauma and crisis, whether in the first year or after, is not dealt with and the right supports aren’t put in place.
As educators, we have the responsibility to help identify these issues as soon as possible and offer all the support we can. If we address the problems early, we might be able to prevent the trauma from continuing into adulthood.”
WHAT DOES SUPPORT LOOK LIKE FOR CHILDREN WHO ARE RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA AND CRISIS?
“Where possible it’s important to have counsellors on site to work with the kids, their guardians and the school – when all three work together, progress can be made. We owe it to the child and to society to get this right as soon as we can. That’s one of the first steps. But I also believe in love, we got to love kids and if we love them, they’ll try their best.
I remember I had one student who really tested me and just wore me out. I almost wanted to give up on her, but then I came to my senses and realised it’s my responsibility to support her. I told her and her mother, ‘I’m going to be your mentor and we are going to get you through high school’. She pushed me. She fought her mum and there were ups and downs. We had daily and then weekly check-ins where it was so important to tell her how much she had to offer the world and how much I believed in her. She ended up graduating with honours and went on to a UC school where she will flourish.
It is our duty to help every child, help them find their way and build them up – that is what real support looks like.”
Dr. Cheryl James-Ward, Trustee.
Join us at the Anita Mendiratta Foundation in our mission to ensure all children have equal access to schooling and the transformative support of educators like Dr. Cheryl James-Ward. Find out more about what we do today.