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Transcript

Judy Kynaston, National Project Manager KidsMatter Early Childhood Australia

Early childhood services are in an ideal position to recognise and support children who may be experiencing mental health difficulties, as they work closely with children and families.  This provides opportunity for collaboration with families to assist children who may be experiencing difficulties.

 

Being aware of mental health services in the local area, and how to gain access to them, can help both educators and families to support children with mental health difficulties. Early intervention provides families and educators with the strategies to support children’s development. Within collaborative relationships, individuals can share information about how to best support a child who is experiencing difficulties.

 

 

Janet Williams-Smith, Early Childhood Services Consultant

I think you can develop up systems whereby you work in partnership with other services in your community for a start.  Lots of communities do have lots of services for families and children.  And I think it’s really important not to work in isolation as an early years education service or an early years service.  It’s important to see that you’re a component in the system.  So how do you interact and what’s the interface between you and all the other services in your community? 

 

Dr Nicole Milburn,

Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Consultant

Early childcare professionals can really align with parents in helping children’s mental health.  If parents come to an early childhood professional with concerns, for example they might come along and say, “My child’s been having nightmares every night for a week.  Is there anything happening during the day here at the education setting that’s going on?”  The professional then might be able to just listen to the parent, hear what worries are, think about what’s happening for the child in the setting, and then perhaps even observe the child more closely for a little while and then get back together with the parent and say, “Yes”, or “No… Well, let’s think about this together”, and then think about what the next steps might be, to perhaps talk to a GP, or a maternal and child health nurse or a mental health professional.

 

 

So when a child has a mental health diagnosis it’s important that the partnership between the early childhood professionals and the parents, come up with some sort of shared plan about how they’re going to help the child manage their everyday life.  And it’s important that every adult who has contact with the child in any setting understands what is happening for the child so that they can help them manage things.  The combined and shared approach will help the child recover more quickly from their mental health problem.

 

 

When we work with small children who have mental health diagnoses we usually set up a care team.  And what a care team does is it gets everybody who is involved in the child's life around a table to talk about how things are going for the child and how we can all work together. 

Anne Stonehouse, Early Childhood Consultant

I think it’s critically important that care and education services don’t kind of, veer off in the direction of thinking that they should, or even can, provide that specialist support, unless they get specific instruction or professional learning from specialists.  I think it’s so important to be absolutely clear about the difference between what they can do within the context of their early childhood professional expertise, and what they can’t do, and that’s a hard thing.  I think that’s a hard thing, especially when you have strong relationships with the children and when you have a partnership with the families, but it’s an ethical and moral responsibility to not do that, to resist doing that, and to do what you do best, and that is, providing all children with learning opportunities that match who they are.  And I think that’s what you’re doing with a child with mental health difficulties; that’s what you’re doing with any child.

 

Janet Williams-Smith, Early Childhood Services Consultant

I think it’s really important to support educators to build a specific relationship with that child.  They may need to be given time, encouragement and understanding from their peers and their leader to say the most important thing that you can do at the moment is just spend time with this child.  Because this child needs you do to that.  So we might have to reorganise who clears the tray and who tidies the nappy cupboard.  We might have to do that kind of stuff.  Because this is really critically important. 

 

Dr Nicole Milburn,

Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Consultant

Children who are having a having a mental health difficulty might find being in an early childhood setting quite difficult at times.  Children who are having mental health difficulty by definition, have increased pressure on their coping resources. And being in a place that requires them to interact with a number of people and obey rules might be too much for a child who is already experiencing stress on their coping capacity.  And so a child with a mental health difficulty in a group setting needs more support, needs more mindfulness from an early childhood professional, and needs more of what we called scaffolding.  So just needs to be kept an eye on and have an attuned response to anything that they bring up.  But also regulated well, so for somebody to know when that child is becoming stressed and remove them and help them move on to something else.  They will need more care and attention than a child who is not having mental health difficulties. 

 

There are a lot of good resources available to support people who are working with young children who support their mental health.  Good, reputable internet sites have a lot of information on them.  And there's always consultation available from mental health services.  Early parenting centres also offer consultation services.  And GPs, and maternal and child health nurses are also really good sources of information.  It's really important that none of this feels like the mental health or development of young children is all the responsibility of one person or one role.  It's not just the responsibility of the parents.  It's the responsibility of the whole community.  And early childhood education centres are a vital part of the support of young children's mental health.

 

Janet Williams-Smith, Early Childhood Services Consultant

In some of the services that I’ve managed we’ve had infant mental health consultants coming in to talk to staff around infant mental health and some things around maybe attachment and anxiety in children. 

 

Because I think early childhood settings are good places to bring those people in to talk, and offers parents and staff access and opportunities to professional health services that might be really useful in supporting children with anxieties or particularly challenging behaviours or trauma.  So we can’t be experts on all those things, but there are experts around that we can tap in to, to help us do that work.  And certainly to help parents.

Anne Stonehouse, Early Childhood Consultant

Early care and education services can do a lot to support children with mental health difficulties.  I think, by providing them with an experience in a community that prioritises relationships and prioritises inclusion is a wonderful support.  It’s not a substitute for the specific professional help—specialist help—that they may need, but just as is the case with a child with any sort of additional need, or any sort of disability, that opportunity for them and for their family to participate along with many other families and many other children who are unique in their own ways, and who are examples of different categories of diversity, can be such an important experience that shapes their identity, that shapes their sense of themselves, I would say, for the rest of their lives.