A dguide to enrolling children with same sex parents in a childcare centre

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1 A dguide to enrolling children with same sex parents in a childcare centre Lesbian parented families have been increasing in number and visibility in recent years. As more children from lesbian parented families are attending childcare centres, services need to become inclusive of their experiences. This booklet helps services along that path. The information contained here is reproduced with kind permission of Darebin Lesbian mother s group. Community Child Care Co-operative Ltd. (NSW) Phone (02) Fax (02) Web

2 Introduction Children with lesbian and/or gay parents have always existed. In more recent times, lesbian parented families have been increasing in number and visibility. Consequently, our children are now attending early childhood services in greater numbers. We want our children to attend services which are inclusive of their experiences and which actively challenge homophobia. We know that early childhood workers are good at listening to parents and finding creative ways to support all sorts of family cultures. Also, we believe that all children attending services will benefit from building on current anti-bias approaches in addressing homophobia. We thought it would be useful to share our experiences and those of our children, with the aim of enriching and enhancing early childhood services. This booklet was written by members of the lesbian parents playgroups in the City of Darebin in Victoria, with the assistance of a number of early childhood workers.

3 Lesbian Parents & their families Amongst lesbian parented families there is great diversity. Some of us have had our children together, other families have come together after the break-up of a previous relationship. Some lesbians are adoptive or foster parents. Some lesbians are single parents, or co-parent with someone who is not their partner. Other families may have more than two parents. In some families, both mothers are biological parents, while in others, only one mother is a biological parent. Similarly, there are many diverse arrangements with donors. "Donors" is the term commonly used to describe men who assisted with the conception of our children. In some families the donors are anonymous. Or it may be the case that the donor is known as someone who is special in the child s life. In some families the donor is known as a father but not a parent. That is, they are the child s biological father, but they do not have parenting responsibilities or rights. Or, it may be that the donor is both a father and has a day-to-day parenting role. Some children call their donor Dad while others may call them by their first name (and refer to them as my donor ). Gay and heterosexual men are donors, fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, or friends to our children. Children who have lesbians and gay men in their families have the same rights as other children to see their families recognised and valued. Child: "Why has Rosie got two mums?" Adult: "Because they re her parents and that s her family." Alternatively: Adult: "Why not have two mums? Not all families have one mum and one dad." When centres promote an appreciation and depth of understanding of difference, they are providing children with valuable life long skills, which will see all children well placed in our diverse community. If you do not know the language that the family use, you can ask. Lesbian parented families are as diverse as all other families within our community. Some of us are sole parents, some with disabilities; we are from all socio-economic levels, are culturally diverse and include families from non-english speaking backgrounds.

4 Creating a positive environment for our children - Challenging homophobia Time spent at early childhood centres is significant for children. People can be singled out and treated differently for many reasons, including race, gender or sexual preference. Even unintentionally, adults may foster bias by implying that there is only one right way to live, behave, talk and think. Workers play a key role in affirming children s lives and promoting values of mutual respect and care. All children need early childhood workers to take the time to discover how best to meet their specific needs. Like all children, our children need to see their families reflected and represented positively. This will enable them to develop a strong and affirmed sense of themselves and their families. Stories, books, posters, games, role plays and doll play can all be useful in this process. We had one openly lesbian family in the four year olds room. The children had few questions; they just "got it." Early in the year the children were introduced to a persona doll family. In the doll family the child "Toby" had two mums, June and Alice. The first time the children met "Toby" and his mums, a lesbian parent was part of the group activity and her son was snuggled on her lap. As soon as they met this persona family, one child said, "Two mums, just like you!" as he pointed to his friend sitting in his mother s lap. The mother and child looked pleased. Centres are often one of the first points of contact children have with the world outside of their families and friends. This can be a confusing and difficult time for any child experiencing care for the first time. For our children the confusion may be greater, as they may not have experienced the saturation that occurs in the wider community of the heterosexual family model via children s toys, books, stories, role play games, media and general conversation. Raylene: My dad s name is Bill. What s your dad called? Pablo: I have two mums. Edgar: Yes, but who is your dad? You have to have a dad. Pablo: (Puzzled) No, but I ve got two mums. The children themselves may be grappling with the different make up of families, or it may not be an issue. Nevertheless, a guiding word or gesture will make a lot of difference. Alfio: Okay, I ll be the dad. Tessa: And I ll be the mum, so you be the baby Rosa. Rosa: No, I ll be the mum too and Alfio can be the baby. Alfio: I ve got to be the dad. Tessa: And that s too many mums. You only have one mum and one dad and a baby. Rosa: No way, you can so have two mums. I ve got two mums and two cats too! Worker: Okay, lets work it out so everyone can choose to be either a mum or a dad, and you can use the dolls as babies and maybe we can give the babies a bath. Alfio, Tessa, Rosa: Yeees!!

5 Communication between workers & other parents The more your centre is open to and supportive of lesbian parented families, the more likely it is that our families will be comfortable with your centre. From our collective experience, the majority of heterosexual parents are supportive of our decision to have children. All parents are quick to realise that the joys and challenges of parenting are common to us all, regardless of our sexual orientation. Homophobia however (both overt and discreet) is a reality in our community and it is therefore important that early childhood workers give some thought to how they will respond to situations where other people may display intolerance and prejudice. Such behaviour may result in our children s experience of family being made invisible, or even lead to verbal or physical aggression towards ourselves and our children. Parent: I m confused! Sam came home from kinder yesterday and said that Joseph has got two mothers. I told him that we d find out from you who his real mother is. Worker: Sam was right. Joseph has got two mothers. Consider too your own attitude towards sexuality and family diversity. A child from a lesbian parented family will trust you if they know that you acknowledge and accept their family. Remember that children absorb just as much about our bias from our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice as they do from what we actually say, or don t say. Children learn from our silences as well. Child: What s a donor? Adult: A donor is someone who helps parents to make a baby. Child: Like a doctor? Adult: No, donors help the baby to start growing. Doctors, midwives and nurses help the baby to keep growing. Child: Do I have a donor? Adult: Let s ask your parents when they come in later. It s important to remember that some children with heterosexual parents also have donors. It is affirming for children when adults are open and inclusive. Confidentiality Workers in organisations need to respect each family s choices on disclosure or non-disclosure of their information. Sometimes it is confusing to know how the information about a child s lesbian parents should be shared. Check this out with the parents. We ve chosen to be very open about our family situation and told the kindergarten co-ordinator at our first meeting that we are lesbian parents. We were surprised and shocked a few months into Micky s kinder year to realise that one of her regular carers was unaware of the fact that Micky has two mums. We just assumed that the co-ordinator would take our lead and share with other workers involved in Micky s day-to-day care information which we consider to be fundamental and extremely relevant.

6 What services can do Policies Policies need to acknowledge the diversity of family structures that may exist and be clear that all families are welcome. Example: This Centre acknowledges and supports the wide range of family structures that exist in our society today, such as: Nuclear families Sole parent families Extended families Same-sex parented families Blended families Adoptive and foster families To this end, staff will assist in the development of each child s self-worth through: Recognition and valuing of each child s individual family situation Discussion of different family types Providing printed and pictorial resources that show the range of family structures. Child: (Watching as an adult reads a story which has pictures of a woman and a boy.) Who is that? (Pointing to the woman) Adult: I don t know. The story doesn t say. It might be his mum, or aunt, or a friend. Child: Where is his dad? Professional Development It is important that workers are given the opportunity to develop their awareness and understanding of sexuality and family diversity and gain the skills which will enable them to create environments that reflect and celebrate difference. Forms and Resources Early childhood environments can ensure all enrolment documents are inclusive using words like partner, co-parent, guardian and extended family members on enrolment and written communications. This will assist families to feel included and accepted. When a lesbian couple came to fill out our application form last year, they just crossed out Dad and put Partner. There are lots of ways we could be more sensitive, for example, have Parent A and Parent B. It is important to have resources which reflect family diversity. Persona dolls, posters and books can aid in the development of inclusive practices. Unfortunately, there are still very few resources available that specify same sex parents. Workers will need to be creative! Before Father s Day the centre called and asked us how we would like to approach the issue. We told them that our daughter might like to do something for her grandfather, but perhaps they could explain that it was a day for someone special in her life. So they called it A Day For Someone Special. The children made a plate with their families on it. Jenny put us, and her grandparents on her plate. We felt accepted and that we could trust the centre. Adult: The story doesn t say. We can decide for ourselves what his family looks like. Some families don t have dads.

7 My Experience as a ChildCare Worker Representing gay and lesbian families in our curriculum has been one of the most challenging and interesting issues our centre has approached. It is a subject that seems to evoke a strong emotional response in many people. Our centre had strong anti-bias policies and always tried to reflect differences in culture and abilities, but when it came to reflecting lesbian and gay parented families, there was some uncertainty. Some of the strategies we put in place were to set up a sub-committee made up of parents and staff who were interested in the subject. We began by looking at guidelines for ensuring our practices reflected anti-bias policies. Inclusion of gay and lesbian anti-bias policy became part of the enrolment information handed to new parents. Then staff training was provided to look at personal bias and to help develop strategies for staff when they were confronted with some of these issues. At the end of this process there came a point where the centre had to take a stand. This was an area we believed was important and deserved to be reflected in our service. Some of the measures we took were to set up a display, called "A Family is a Family", with pictures of many different family types, including gay and lesbian parented families. We then invited children to bring pictures of their family to the centre. Group times included discussions of various kinds of families. One of my favourite memories was observing a worker sitting with a group of four year olds talking about families. The worker said "Some children have two mums" to which a child replied, "Well I've got three mums" and another, "Well I've got four mums!" These things were small, but I know they made an enormous difference to the children and parents. Some families crossed town to be part of our service. There was a time when people wondered why it was necessary to reflect different cultures in services, now this is accepted as Fictions about lesbian parented families People have their own opinions about lesbians choosing to raise children. Opinions are sometimes based on negative assumptions. Many people share these assumptions even though they are baseless. They can affect the way people relate to our families and children. Some examples are: Children of lesbians don t have fathers. Some do, some don t. Some children in lesbian parented families have a father-child relationship with the man who assisted with their conception. At the other end of the range are those children who have no contact with the donor. There are a whole variety of relationships in lesbian parented families. If you re not sure, ask. Lesbians hate men so what affect does this have on their children? Being in a relationship with a woman does not mean a lesbian hates men. Lesbians have loving relationships with their sons, brothers, uncles, fathers and male friends. Lesbian relationships mimic heterosexual relationships with one woman as the daddy. Lesbian parents don t have the same pressures to conform to gendered stereotyped roles, so there is the potential for a range of parent models. The children of lesbians will become lesbian or gay. Most lesbian and gay adults have grown up with heterosexual parents. Some children of lesbians will not be heterosexual, however, most will. standard policy and its value to children is obvious.

8 Strategies Ensure all children are confident in their self-identity by acknowledging and celebrating differences in families. Develop critical thinking skills in children and the ability to stand up for themselves and others in the face of injustice. Always consider what messages you are presenting to children about such things as race, ability and family structure - are they inclusive? Respond to homophobia by applying the same principles you use to challenge other forms of discrimination. Test yourself with some hypothetical negative reactions from other adults. How would you respond? Remember at the very least to say, "I don t agree with you". Silence is taken by many people as your implicit agreement with their ideas and views. It is important that staff find ways to talk with all children about the range of family models in our society and introduce play activities that reflect this. Use resources which genuinely promote diversity. (If they are hard to come by then make requests to libraries and resource stockists to extend their range.) When reading stories that don t specify the role of adults, do not assume the adults are necessarily heterosexual parents. As well as the children of lesbians you may work with it is important to remember that all centres will have children in them who have significant friends or relatives who are gay or lesbian. The strategies you employ to support lesbian parents and their children will have an important and positive impact on the lives of all the children in your centre. Resources FKA Multicultural Resource Centre, 1st Floor, 9-11 Stewart Street, Richmond, Vic. Ph (03) For copies of Posters - Reflections of Family Diversity. Mother Goose meets Mardi Gras: lesbian and gay issues in early childhood. Y. Andrew et al, in E. Dau (ed). The Anti-Bias Approach in Early Childhood. 2nd Edition. Longman. Lucy goes to the country. Joe Keanedy Alyson Publications, 1998 ABC-a family alphabet book. Bobbie Combs et al Two Lives Publishing, a family counting book. Bobbie Combs et al Two Lives Publishing, The Duke who outlawed jellybeans. Johnny Valentine Alyson Publications, Where did I really come from? sexual intercourse, DI, IVF, GIFT, pregnancy, birth, adoption and surrogacy. Narelle Wickham Allen and Unwin, Hares & Hyenas Bookshop. 135 Commercial Road, South Yarra Ph: Stock some children s books that are inclusive of family diversity and will order them if requested. You can search the website at for books to ask your local bookshop to get in (or buy them directly).

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