Structuring safety is about having the intention of not traumatising someone we are working with and about being witnesses to their stories and accounts.
Structuring safety is important when working with mothers and children from diverse backgrounds who may experience racism and social isolation.
‘We contest the binary of “safe or unsafe” when we co-create relationships of enough-safety with our clients (Bird, 2004). I work to create some-safety, enough-safety, or a safe-r conversation and relationship. All conversations across difference are risky because power is always at play. Doing harm by replicating oppression is always a potential risk. This is true despite our commitments to social justice and our collective ethics (Reynolds, 2009).’
Richardson & Reynolds (2014).
Structuring safety is your work
Richardson & Reynolds (2014), writing about their work with Canadian Indigenous survivors of residential schools, suggest that ‘structuring safety’ is not about preparing for the work; it is the work. Structuring safety first requires you to work in partnership, to do the work of understanding the impact of racism, privilege and any experiences of violence or oppression in their country of origin. It also means you need to be aware of how your appearance (clothing, posture, attitude, tone of voice) and the meeting place can foster safety.
Consider the following points when structuring safety.
|Structuring safety||What might I say?|
|Honour the autonomy of the family and community. They decide what will be talked about and what will be of use.||
|Acknowledge your privilege and your own cultural connections. Locating your privilege and cultural heritage will demonstrate that you are aware that you do not see yourself as ‘normal’ and them as ‘different’.||
|Ask everyone how they would like to be identified culturally. This includes any white people present. Asking only non-white people how they culturally identify reinforces racism and the idea that non-white people are ‘different’.||
|Continuously ask for permission about when, where, who and what to talk about.||
|Plan responses to fears of possible backlash in their cultural community or from family.||
|Make space for them to say ‘no’.||
|Thinking about tonight, tomorrow and the future.||
Modified from Richardson and Reynolds, 2014.
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