When Peter was in Year 2 I began to really question who benefits when a parent is ‘blamed’. I tried to think of all sorts of scenarios and to really challenge myself to think of an example of a situation where someone benefits. Sometimes I would even imagine asking a group of final year student teachers to go to their placements and explore every option, asking all the experienced staff, to try to describe a scenario where someone, anyone, benefits and then to present their findings to their each other. Sometimes my mind drifts like that!
One afternoon I was at the school office with Peter when I noticed one of his classmates sitting in the chair that is reserved for children whose parents are delayed. Along came this little boy’s Dad, looking tired.
Their teacher was ‘experienced’. I was hoping she would soon retire, she was the sort that is a good example that experience does not, in any way, signal expertise.
“You need to collect him on time at 3pm” she said, clearly irritated that he was often late. I wanted to turn the clock back a few seconds, and to hear her say “Hello”, and smile gently, and say “I notice that you are struggling to get here at 3pm, is everything OK?” I wanted him to feel considered not blamed. I wanted him to feel that if there was an issue that might impact on this little boy that he might be able to tell her. I wanted the little boy not to feel worried that his teacher was cross with his Dad. I don’t think that this man was lying on the sofa, fixated with Judge Rinder and wanting to hear the final deliberations before he sauntered down the road to collect his son. It was more likely that he was trying to do 2 jobs and look after his son with little or no support. Who knows? But what a missed opportunity to show a little kindness.
It would have cost nothing. I doubt very much he would have disclosed much. I expect he might have felt a little lighter and perhaps tried a bit harder to get there on time.
I have been blamed, relentlessly, in every conceivable way for years. Blamed for being too interested, for not being interested. One ‘professional’ made accusations about me pressuring Peter to over achieve at the same time as criticising me for not ‘making him’ do his homework. I was blamed for communicating, for not communicating, for communicating too much. I was blamed for being over anxious, at the same time as inferring that I was highly manipulative, for knowing too much and for not knowing enough. Their accusations were random, inconsistent, never ending and, interestingly, recorded by each other, not themselves! They rarely if ever recorded their own concerns, just what each other was saying. Most of them – in fact all except for the Head Teacher – recorded extraordinary vague concerns that the Head Teacher alluded to.
I would be blamed for anything; anything that they could think of that might divert everyone at school and the Local Authority from listening, from working with the other professionals, from the painful truth that Peter, was indeed, really struggling with school because of his social communication difficulties. Anything at all that might mean that the Head Teacher was right and that the rest of the world (aside from the Head’s blind followers) were wrong.
The benefit of hindsight has taught us that the rest of the world was right.
So, is there a time when laying blame may be useful? I try to image the scenario where a parent really isn’t providing the basic care that a child needs. I imagine then that this parent is blamed, gossiped about and accused. Who benefits? It’s hard to imagine that the staff do. I imagine the child, is very conflicted: worried about their parents financial problems / health problems / alcohol abuse / domestic violence / drug abuse (delete as appropriate) – plus or minus mental health problems, feeling responsible, feeling let down and at the same time feeling protective of a parent that they love.
To then think that their parent is criticised and blamed by the teachers must feel awful and prevent them from opening up to their teachers about and worries they have. The parents in these situations need support, clearly, and I can’t think that blame achieves anything. I think it might even prevent the parent engaging with the professionals that could help. Something else to blame them for. As a foster carer (some time ago) I used to see the parents of the children I cared for, as grown up versions of the children that I grew very fond of. I couldn’t blame these parents as I was pretty sure that those children I wanted to protect now, might eventually become like them. Would I then have to blame them too? These children have now grown up, some have chaotic lifestyles but I still care for them deeply and would defend them strongly against anyone wishing to play ‘the blame game’ on them.
I think that there are many costs to ‘blame’.
- Blame, gossip and drama costs time. Time spent seeking opinions and evidence that you are right, time spent dealing with unhappy parents, time spent resolving behaviour of the children who feel unsupported…. time dealing with complaints, emails, phone calls and adversarial relationships.
- There are considerable costs to a healthy working culture when staff are engaged in the blame game. No one feels good, energised and as though together they are achieving ‘good’ things.
- Blame costs you the best staff. Staff not wanting to be involved in blame, but to focus on constructively approaching issues and concerns, to focus on true multi-agency working and on building good relationships with all the families, will feel isolated and demoralised. It may cost also them their mental health.
- There will be endless lost opportunities, the cost of which is not known or measured, but think back to the little boy in my first example and his Dad. Enough said.
- Blame will obstruct you in getting to the route of a problem, of early identification of families needing support, of gleaning information that might lead to children being kept safe from harm or the early recognition of SEND.
- Blame will cost you relationships with all the parents that want more than anything to collaborate, it obstructs communication and it prevents you from hearing, properly hearing, what is going on.
- Blame will cost you expertise, you can’t ever develop expertise until you learn to collaborate, and until you fine tune your communication, your assessment skills and your intuition. Blame will obstruct this at every turn as you constantly strive to invest in opportunities for confirmation bias and to stay firmly in the zone of unconscious incompetence.
So who loses out? We did for a while but I have learnt loads from my awful experiences and the few treasured good ones. Peter and Lily will move forward and be shaped by their experiences, not be defined by them. The cost to the tax payer is immense and will not be recouped. Those professionals hell bent on blame and obsessed with finding that bit of evidence to prove themselves right… I have no idea. To have benefited from this they will need to learn a whole new skill set I suspect, and they will never be the experts the purport to be.
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