Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion | Key Initiatives, Takeaways, & Reflections

ACLP Bulletin | Fall 2020 | VOL. 38 NO.4

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The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) task force has nearly completed their primary charge of drafting an updated position statement on the Association of Child Life Professional’s (ACLP) value of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. For the past year, the DEI task force, co-chaired by Rechelle Porter, CCLS, and Divna Wheelwright, CCLS, met monthly to discuss the intended audience, framework, and goals of the position statement. The ACLP DEI Timeline was also established during this process. The group’s efforts revealed a need for the association to commit to: diversification of its membership to better reflect the patients and families under their care; education of its members on existing health disparities and the impact of racial trauma on child development and medical distrust; and the necessary work of self-reflection to understand how one’s biases impact the ability to provide equitable care.

To create systemic change, action is required by all players of our association: Academics, Clinicians, Leaders, and Person. Each must flex their self-reflection muscles, take accountability for how their words, actions, and decisions either uphold or dismantle systemic racism and discrimination, support one another through challenging, sometimes difficult conversations, and commit to processing the discomfort together to gain clarity in viable solutions.

Aligned with our commitment to “do the work,” ACLP staff participated in America & Moore’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge after coming across the American Bar Association’s pledge to participate. The ACLP Board was invited to join the staff in the challenge to gain a deeper understanding of where and how race, power, privilege, supremacy, and oppression intersect. For 21 days, participants completed the plan’s daily suggested action that included a variety of readings, videos, or podcasts. The goal of these daily assignments was to increase awareness and engagement in the pursuit for racial equity. The assignments highlighted elements of Black history, identity and culture, and the Black community’s experience of racism in America.

Each piece in the assignment highlighted how various moments in history informed decisions that kept some oppressed while allowing others to thrive. Regardless of whether the preceding decisions were made with the calculated intention to oppress Black people or other people of color, the result was just that – Whites thrived because policies, laws, and norms kept Black people and people of color at a disadvantage. Over time, the structures that created systems of leadership, power, and privilege become further solidified as did the disparities between White people and Black people. Rather than debating whether an individual was racist, let us accept the results for what they are. This goes for the homogeneity of our membership as well. We must acknowledge the fact that regardless of whether it is an intended consequence or not, the child life industry has become a privileged profession.

This almost exclusively White profession is providing services to a changing nation – a nation that is becoming majority people of color. Child life specialists provide emotional safety by assessing previous, current, and future risks for trauma; how can specialists acknowledge racial trauma in their practice without first understanding the systemic issues children and families face? Child life is an industry that holds fast to legacy, precedence, and standardization — but at what risk? 

While policy and precedence exist to protect those we serve, we must also be willing to seek “outside the box” alternatives to how we think, practice, engage, and connect. We are in a position to welcome all who come with novel ideas or experiences from which we can reflect upon our own reactions and biases (e.g. what about ‘this’ makes me uncomfortable and why) and challenge ourselves to more fully understand why we do what we do. Embrace heterogeneity in thought leadership, staffing, student, and intern recruitment and navigate change management with grace, reflection, and purpose. Take us out of auto pilot and into the driver’s seat of a new vehicle. Change the narrative from disruptive or different to innovative and progressive. 

We do not believe any of our members or leaders set out to exclude people of color. As with most communities, there is a common interest, value, or source of connection. That community forms its own cultural norms, language, and rules that only further reinforce who is welcomed and accepted. The process of becoming a community inherently provides opportunity for exclusion of those who are “different.” We oftentimes gravitate towards the familiar as familiarity breeds trust and security. There is value in assessing familiarities when it comes to competencies but are we relying on a sense of familiarity when it comes to how others sound, talk, gesture, look, and present? What are we valuing when we recruit or select individuals because “they just get it” or will “fit in?”

ACLP is not interested in forming or becoming a committee on correct thought. We are, however, committed to advancing the industry of child life through research, professional development opportunities designed to supplement yet challenge our members’ approach to patient- and family centered care, and connecting members for support, exchange of resources, and expansion of their peer network. What we continue to witness, in our role as your industry’s association, is our members’ hunger for accountability to their patients, families, and peers. With AAP’s policy statement on “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health,” and media coverage highlighting the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery (to name but a few), our members are demanding more o themselves, their peers, and the association. With reflective practice at the center of professional development, it’s no surprise that many are eager to learn and discuss the various ways in which their own histories, experiences, and identities influence their approach to patient and family care.

We will not ignore the reality of systemic racism and will continue to refine the association’s programs as we evaluate sustainable solutions to improving access to the industry and supporting the community’s professional development. We expect our members to heed the cries of their peers, patients, and families demanding equitable care, greater accountability, and informed practice. We are listening as our community asks itself and one another, “How will I dismantle social injustices like racism and discrimination? What if I say or do something wrong? What can I do to help?” The answer is in the question… seek knowledge of your part, your role. The answer is not only in the “I” but in the “we.” Together, we will acknowledge, engage, educate, and connect for the professional development of ourselves, advancement of the child life industry, and improvement of patient care.