Date published: Wednesday 20 September 2017
Last week I was visiting Carinity in Brisbane and was lucky enough to meet some of the amazing people who work with children and young people for our Queensland Baptist Care organisation.
When I visited Carinity's Southside school, I chatted with the Curriculum and VET Coordinator, Susanne Fletcher, about some of the enormous challenges the students face in continuing their education and working towards a positive future.
"People talk a lot about equality, about everyone having equal opportunities. But most people don't seem to understand that not everyone starts in the same place," Susanne said.
"You need to keep talking about this as loudly as you can," she urged me, "otherwise people just forget about those who start from a long way behind."
Susanne would know. The 120 girls at Southside have struggled with mainstream schooling for a range of reasons. Some have experienced the trauma of domestic violence or fleeing some of the world's most violent trouble spots to seek refuge in Australia. Many are mothers and the school has an on-site crèche as well as parenting support for students. Some don't have stable and safe accommodation. Around 30% of students are Indigenous and have experienced the discrimination and disadvantage that brings.
I was blown away by the expressionand creativity in the artworks of the students at Southside, where art plays a very important role in helping students understand and talk about their journey.Love, care and support for the students were displayed in every aspect of the school - from the provision of nutritious food to quiet places to rest and recover if the classroom is getting too stressful.
"It's all about removing any barriers to the girls coming to school, participating well, learning and growing," Christine the school principal told me.
Later that day I visited a Carinity counselling service specialising in supporting children who have experienced trauma. The vast majority of the children have first-hand experience of family anddomestic violence. Speaking with the skilled counsellors over lunch, I learned about developmental changes in children who experience trauma. There's no doubt that this kind of defining early experience and its effects will make life much more difficult for those children both now and into the future.
It's blindingly obvious when you think about it - of course everyone starts from a different place. Some people are taller, smarter or more sociable. Some were raised by two parents, some by one and some by grandparents. Some are good at maths and some are good at words. Some people were raised by loving people with effective parenting skills, while others weren't. Some had great school teachers and others didn't. Some people were born with a disability or acquired one. And so on.
A popular cartoon has circulated around the internetthat pictures the distinction between equity and equality. Variations in people's height representthat idea that not everyone starts in the same place. The height differences might represent an inherent difference someone is born with or one that's imposed by prejudice or oppression. This graphic has a whole story all its own, having been adapted, modified and circulated online to hundreds of thousands of people. Some versions replace 'equity' with 'fairness'.
In Baptist Care organisations, one of our key priorities is to provide the extra support some people need to access the opportunities many of us take for granted.
Our policy and political advocacy is often focussed on the needs of those with the least inherent advantage or privilege for exactly the reason that Susanne at Southside pointed out. It's very easy for powerful people who make decisions that affect the lives of others to forget that not everyone is like them. Some people start the race from a long way behind the starting line.
Through work like Carinity's, we provide support to help young people transform the inequality they experience early in life into a fairer and better future. What a worthwhile investment of time, money, energy, passion and commitment!