Friday, April 4, 2014

There's more to life than this...

I did some exciting work to day. 

There have been some changes around funding for young people moving from school into adult life. Decisions about funding will be influenced by the young person having a plan for their future.With this in mind and with the young people from the leaving classes of 2 or 3 of the local schools and a group of Local Area Co-ordinators from the Northern Suburbs of Perth we embarked on a planning process called 'Moving On'. 

The idea was to build up a picture of the participants; learn something about how they saw themselves; pay attention to their gifts and dreams and gather some clues about the kinds of things we needed to work on to prepare them for leaving school. We would then take time to work on some of the practical details of what it would take for the young person to experience the good things of life.

We did this in 2 sessions with a fortnight in between the sessions to give the young people time to think between sessions. On the 2nd day we invited their parents to join us  and think about how they could help to support their son or daughter's aspirations for the future.

The first session was just a joy to be part of. The young people were making bold and audacious statements about how they saw themselves, free of the limitations that the label of 'disability' imposed on their lives. They thought about their identity, their gifts, their dreams for a good life. They were spectacular; throwing themselves into the tasks with gusto and imagining fabulously ordinary, teenage things for their lives...

Homes. Jobs. Relationships. 

It was great to be part of it. 

I also did some deeply upsetting work today.

Their families came along on for the next session which was today.

I had very intentionally made a place for families. I believe in the natural authority of families...I believe that no-one gets through life on their own and that it makes more sense to work within the system that is the family than to treat families as some kind of irrelevance to a person's situation. I believe that, by and large, no-one loves more than a family...that families are in for the long haul...that families 'know stuff' about people that it would take a well-meaning human services professional years to learn...I. Believe. In. Families.


I know that living in a family can be difficult. I know that it is often difficult for family members to give up having their say in people's lives and letting them live the life they choose. I know that being different from everyone else in your family can be tricky ( and I'm also sure that it is tricky to live with other people's differences). I know that it can be hard to escape from your family's experiences and perceptions of you - a clean slate is not often a gift shared by family members.

I believe that there is nowhere quite like a family for being loved...and being misunderstood.

When families came along to the session today I saw all of the above being played out. The young people got shy and reluctant to share what they were thinking. Families got into command and control mode and insisted on appropriate behaviour. They declared that there were no second chances for children who could not behave appropriately (really?). They argued for special and segregated and the merits of being with their own kind. They embarrassed, emasculated and infantilised young men who were in 'showing off to the ladies' form. They burst the bubbles of young women who dreamed of modelling careers or a lifetime at the beck and call of a boy band. 

They seemed to have lost sight of their own teenage hopes and dreams and had forgotten that there was more to life than clean bedrooms, appropriate behaviour and staying at home with Mum and Dad.

I don't believe that they did it out of malice. I don't think that they take their young people seriously enough as people to think that there was a problem.

I think that many of their reactions spring from that complex place of love and fear...

Huge love for this young man or woman...heartbreakingly intense, terrifying in its vulnerability...profound in its joy... 

And at the same time...

Visceral, sweaty, heart pounding, screaming, animal fear...too frightening to face...fed daily by stories and experiences that confirm the dangerous nature of the world we live in and the communities we inhabit. Petrifying fear for the future; turning opportunities to stone and eventually constricting hearts so that they can only beat but cannot feel.

Maybe I'm being melodramatic here, but it felt today as if there was a great battle going on. It felt if the young people were destined to live where it was always Winter but never Christmas, unless someone understood that there was some deeper magic that could be worked and believed that it might be possible to unwrap the gifts that these young people are and make a celebration of them in our lives and communities.

My strong belief is that the deeper magic is Inclusion...'the means by which we set the stage for people to be successful together' (Kendrick)...'People being at ease in the presence of difference' (Ritchie)

I'm not sure about how to go forward with families except maybe slowly and kindly...I don't know what to think about it...

I just can't shake the feeling that we've got to do better...I've got to do better.

We've got to do better...we have wasted too much money...too much time...and we are wasting too many lives...