Dr Nicole Milburn,

Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Consultant

Families can sometimes feel barriers to talking to other people and perhaps particularly early childhood professionals, about any mental health problems that their child might be facing.  Parents can feel like they're not doing enough.  Parents can also feel like they might be blamed by professionals, or that their concerns are not really taken seriously.  It's really important that, even if it's not something to worry about, that the parent feel like their concerns can be heard by the early childhood education centre and that they can be discussed and talked through because the partnership between the parent and the early childhood education centre is really the thing that will scaffold the child and keep the child developing well.  So if there's any concerns on any side, it's important to talk about them.  If they're something that both become concerned or share the concern, then the partnership can think about "Well, what do we need to do about it" and "How can we make things better for this child at this time?" 

Dr Sophie Havinghurst, Clinical Child Psychologist

For many families they’ll be really reluctant to seek the expert help of professionals because they may fear their child may be diagnosed with a mental health illness.  And that can really prevent people getting help, and can prevent them also getting the help that they need, because we know for example, in the early years, that interventions that help when there are signs of mental illness, or where there is a mental health diagnosis, they can really change the course of a child’s development for the positive.  So it can be really important to be very careful about labelling and using labels of mental health problems with a child, especially in an early childhood setting.  The child is the name of the child.  That’s the child.  They are Jack, they are Susan, they’re Jennifer, that’s who they are.  They’re not a diagnosis and it’s really important that the child is seen just as a child in that context. 


Dr Sarah Mares, Consultant and Infant, Child and Family Psychiatrist

Sometimes a family won’t follow up a concern that an educator has raised because they’ve got too much else they’re dealing with, they’re really overburdened.  Sometimes it can be that they’ve had bad experiences themselves with service providers.  That might have been in their own family growing up or it might be currently.  Sometimes it can be that they don’t think they can afford it.  Sometimes it might be that they disagree that there’s any problem and from their point of view, they’re not seeing the behaviour or they’re not concerned about the behaviour.  So I think it can be a range of things; it can be an understanding of what the concern is, or it can be the resources either emotional or practical, to actually respond to that concern.


Amanda, Parent

One of those things that does act as a pretty powerful disincentive for speaking to an educator, is when there’s a track record that’s built up of the educators or the director or whoever you’ve been dealing with, not following through, so you may have had discussions about something that’s concerning you about your child and how they are fitting in or how they are coping with certain things, and you’ve been assured that changes will be made and your child will be accommodated, but then you discover that that hasn’t been done or maybe it was done for the first week and then it just dissipated. That’s really disheartening and it places you as a parent in a really difficult position because if you can’t turn to the educators to discuss those issues and find solutions, who can you talk to? They are the first line of defence and you really need to have a situation where you can communicate well and you can be confident that they will do what they say they are going to do.


Professor Helen Milroy, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

First of all I think we’ve got to help people understand that seeking help is a good thing.  That it’s a positive thing, that will actually help prevent problems further on down the track, and that the earlier the intervention the better.


Dr Sarah Mares, Consultant and Infant, Child and Family Psychiatrist

I think it’s quite important, if it feels as if a family are very reluctant or are feeling very criticised by a suggestion or a recommendation, that perhaps there’s a chance to explore how the family are responding to that suggestion rather than just giving them the suggestion and assuming that they’re going to welcome it because, obviously saying that, there’s a concern about their child, is felt very, very personally, and heard very differently depending on what those parents’ own experience has been in the past.


Amanda, Parent

I think the number one thing that would encourage me to seek help from an educator about my child, is the fact that they’ve notice something and mentioned it. And maybe they haven’t, maybe it’s something that’s only occurring at home, but I think that would be the number one thing. If they’ve noticed a change in my child’s behaviour or that they are having difficulty with something, then it’s great if they’ll mention it. Sometimes it can be something really obvious. One of my children, when she started childcare had a lot of trouble separating from me in the mornings, and that went on for longer than it did with my other children. So that was something that was pretty obvious and pretty hard to miss. But again, it’s about the educator being confident enough and having the communication skills, to not just intervene on an ad-hoc basis but to take me aside and say, “Okay, well, this is completely normal so don’t worry about it. Secondly lets come up with a strategy for how we will manage this over the next few weeks. Thirdly, do you want us to give you a call in ten minutes time so you know that she’s calmed down and she’s fine and she’s into her day?” So I think it takes just a little bit of pro-activeness on the part of the educators, to encourage parents to engage in that sort of problem-solving because sometimes you don’t want to start these things on your own; it takes a little bit of encouragement.