Parents and carers are the most important and significant relationship in a child’s life, and education staff are also an essential relationship for children. Children benefit when the significant people in their lives work together, and having supportive parents/carers and educators are two of the major protective factors that decrease the likelihood of mental health difficulties developing. When families, early childhood educators and school staff work together in partnership with a shared understanding, using effective communication, children’s mental health and wellbeing is supported.
What is important when working in a partnership?
When families and education staff work together in a genuine partnership all individuals respect, value and trust one another and contribute to decisions concerning a shared goal, for example supporting the needs of a child. In a partnership, families and staff can offer valuable observations, knowledge and experiences about a child. This leads to a greater understanding and ability to work together to meet a child’s needs and give them the best support in the home and education setting.
Factors that help build partnerships include:
- respect and trust
- shared understanding and responsibility
- a common goal
- effective communication
- time for these aspects to develop.
When families and education staff are building and developing partnerships, it can be helpful to:
- learn each other’s names, greet each other and get to know one another
- acknowledge that both can learn from each other and have important knowledge/experience to contribute
- let each other know their involvement, knowledge and support is valued
- share experiences that might be affecting children’s feelings and behaviour as well as possible concerns and strengths
- share the best way to communicate with each other in the future, for example, face-to-face, email or telephone
- respect each other’s differences and commit to working together to support your child.
What might a successful parent/education partnership look like?
Building these partnerships takes time and needs flexibility and commitment, with the child’s needs being at the forefront. Parents and carers can contribute to a successful partnership with schools and early childhood services by:
- having regular informal conversations with education staff (e.g. at pick-up and drop-off times)
- being open in discussing tensions, issues and concerns, as well as achievements and strengths of the child
- looking for opportunities to get involved, help out or take part in the service or school
- actively sharing information, voicing concerns, asking questions, making requests and giving feedback to education staff
- getting to know and encouraging other families to build partnerships with education staff
- attending events/functions organised by the school or service
- reading parenting resources and participating in programs that are offered at the service or by the school.
Education staff can contribute to a successful partnership with parents and carers by:
- encouraging parents and carers to voice concerns, make contributions and provide feedback
- being open to and taking on parent knowledge, experiences and feedback
- finding and using opportunities to connect with parents and carers and letting them know about their child’s day
- arranging events that allow parents and carers to get together (e.g. breakfasts)
- encouraging family involvement by informing them about daily activities and how they can help
- obtaining parenting resources for parents and carers to access
- getting to know services in the community that may be useful for families
- problem solving and making decisions together with parents and carers (e.g. seeking health and community professional support together).
This partnership is built on respect and working together to understand children’s emotions, behaviour and needs and find the best ways to support them in their development and promote their mental health and wellbeing.