Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Value of the Experiences of Children, Youth and Families in Policy- and Decision-making

Education is the largest system of supports for children, youth and families.  It is the one system where all children and youth are mandated by law to engage. Given the mandate, there is enormous potential to have great impact on the overall well-being and outcomes for the greatest hope of our communities – children and youth.  As we continue to be data-driven to identify outcomes and measure growth, there is a challenge to the system and system players to continuously be concerned also with the lived experiences of children, youth, and families, which is not captured in data.  

In most systems,  when changes are proposed that challenge the status quo, or push professionals out of their comfort zones, the clients' experiences are often overshadowed by adults professional emotions.  Those emotions stem from how adults process change.  They view it as loss: loss of control, loss of comfort, loss of consistency.   Although it is understood as a natural reaction to change, emotions cannot be the primary focus of policy- and decision-makers. Instead, policy- and decision-makers must prioritize positive results for children, youth and families,  as well as reducing the harm that is experienced by those the system is intended to serve.   
The harm experienced by children, youth, and families varies across different communities and districts, but share principle themes of inequality, inequity, discriminatory policies and practices, and disparate outcomes.  Policy- and decision-makers must be bold to intentionally and openly consider the impact on our most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations when implementing and delaying policies and decisions.  They must interject, in the decision-making process, the lived experiences of those whom the system has the obligation to serve, even when it is uncomfortable and unwelcomed.  Although it may be uncomfortable to challenge a policy/practice shift that has the support of colleagues, it is necessary to do so if the policy/practice shift would produce negative outcomes for children, youth, or families.  This also true if the policy/practice shift would produce positive outcomes for children, youth, and families, but was contested by colleagues.  

Most policy/practice shifts are preceded by a lengthy, collaborative process. When it is known that a policy or practice exposes children, youth or families to harm, policy- and decision-makers must operate with a sense of urgency to address the policy or practice, and may elect to forgo a lengthy process. They may consider making an immediate technical shift, while simultaneously supporting the adaptive shift necessary by staff.  When there is no consensus, leaders must be willing to make and stand behind decisions that are aligned with the mission, vision and goals, with intentionality about reducing any harm experienced by those served by the system.  At any point, there is likely to be resistance and opposition to any change, even if the change is in the best interest of those the system serves.  Remember, resistance and opposition are often first driven by emotions about change.  

In closing, leading systems change is both challenging and rewarding. It requires both technical and adaptive skills. The best leaders and change agents will include the experiences of those served by the system as the story behind the data. In addition, they will prioritize addressing any policy or practice that exposes harm to those served by the system. A fair and equitable system has positive macro impact for children, youth, and families. Don't give up, transform education to meet the needs of children, youth and families.