Dr Gavin Hazel – Program Manager, Child, Youth and Wellbeing Program and Jaelea Skehan – Director, from the Hunter Institute of Mental Health write:
There is a convergence of professional opinion, science and policy that the welfare of children should be of paramount concern to everybody. Research into early childhood development has grown rapidly over the past 20 years, and we now understand that the relationships and experiences we have as a baby or young child, and the environments in which we live and grow, can affect how the brain develops.
This in turn can influence our childhood, adolescent and adult lives, including our mental health, physical health, relationships, and success at school and work. It is estimated that up to half of mental health problems in adulthood can be prevented by supporting social and emotional wellbeing in childhood and adolescence.
The promotion of children’s wellbeing is a shared, or common, responsibility – it is not the sole responsibility of any one social, professional or familial group. In practical terms, this means we need to be providing safe and supportive environments for children at home, and in the community, creating opportunities for children to learn social and emotional skills and how to manage their behaviour.
For the hundreds of thousands of young children who attend some type of child care and early learning, the role of educators is critical. Educators can establish strong relationships with the children in their care and support them in their social and emotional development. They can guide children’s values, emotions and behaviour, help them to feel positively about themselves, and support their growing independence.
A safe and supportive environment within the service can also help children to experience positive wellbeing. These practices are particularly important when a child is experiencing difficulties associated with their family environment and their physical, social and emotional needs are not being met at home.
Early childhood educators are also in an excellent position to monitor the wellbeing of the children attending their service. Educators can raise any difficulties they notice with families and discuss the need for additional support, either from the service or in consultation with a health professional.
A study completed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health and the Community Services and Industry Skills Council in 2012, identified that while some knowledge skills and behaviours related to mental health and wellbeing are included in the early education and training programs, they are not often explicitly linked to mental health and wellbeing. In addition, the existing resources and training on relevant topics available to the sector were not universally used or widely accessed.
This week, long day care, family day care, preschool and out of school hours care services across Australia will receive a new resource about children’s mental health and wellbeing called Connections. The practical resource was developed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health with funding from the Australian Government through the Department of Education, and outlines the skills and practices of educators that contributes to positive mental health and wellbeing for children.
The resource was developed in consultation with early childhood educators across Australia as well as early childhood peak bodies, to ensure the suitability, relevance and usefulness of the resource. The resource material helps connect core skills and practices reflected in early childhood Frameworks, such as the National Quality Framework to outcomes for mental health and wellbeing. Practical examples are provided to help educators adapt ideas to fit their service, and the unique needs of their children and families.
This article first appeared on ‘Crikey‘ on 23 October 2014.