Within my role as a team leader I must ensure my own and staff members practice is fair and that practice is underpropped by policies and procedures that raise awareness about equality, diversity and inclusion, encouraging debate and devising strategies of practice that empower rather than disable. This practice needs to be passed on to the foster carers and the young people we come into contact with.
Equality can be explained as ‘fairness’ treating people fairly and ensuring individuals receive what they are entitled to and to an equal standard, consideration and respect. These standards are modified on the basis of need and not on the basis of practitioner preference.
Applying the principle of equality requires practitioners to take an active stance to ensure systems, processes and practices do not unduly disadvantage those who receive the service, within my role this is staff, carers and the young people.
A popular model of promoting equality is through the equal opportunities approach. To understand equality, it is necessary to understand that all individuals should have the same opportunities to achieve good outcomes. This approach is based around the starting point for all individuals being the same. To do this, barriers must where possible, be removed, or that positive interventions are implemented to nullify disadvantage caused by those barriers, so opportunities can be realised. The approach requires that individuals are not treated differently on the basis of irrelevant criteria such as age, race, disability, gender or sexuality.
Within my role for example, to not provide a young person with one carer with the same opportunities as another. Another example would be, to provide training to some carers but not others.
The equal opportunity approach requires practitioners to reflect on potential and actual barriers to opportunities and propose and implement active intervention to overcome these barriers. Much of this improvement has been brought about by anti-discriminatory legislation such as Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Equal Pay Act 1970, Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and Equality Act 2006. More recently the Equality Act 2010 became Law with the aim of strengthening and streamlining the law related to equality and to support wider work to promote equality. This act replaces the above and other discrimination law.
However the approach has been criticised (Thompson. 2011). Critics suggest that social structures and behaviours are so deeply discriminatory that, even when opportunities are equalised, some individuals will still be unable to overcome barriers and realise their potential and will continue to remain marginalised and disempowered. I see this in my job, different authorities taking different approaches to similar scenarios resulting in some young people not receiving the same life opportunities or advantages that others will.
An equal opportunities approach is rule based, overly intrusive, controlling and heavy handed, particularly because equal opportunities are so often supported by legislation which sets targets and penalties for failure to comply. Whilst this has had a positive impact on many discriminatory practices, there has been a change in approach to equality which is focusing much more positively on celebrating difference and diversity rather than seeing equality as a barrier to be overcome. Humans are all unique, which entails that all have a personal set of attributes, skills, needs and preferences which comprise our differences.
Diversity and equality can be seen as two sides of the same coin. Equality involves fairness and diversity involves valuing difference.
As Thompson points out, what connects equality and difference is not the level of equality or the fact that something is different, it is because of the discriminatory response that the inequality or difference provokes in others. Difference only matters if you are treated less favourably because of it.
Walker identified that the difference and diversity model is based on four key principles:
* People function best when they feel valued
* People feel more valued when they believe their individual and group differences have been taken into account
* The ability to learn from those who are different is the key to becoming empowered
* When people are valued and empowered they can work independently and together to build relationships and build capacity.
Within my role and the agencies I feel are policies need to reflect this and that we have an approach that is based on the view of equality as both ensuring differences are celebrated but also it is based on rules and barriers to be overcome. Our practice is governed by legislation and Ofsted standards. This could be viewed as a balanced approach as is should ensure difference is celebrated and steps are taken to tackle inequalities and barriers that construct difference as a problem.