Gubbara is an important project in the Latika Roy Foundation. No doubt. It’s not more or less important than any of our other projects but it IS more prominent. Placed as it is in a government hospital, it gets a lot of attention – from officials, from funders, from the media. So it’s vital that whatever we do there, we do well.
But it’s important for another reason too.
We see children here only once. By its nature as an assessment centre, it’s a one-off. In all our other centres, we have a second, third and fourth chance. If we’ve missed something, if there’s a hearing impairment we didn’t catch or a syndrome we didn’t appreciate, we can still intervene. We can realize our mistake and “do the needful”.
Not at Gubbara. Most of the children we assess here won’t be coming back. They live too far away to enroll in our other centres and they are returning to villages and towns where there are no services at all. So we’re it. The Beginning and the End. The Last Word. We have to get it right.
When the stakes are this high, something interesting happens to the team. You stop thinking about ego and being right and you start thinking about really being right.
What’s going on with this child? How can we help his parents help him to move on to the next stage of his development?
It’s that simple.
How can we help his parents?
It’s not about us. It’s not about our forms or our reports or our database or the things we will report to our donors. It’s about each child. It’s about each family. It’s about figuring out what is going well and then building on that. It’s about strengths. It’s about capacity. It’s about recognizing every parent’s deepest desire to do right by her child.
So for the past two weeks, we embarked upon an experiment. We called it The Big Experiment. Because it really was. Four members of the Gubbara Team joined either the followup team or one of our centres where Gubbara kids end up. Four of our centre staff moved in to Gubbara. We wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the assessments and a seasoned view to the followup.
Basically, we flipped everything. Those who assessed were sent out to meet families in the field: What had they learned? How much had been retained? Those who dealt with children in our followup and centre-based programs were sent in to see what it was like to meet those same parents at their most vulnerable stage, to meet those same children as unknown quantities.
What an experience! We put on new glasses. We asked questions of ourselves we had never asked before. We ruthlessly went through our own forms and procedures and asked ourselves again and again: How does this help? Is this valuable? Do we need this?
Because really. If it’s not useful to parents, why are we doing it? We reminded ourselves of that question over and over and it was important that we did. Because it was hard to keep it in mind. As professionals, we are always worrying: What if we miss something? Will there be time to get all the tests done? If I don’t include everything in the report, what will the next professional they go to think about me? And every time we found ourselves thinking like that again, we reminded ourselves why we were here: We’re here for the families. Let other professionals think what they want. We are here for the families.
Yet try as we might, in the first day of discussions, when the two teams met at last to compare notes, share stories and analyze the whole experience, the talk kept drifting to logistics and nuts and bolts: if we tighten the schedule here, we can save time for the tests; if we streamline this bit of the process, we can observe the kids for longer and then we can add all those observations to the report.
Lucky for us, in an amazing coincidence (though nothing happens by chance, does it?) two doctors from the UK joined us for Day 2. Dr Ajay Sharma is a developmental pediatrician with over 30 years experience with kids just like ours; his wife, Dr Louise, is a GP with a busy practice of her own.
And what they told us, using hard science, research, references, examples, stories and all the wisdom and compassion gained from a lifetime in the field, was this: Trust the parents. They know their children. They are our best source of information. They are our best hope for children getting what they need. “Your goal,” Dr Ajay said, “is to make the parents into therapists and special educators.”
What they told us was that how we speak is as important as what we say; that it’s not so much strategies and techniques parents need but confidence and belief in their own capacity to help their children. Lacking that belief, all the information in the world won’t help. But once they tap into their own strength, their own power – oh, then just stand back. When they need information, they’ll come to you.
The most beautiful part of the whole day was the way that Ajay demonstrated his own philosophy – so subtly, without our even noticing he was doing it, he made us aware of how much we already know, how far along we have come and how much we have to give.
In the photo below, Rashi had just asked how the day’s experience had been for him. “It’s been an amazingly fruitful day for me,” he said. “I’m going back to the UK full of all the new ideas I’ve learned from all of you.” The Strengths-Based Approach in action!