Rights, Authority and Responsibility; How Do we Find the Balance?

The effective balance between the rights of a child and the authority of a care giver is a challenge for all who care for children. When difficulties in the relationship appear it is easy to overemphasize  either the child’s rights, without reference to the adult, or the adult’s authority without recognizing the impact on the child. The focus narrows to the individual and loses the systemic lens, leaving both parties disadvantaged.

Approaches that are most effective are those which understand that by exercising clear, firm and warm authority the child’s rights are best served. These include rights for non-discrimination, devotion to their best interests, life, survival and development and respect for their views. These four core principles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child provide a structure for adults who care for them to act with strength and clarity that protects all parties.

As practitioners we are challenged to develop practical approaches to work with children and their families. The work of Haim Omar applying principles of Non-violent resistance and Eddie Gallagher’s approach to children who are violent to their parents address the imbalance consequent on an overemphasis of the child’s power. By contrast, Henggeler’s Multisystemic Therapy for Child Abuse and Neglect addresses the caregiver’s abusive exercise of authority.  Both recognize the systemic nature of the difficulty and work to interrupt patterns that perpetuate fear and violence in families.