The Kids Network exists to help children live the lives that they deserve: feeling happy, cared for, valued and that the world is lucky to have them, exactly as they are. The key barrier to this, and the reason many children are currently not living the lives they deserve to, is the oppressive system within which we function.
At the core, this system is built on principles of greed and individualism. We might call it white supremacist capitalism. It is the root of many systems of oppression which function to deprive power and the rights of people. It shows up at all levels of society; we can recognise it as power companies reporting unprecedented profits and the government calling it ‘progress’ while households choose between heating and eating; Black people being nine times more likely to be stopped and searched; exams getting harder while waiting lists for children’s mental health services get longer.
This system was created and is perpetuated by the few who benefit from it. It does not serve our global community. There is an alternative: people united in the name of justice are more powerful. Every day at The Kids Network, we see the potential that comes from relationships that centre and prioritise the children in our community. Mentors’, children’s, communities’ trajectories are changed irrevocably for the better. Connection means shared power; the more connections, the greater that power.
It’s important to name what you’re up against. In our Anti-Oppression Commitment, published with this blog post, we have defined oppression and our ambition for our community, along with the individual sub-systems of oppression we have identified as working alongside each other to maintain the oppressive system. We have split these systems by the different identity characteristics in people that each discriminates against.
These systems proliferate at structural, community and individual levels. They are maintained in complex and insidious ways. To work in opposition to them, though, is relatively simple. To us, it can be summarised in one word: empathy.
The Black Curriculum’s golden rule is to treat people how they would like to be treated. In our mentor training, we explore being a student – listening to learn, not making it about you, being willing and ready to shift your mindset and unlearn biases – and an advocate – being trustworthy, without self-interest and unwavering in our readiness to pass the mic to those most affected by injustice to lead the way. We commit to embedding this approach across our organisation and programme, and sharing how we’re doing this in the hope that others can join in our community of advocacy.
97% of the children with experience of our programme have experienced trauma in the form of one or more adverse childhood experience. An adverse childhood experience is an event or experience that is ‘emotionally painful and distressing and, most importantly, overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, leaving them feeling powerless.’ Experiencing discrimination due to oppression is an adverse childhood experience. The principles of trauma-informed best practice that underpin our programme are a productive framework to enable advocacy of our children:
- Choice and control: doing things with not for, collaboration, co-planning
- Coping: identifying wins, asking about immediate needs, providing information, support and reassurance. Creating space to talk about any difficulties.
- Facilitating Connections: connecting children to their own social support networks. Making space to talk about what they might need from these networks – healthy relationships.
- Identity and context: recognising, learning about and celebrating who they are as an individual.
- Building strengths: acknowledging and building on their deep reserves of strength.
- Emotional safety: ensuring they feel safe, secure and able to be themselves and express their needs. Being understanding, non-judgemental, patient, caring, and being able to bear witness to another person’s distress.
Trauma-informed best practice works to recognise, celebrate and build on resilience: resilience is not endurance but the capacity we have to identify and meet our needs and strengths even while experiencing challenges. Our mentoring programme is developed from and reviewed against these principles and expertise in trauma-informed care: our mentors know our pillars of mentoring well and do incredible work in championing their mentees.
71% of the children in our community are of the global majority. In 2021, we compiled an anti-racism learning document which detailed key areas for us to take action in anti-racism. When exploring this with our advisory panel, a group of Hackney-based children in Year 6 with experience of our programme, they told us that ‘anti-racism is safeguarding.’ This and our annual safeguarding risk-mapping exercise made it clear that anti-racism must be embedded in every area of our work; to commit to maintaining the safety, welfare and happiness of everyone in our community necessitates being actively anti-racist. One of the first actions we took to facilitate this was to compile and publish Our Shared Language: a live document that details the language we at TKN use to talk about oppression and peoples’ experiences. This will expand as we vet our organisation and programme for ways we uphold and maintain other oppressive systems. Learn more in our Anti-Oppression Commitment.
42% of the children in our community have a diagnosis of a disability, neurodiversity or mental ill health. The system of oppression we will be vetting our organisation for in 2023 then, is disablism: discrimination against people with disabilities, neurodiversity or mental ill health. The first and continual priority is to hear from our community: children, mentors, caregivers, partner organisations. We will communicate opportunities to feed into this work; if you have initial thoughts and feedback, get in touch.
We fully expect to get things wrong as part of this work. Our intention is to bring our values and trauma-informed principles to every step to minimise harm, fail fast and learn quickly. Our Anti-Oppression Commitment, as well as Our Shared Language, are live documents that will be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect our learning.
- Want to be a part of our community, developing your anti-oppression literacy and learning from a little Londoner? Become a mentor with us.
- Want to learn more about our anti-oppression work and take some action away for yourself? Attend our event on making mentoring actively anti-oppression on the 15th June.
- Want to share a thought, resource or something we can do better? Complete this form or reach out to Tigan at firstname.lastname@example.org
We have trained with, learnt from and wish to thank and recommend:
- Fearless Futures – are a beacon of best practice in the anti-oppression educator space; engage with their work to gain high-quality insight and learning opportunities.
- The Black Curriculum – are campaigning to change curricula in the UK to include all of British history.
- The Runnymede Trust generate research to challenge racial inequality in Britain.
- Action for Race Equality champions fairness, challenges discrimination and pioneers innovative solutions to empower young people through education, employment and enterprise.
- Marie Beecham – speaker, advocate for social justice and unity and educator about racial equity.
More resources and further reading are mentioned in our Anti-Oppression Commitment.