What Professor Cindy Blackstock can teach us about trusting children and ourselves
Written by Kelly Royds
First Nations children’s rights activist and 2022 International Childhood Trauma Conference speaker Cindy Blackstock recently said that adults need to trust children with the truth. “They can handle it,” Blackstock told Dalhousie University earlier this year, even when the truth is uncomfortable or horrifying.
You don’t need to look far to find the truths Blackstock is referring to. She has been described as a ‘relentless moral voice’, a ‘tireless advocate’ of the mistreatment of First Nations children in residential schools, foster care and persistent racial injustices in Canada.
Her advocacy helped win a landmark human rights challenge against the Government of Canada. It resulted in a wide range of services now being provided to First Nations children, youth and families.
When asked, who does Blackstock credit her fierce advocacy? “Children,” she tells an interviewer from The Spoke, “have taught me the most important lessons about advocacy”. They are “experts in love and fairness”, yet we often view them “in ways that reduce their dignity and development.”
This tendency to view children as less competent than they are and unable to engage with injustice is something I have also seen in my work and research. When exploring the impacts of the intercultural exchange of photo and video stories between children in Australia and Timor-Leste, Australian teachers talked about age and ability as barriers to social justice conversations. They also reflected on how social justice issues are ‘sugar coated’ or viewed as ‘risky’ in primary school settings.
This idea that adults take ‘risks’ in listening to children’s and young people’s voices and needs is pervasive across many sectors, including child protection and out-of-home care. It is also real. Too many organisations – including those serving children, “reward conformity and actively dissuade advocacy”, says Blackstock. Nonetheless, Blackstock insists it’s simple.
“The bottom line is that our most important job is to stand up for kids, especially when it is scary”.
And who should we look to for inspiration? The children and young people in our lives. When children see unfairness, says Blackstock, they don’t form a committee; they just speak and do something.
“Kids are much more focused on fairness. We need to not grow up. Your job is to remember how to stay young and babble.”
Standing up for children begins with trusting them and not minimising their knowledge, abilities, or contributions. It also begins with trusting ourselves to listen and respond to what they tell us.
See Professor Blackstock at the International Childhood Trauma Conference
The International Childhood Trauma Conference is an incredible week-long event for professionals who work with people affected by trauma associated with abuse, violence and relational disruption. This year Professor Cindy Blackstock will be speaking on the First Nations Panel on Monday the 1st of August, and on Tuesday the 2nd. Her talk is titled: Spirit Bear’s Guide to Reconciliation: Engaging children in social justice. Professor Cindy Blackstock is a member of the Gitksan First Nation and Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
You can still register for this in-person event here: https://childtraumaconf.org/register-now/