ETHICAL ISSUES INVOLVING CHILDREN

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Dr. Vasavvi Acharjya
Founder M.D. Inner I Foundation Pvt. Ltd. and
Tender Petals Preschool Chain
Founder Chairperson, Early Child Development
Forum (ECDF) and DNAF

Working in the domain of early childhood education and being closely connected to children in their early years, has been an extremely enriching and invigorating experience, that cannot be described in words. Children are like little flowers that need tender love and care and the right hands to nurture them.

We all know that the early childhood years (between age 2-7) are the most impactful and impressionable years and have a substantial long-term influence on a child’s life. As educators, in the course of our work with children and their families, we encounter many ethical issues, which leave us with a lot of dilemmas and choices that we need to make, thus, keeping in mind the welfare of children, we nurture. Therefore, we need to understand, analyze and act upon very prudently, when faced with a challenging issue, in our workspace.

My two decades of experiences with children and their parents, tell me that it can be a difficult task to identify a demanding situation that concerns ethical practices, and therefore, the issue at hand may have to be very carefully analyzed. I feel that when it comes to any issue, we need to first ask ourselves “What does it concern- the right and the wrong, rights and responsibilities, the welfare of the child involved?” If we feel that the answer is yes to any of these questions, it actually involves an ethical issue.

Ethical responsibilities are clearly spelled out in the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Code of Ethical Conduct- which describes how early childhood educators are required to act and what they must do. One of the most important responsibilities spelled out in the NAEYC code is Principle 1.1: ABOVE ALL, WE SHALL NOT HARM CHILDREN. WE SHALL NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICES THAT ARE EMOTIONALLY DAMAGING, PHYSICALLY HARMFUL, DISRESPECTFUL, DEGRADING, EXPLOITATIVE, OR INTIMIDATING TO CHILDREN. THIS PRINCIPAL HAS PRECEDED OVER ALL OTHERS IN THIS CODE.

The Code has divided professional responsibilities of early childhood educators in four sections which relate to the professional relationships they engage in:
a) children
b) families
c) colleagues and
d) community and society.
These sections have a brief about the primary responsibilities and practices that are ideal, acceptable and barred. These act as a guideline for the professionals to follow in their field of work, as core values.

When faced with a challenging situation involving ethics, we actually kind of fall into ethical dilemmas. I would like to cite an example here. A mother pressurized a facilitator in a preschool, to beat her child (in the classroom) so that the child becomes disciplined and well-behaved. According to the mother, if one spares the rod, one spoils the brat. Now would the facilitator capitulate to the mother’s pressure and beat the child or would she adhere to the principle of Non-Corporal Punishment? In this case, the facilitator has to definitely choose the latter, as there are very strict guidelines as regards corporal punishment. There was another incident in one of our centres, where a parent would instruct the facilitator to make the child finish the entire lunch box, whereas the child could not and would often get panicked for not being able to do so. So, again the question arises as to whether the facilitator should force the child to finish her tiffin, keeping the instruction of the mother in mind, or should she empathize with the child’s inability to eat? Therefore, when educators fall into an ethical drama they need to resolve the issue in a way that finally justifies the action.

Another issue of concern in today’s time, where we live half of our lives in the cyber world, is the use of a child’s pictures in social media pages related to the school, without seeking permission from the parent/ guardian. Uploading pictures of a child may give access to miscreants on the prowl and other negative elements of the society, who may find easy access to target the family and child. On the surface, it may look very simple, but if we go deeper, we may find that this may lead to infringement of the child’s right to privacy and may also compromise the safety and security of the child. So, what would be the right step for the school administration, in such matters?

Some of the ways in which any issue or situation may be analyzed are as follows:

⦁ Whether it is an ethical issue?
⦁ If yes, is there an ethical responsibility involved?
⦁ What are conflicting responsibilities? (for example the mother’s instruction to finish off tiffin Vs. The inability of the child to do so)
⦁ What may be the possible resolution?
⦁ The need to reach a solution that would meet everyone’s needs.
⦁ Look for guidance in the NAEYC Code.
⦁ Thereby, one has to resort to the most plausible solution to the issue at hand.

Early Childhood Educators are connected to the most vulnerable group of society. Therefore, we have to act as safe custodians towards the children who are left in our care. It is pertinent for us to adhere to the ethical practices involving children, not only because we are educators but also because we have the most priceless resources of the country in our hands, that need to be preserved, and well cared for.

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