Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No Touching! Really?

A more detailed post will be forthcoming on this topic down the track, but for now let's just focus on general practice rather than a specific case.

A friend of mine recently 'retired' from early childhood education because of encountering constant policies that prevented him from being an effective carer and educator to young children.

Services in which he had worked had 'No Touch' policies and some even prevented him from changing diapers or soiled clothes because he was a male.

Now we can argue till the cows come home about the inequality of practices that define different acceptable roles for female and male professionals. And I will argue that, but that is for another time as I said.

For now let's concentrate solely on the alarming 'No Touch' policies that are far more common than I dared think it would seem.

Over the years I have heard of individual accounts of centres having such policies, but anecdotal evidence points towards a far more widespread incidence then was first thought.

Now I have read several justifications for such a policy. Some of these include protecting the children from inappropriate touching by adults; ensuring staff are protected from allegations; presuming a child does not want to be touched unless they can tell you otherwise and then written permission from parents need to be obtained; our job is to teach, not to cuddle, canoodle or play.

To me, all of these justifications are blowing smoke up our collective anatomies. While on the surface some of the concerns can be understood, they all fail in one crucial area. They neglect the inherent need of all humans, not just babies and young children, for personal contact with a caring individual.

If I am not mistaken, all services that propose to care for young children have to include touch as part of their daily practice. As a man who works with young children I can't even comprehend the idea of protecting me against accusations. For me, it is far more inappropriate to refuse a child a reassuring hug, a playful wrestle  or a congratulatory high five or handshake. In fact I would regard myself as derelict in my duty if I didn't engage in touch with children every day.

And if nothing else, an environment that enables touching promotes caring, empathy and understanding whereas one that does not allow touching is teaching our children that personal contact is something to be feared and avoided.

What sort of world would it be if touching wasn't allowed? A pretty sad one I would say.

10 comments:

  1. Any centre that tried to tell me that I couldn't change nappies or that I shouldn't have warm physical contact with children - well, that's a centre that would find itself at the Equal Opportunities Tribunal. These things are at the very core of care and education; if I can't do them simply because I'm male then I can't do my job, period.

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    1. Exactly Alec. Unfortunately I think it's a very popular practice/policy in the USA. No matter what the area, when fear of what might happen drives whaat can happen it's a sad world.

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  2. When I began teaching many moons ago, I had a child in my very first group who arrived first each day. I opened the center so I would immediately sit and read with him. He would sit in my lap, suck his thumb, and run his hands through my hair as I read. I was ambivalent about it, so I told his mother. She just brushed it off and said that is what he does. Ever since that moment, I rarely refrain from hugging a child, especially if the child initiates the contact. In fact, after 35years, I think I hug more now than ever.

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    1. what a lovely story tom and i think it's the way most of us should be with young children. Unfortunately, there are many forces out there perpetuating the fear of abuse, whether it's real or perceived, that many think it's justified to avoid such demonstrations of affection.

      Sounds like a sad part of the world to me.

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  3. As a male teacher I refuse to work in centres that have special rules relating to men - and I tell them this. I think is the most effective stance men should take. Not retire, not accept it, but to put it back on those who succumb to age-old stereotypes and who really need to get their shit together.

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    1. I agree ako as I would be the same, but for my friend I think he became battle weary. Working in California appears to be a much different as it seems these policies are far more widespread there, if not entrenched in the system.

      I have no facts to back that statement other than anectdotal evidence, but it seems strange that so many services in that State would have similar policies restricting what should come natural in an early years environment.

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  4. I couldn't work for a center with a policy of that sort in place. Period. Male or female, it doesn't matter. Children NEED physical touch and contact, especially in our world today. I would feel like a center that has this sort of policy would clash with my core beliefs about caregiving. I'm sure that attitude would carry over into other areas and I just couldn't abide it.

    As a mother, I wouldn't want my child at a center with a "no touch" policy, either!

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    1. Plenty of people are saying the same thing Ayn, yet these policies exist all the same. I suspect the majority of the audience to this blog is like-minded, yet there would be an unacceptable percentage of parents and proofessionals who would view such practice as necessary. I feel for the children in those circumstances.

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  5. When I approached a well known child safety company during a Child Protection training session and asked for advice on protecting myself, this was the advice I received. They said point blank - don't allow any physical contact with the children, and that will keep you safe. Needless to say it wasn't helpful, or in fact possible; I would be 'protecting' myself at the expense of the social and emotional development of the children in my care.

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    1. That's quite worrying actually that child protection specialists would offer such advice. If not too much time has passed I would suggest you report them for their inappropriate advice.

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