During the development and implementation of Maternal Early Childhood Sustained Home-visiting (MECSH), what were the factors that helped support the inclusion of positive childhood experiences? What were the challenges that you overcame?
In my work as a child health community practitioner, I always knew that it was the positives that made the difference, not focusing on people’s negatives and deficits. So when we developed MECSH, we immediately made the decision that the program would focus on creating positives for families, helping families and children reach their potential. Although we had to target families by assessing risk, that was not how we met them. We met them by asking, “What do you want for your children?”, “What strengths do you have?”, “How can we help you get the most out of your life, your family, your community, your resources, to get the best outcomes for your children?” And what was interesting is that we then have parents telling us things like, “You are the first person who has ever asked me what I wanted, what I wanted to achieve. Most programs come to me saying, ‘What are you doing wrong?’, ‘How do you fix what is going wrong?’ No one ever asked me what I wanted, and that has made all the difference.”
I always knew that it was the positives that made the difference, not focusing on people’s negatives and deficits. So when we developed MECSH, we immediately made the decision that the program would focus on creating positives for families, helping families and children reach their potential.
The biggest challenge, to say it in a phrase is, it is very hard to be saluteogenic (engaging in health promotion and prevention) in a pathogenic (healing existing physical health issues) world when the rest of the world is seeing families for their deficits and you want to see their positives. It is hard to explain what you are doing, and not get dragged back into that negativity. The systems do not support you to stay positive, and that is where HOPE has been so helpful.
The other challenge is, if you actually take a focus on deficits, then there are problems that you can fix, and hence it is very easy to show that you have made a change. But when you are working with people’s strengths, sometimes you do not see the change until further down the track. We have had to deal with organizations saying we are not doing real work, sitting around talking about hopes and dreams. And that has been a real challenge to understand the work that is involved in helping families who have spent their lives being downtrodden and judged by their negatives. Turning them around to seeing their life positively, seeing their children’s future positively, that is work. But it is not work that is valued in a system that just measures what gets fixed.