An Ambition of Compassionate Care

The following represents the key points as delivered by the author at the annual meeting of the Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families

The training committee of the IAC has brought forward a theme for the year that is near and dear to all of us — the thought of “Compassionate Care” in the way in which we deliver services to vulnerable populations, and how we interact with each other as colleagues.

Some of the pretty awesome statements that the training committee has brought forward are the following:

A Vision

The adults in caring positions have the knowledge, skills and emotional competencies to create positive and nurturing relationships needed to maximise a child or young person’s wellbeing and healthy development.

The How

This initiative has dual focus on the adults and institutions that care for children and youth.

The focus on adults is the following:

• Aware adults: ensuring we have the knowledge to understand compassionate care

• Skilled adults: ensuring we have the skills to create compassionate care

• Healthy adults: ensuring we have the emotional competencies and wellbeing to deliver compassionate care

The Why

Our aim is to strengthen the services and systems supporting vulnerable families to facilitate improved outcomes for those families.

This initiative is based on two foundational beliefs that are backed by research:

• The quality of relationships between children and the adults that care for them determines whether those relationships support increased resilience or add to experience of risk

• The environments in which helping professionals work influences the quality of the relationships adults are capable of creating and sustaining with children

I have chosen to focus briefly on the quality of relationships between children and the adults who care for them, particularly because those relationships can support resilience or add to their experience of risk.

As concerned as we are about what is happening, or has happened, in homes of dysfunction and untoward circumstances, we have to be more concerned about the added risk that is present when those in a position of leadership and trust cause more harm than good in the lives of children as a result of their lack of attention on their own self-care.

Most of us are aware of the decade of focused work and awareness around multigenerational trauma since the 2009-10 IAC convening meetings.

Service providers identified “unhealthy relationships”, as a result of unaddressed multigenerational trauma, as the No 1 cause for referral to service-provider agencies.

I suggest that it is fairly safe to say that many of those referrals may have come from service providers, themselves, particularly, when statistics from Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey and school statistics identify 25 per cent of the population struggling with some form of unaddressed trauma.

I like this quote from Katie Reed: “Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”

And Jack Kornfield wrote: “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

I do not believe we will ever achieve compassionate and nurturing care for children, nor remove the punitive way in which children experience consequences, if we do not tend to our own needs for healing, remove the punitive way in which we respond to each other and find the best of ourselves for relationship purposes.

The “Compassionate Care” strategy talks about advocacy that brings forward a marketing and awareness campaign to increase public knowledge of, and public will for, positive, nurturing and restorative approaches between children and youth, and the adults and institutions that care for them.

According to their statement, “advocacy efforts will also include the development and promotion of organisational policies and standards of practice aligned with Compassionate Care”.

Make no mistake about it, we must be relentless in advocating for the principles of the right care and safeguarding of children. Children, typically, are not able to secure that for themselves.

I propose to you that the right-thinking person who has given themselves the necessary attention to self-care and healing will be in a much better place to receive our advocacy and to be receptive to it than those who have not looked after their basic need for care and attention.

Self-care brings about self-confidence and a greater sense of self-worth. It receives recommendations more freely and it brings about good listening. I am not suggesting that those who don’t positively receive our advocacy for care of children have difficult backgrounds or a need that has been unaddressed, but that it is easier to advocate for the proper care of children when the two within the discussion are mentally and emotionally stable, and invested in their own self-care.

As professionals, we know what it looks like when you have not given yourself the attention that is needed: we are more grumpy, impatient and defensive.

These are some of the softer signs!

We remind families that circumstances do not define them. And untoward circumstances do not define us, either. Our search for who we are and what we have to contribute, despite circumstances, begins to define us. And, if we are asking this of our clients, we must recognise within ourselves when it is missing.

The relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship that you have. So do something for yourselves today that your future self will thank you for.

If you are signing on to this “Compassionate Care” model to guide your interactions and services with children and families, for the sake of a compassionate and nurturing environment for children, then please walk into that space better prepared by taking stock of where you are mentally, how you interact with others and what you may need to do to “give the world the best of you, rather than what is left of you”.

• Martha Dismont is the former chairwoman of the Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families