An assistant principal in a rural town, the name of which elicits immediate furrows in the foreheads of professionals who know the maps of social disadvantage in the state all too well. With the looks of someone who respects, but does not overrate, herself she is a woman you would pass by without much of an afterthought.
But make no mistake: she is a superhero of sorts. She stays put where most others flee. She stares long and hard where others choose to sigh and look away. She takes action where others feel it’s not their responsibility. She follows through. She advocates, argues, does the paperwork that seems too complicated and yet futile to many others. She is wise and generous and does not take ‘no’ for an answer. Yet, she is not absorbed in her own kindness – righteousness is not her thing. She simply knows what’s right and acts upon it.
I met her yesterday. She had simply taken her car, gone home to the family at 5 o’clock in the morning, saw to it that they had everything they needed and drove them to the clinic. She made the school pay for the visit, assisted the assessment as much as she could and then drove them home. She never stopped smiling.
To understand the importance of what she had done, let’s play a game. Name any disadvantage you can think of. Poverty? Check. Family disruption? Check. Cognitive disability in the family? Check. Now let’s see what it takes to get this child to the adequate services.
So, the mother would have needed to articulate the problem of the child seriously struggling academically and socially at school, take the child to a GP and get a referral to a community pediatrician. Oops, that takes knowledge of the system and being able to navigate it and advocate for your needs. If you can’t read and write and have a hard time understanding many words that’s pretty hard.
But say mother had gotten a referral and was to get the child to the tertiary centre for assessment. Oops, you need transportation for that. Without a license that leaves you with public transports – again, reading maps and timetables requires academic skills. But say mother knew which train and tram to take. Oops, that costs money which she doesn’t have. Was it all ever going to happen, then? Correct. Which is why our heroine made it happen, going through all the steps it takes.
When Sir Michael Marmot in his report Fair Society, Healthy Lives talks about proportionate universalism this is what he means. Actual universal access to universal services through addressing barriers. Of course it would be wonderful if every child in need had his or her own hero or heroin. The next best thing is to build systems that are heroic enough to grant equal access to everyone, irrespective of ability and resources. And we have such a long way to go!
Although this assistant principle might never get a formal prize, I think she got something else yesterday. She was highly regarded and reinforced by the team. And the child she intended to help received what she was entitled to: great quality assessment, a diagnosis that will give her the right to supports along the line, and the satisfaction to have done the right thing. Again.
She made not only my, but the whole team’s day. Why she did all this? I think it’s as simple as it is beautiful: she couldn’t not do it.