Creating healthy communities: A compassionate approach

Co-located with a training organisation, we are a 40-place community long day care service catering to students, on-site staff and the community. We work with a diverse range of families from various socioeconomic backgrounds, families that speak languages other than English, refugee families, Indigenous families as well as families with diverse and complex structures.

Our staff also reflect this diversity, which is the source of our strength. Our centre philosophy focuses on social justice and influenced by the educational project of Reggio Emilia.

As is the case across the sector, we are increasingly working with children who have experienced intense trauma in their first years of life, often as a result of domestic and family violence or war experiences. In 2005, we had a high intake of African refugee families and welcomed a number of children who displayed challenging behaviours associated with trauma, such as:

  • insecure attachments with key adults
  • regression—or lack—of key skills such as toileting
  • hitting, kicking and other forms of physical violence
  • lack of interest in play or exploration
  • trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping.

When it came to supporting these children, as educators, we realised that the amount of time we spend with a child and a family is immense (sometimes up to fifty hours a week) and our understanding of the children in our centre, and what is normal for them, is valuable data. Extreme behaviour is not caused by isolated incidents. That’s why learning about trauma and trauma-informed practices is so important—it allows us to understand why these behaviours may be occurring, and how we may support the child.

In conjunction with this experience and knowledge, we took into account that the families of these children were also healing as they settled into their new communities. When difficult conversations and situations arose, we ensured that we worked with the families sensitively and appropriately. We worked hard to tackle complex issues and support families, but funding imposed a limitation on what we could do—we needed additional staff to properly support the children and families, and training opportunities in trauma and violence were not readily accessible. Despite this, we made connections with local community groups and health professionals, and continued to support children and families as they settled into their new lives in Australia.

Almost fifteen years on, we continue to work with families that have experienced immense trauma. The training provided by professional learning program Early Signals. First Responses is an important step in supporting families facing trauma. It is also critical for the early childhood profession, as this training can help our practice evolve and become increasingly compassionate in nature, so we can keep supporting healthy communities.

We all have a part to play in raising healthy children together as a community. We must ensure that children feel safe and can access support when it is needed, and contribute to a better society that collectively engages in the growing of healthy communities.

—Rachael Kinsella, Early Childhood Director

Register for Early Signals. First Responses 

Early Signals. First Responses is a unique program that resources and supports early childhood educators to better recognise and respond to young children who have experienced family violence. Learn online with six professional learning modules and two webinars exploring cognitive development, attachment, trauma-informed practice, challenging behaviours, and respectful relationships. The professional learning program is free. 

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