Yesterday, I found out one of my students was sent home from camp. This particular camp advertised it is barrier-free, accessible to all, and supportive of children with physical & intellectual challenges. Yet, within 2.5 hours of being at camp- my student, the sweetest little monkey- was told she had to go home.
Whatever happened that made the staff feel that this little kiddo was not the right fit is unfortunate. She is amazing, but she needs to feel wanted, valued, and connected. She also needs to clearly understand the expectations of that particular community- guess what? THAT TAKES TIME!
For a barrier free camp, a large barrier was created by the lack of understanding in a few areas. I do believe this situation was underpinned in a lack of understanding
Reducing barriers and increasing accessibility requires a few changes to our practice.
- it requires us to be ok with not knowing & asking for help
- it requires us to question our belief & value systems
- it requires us to get out of our comfort zone
- we need to be active learners if we want to better understand how to support and be a part of a community that is made of difference
- lastly, we need to be okay with things that happen outside of our perceived norm. Use these opportunities to reflect & learn rather than ‘fix’ & complain
I am hoping good comes out of this unfortunate situation- maybe it will open the staffs’ eyes to other ways to support our most vulnerable kiddos.
Keeping going to read an excerpt from an email I sent on behalf of the family:
An excerpt from an email I sent on behalf of the family:
'I am writing this email with deep sadness about a situation that occurred at Camp XYZ within the past week. I understand that there are many perspectives from which to view this particular situation, but I am writing on behalf of the child, as it is she who lost out on an amazing opportunity.
This particular child is a student of mine and has been over the last two school years. I know her well. She was sent home from camp under the assumption that she is a danger to other campers. That assumption cannot be further from the truth! In her two years at ABCD School, she has never been sent home due to dangerous behaviours towards herself or others. I can assure you she has demonstrated ‘inappropriate’ behaviours or challenging behaviours, our approach to managing them was very different than sending her home. (Most ‘inappropriate’ behaviours are serving a function or sending a message. Instead of labeling children as dangerous to others, we support the child through the challenging moment. Sometimes it takes time and relationship development to get to the point that redirection is quick). She is caring, loving, social, seeks friendships, and just all around amazing. More concerning than being sent home, is the very fact that the decision came on day one- in the time it took her respite worker to travel from Camp XYZ back to LMNO. As an outsider to the situation, it appears very little consideration was given to getting to know, connect, and understand the child. For over 80 years, Camp XYZ has provided ‘top-quality residential camping for children with Disabilities’, what happened this time? Certainly, she is not the first child to walk through the gates nervous, anxious, confused about her new surroundings, and uncertain about her expectations. When this child was left by the respite worker, her expectation was to sit on a bunk with the door closed so her leaders could go through bags and get medication. However, it was clear she wanted to go to the playground, explore, and be outside in her new environment. For some children they may understand that they need to wait, but for many of our most vulnerable children this waiting period creates a barrier that leads to ‘inappropriate’ behaviours.
I am sure we can all agree that inclusion is an approach that values and respect all individuals within a community by creating opportunities for the child to be present, participative, and successful. This child was given a label of dangerous to others and asked to leave the community without the opportunity to ever be a part of the community. Despite being asked to leave on day one, she was not picked up until almost 48 hours later due to struggles with transportation. However, the label given to this child by the staff members became the very barrier that created an unsuccessful opportunity. Once staff assumed she was dangerous building a positive relationship was not an easy feat instead a negative connection was formed which led to the continuation of ‘inappropriate’ behaviours. The opportunity to be present within the community was taken from her as she spent most of her time with the Director or Assistant Director indoors away from the group during this waiting period (from the initial call to be picked up and the actual pick up). I believe in this situation an initial assumption or opinion by staff became a barrier for this child and her success at Camp XYZ. Blinders came on that said she pushes, she spits, and she hits. Opportunities built for accessibility and inclusivity should never have staff put on blinders, they may be challenged and unsure of a path forward, but they ought not to view the child as a problem to remove. Counsellors and leaders should be trained to meet diverse needs, understand supports & diversity, and understand the power of building relationships & expectations. This child had not one adult to connect with that saw her for who she is as an amazing person. She had people with her that were waiting for someone to pick her up because she was labeled aggressive and dangerous to others. Children are unpredictable, especially our most vulnerable children. Why was there no support put in place to counter the unknowns of new campers? Time should have been given to get to know this camper, to ensure she understood expectations, felt comfortable in the new community, and for this little girl to build a positive relationship with staff members & other campers. Programs that are designed to be inclusive, that build one’s independence and develop personal skills take time, dedication, and understanding.
I am very sorry that this situation happened, This child is amazing and could have benefitted from your program. She does require a lot of support. She is a little girl with who requires significant supports to navigate new situations, English is not her first language (I think it is her third!), and she comes from a relatively new to Canada family. This camp was an opportunity to support her development, her independence, and allow her a little fun. I hope it is a learning opportunity for staff to develop a broader understanding of inclusion and creating barrier-free communities. Inclusion is not something that just happens because we say we are inclusive. Inclusion is an approach to society that provides opportunities that value all individuals for who they are by reducing barriers as a means to increase accessibility.'