Critical reflection to support families experiencing violence

Critical reflection is core to the practice of all early childhood educators, but what role does critical reflection play in supporting children who have experienced domestic and family violence? In this article, Debra Williams shares her experiences across her almost 40-year career and how she used the Early Signals First Responses Program to support her practice.

Given current challenges presented by the pandemic, the Early Signals First Responses program seemed a good opportunity to fill a gap in professional learning. I saw it as a chance to apply the educator tools of critical and reflective practice to build effective responses to the health and wellbeing of all stakeholders including educators, children and families. In particular I wanted the program to support my educational practice on transitions. The coaching component offered by Early Signals, First Responses seemed a great way to create a ‘stabilisation framework’ for the children I work with.

Educators can improve their critical reflection practice in four important ways.

  1. Make it daily: Critical reflection needs to be implemented daily to improve practice, embedded as part of an educator’s day-to-day role with opportunities to apply change daily, and built upon by the team collaborating, together, authentically.


  1. Dig deeper: Educators need to come to the realisation there are important considerations when undertaking critical reflection. Educators need to reflect on their values and service quality to establish a culture of critical reflective inquiry, with professional relationships inclusive of all educators, contributing to discussions and debates and being empowered to contribute to continuous improvement.


  1. Use a structured approach: For success, critical reflection should use a structured implementation approach, maximise the effects of collaboration, encourage person-centredness, equip and empower educators to enhance their practice, use mentors, offer encouragement and distribute roles between educators.


  1. Action and theory: Educators need to develop understanding that critical reflection not only impacts Early Childhood Education and Care at an operational level, but strategically, through affecting the entire ethos, culture and climate of a service and institution. Critical reflection creates a real bonding spirit amongst a team of educators, where educators feel they belong and engage in critical reflection, developing an even greater sense of belonging, through critically reflecting. Educators are then enabled to self-actualise and become, encouraged to critically reflect, because an educator wants to become a better version of himself/herself and be the very best he or she can be. Understanding this ecological model provides conceptual understanding of how critical reflection works in Early Childhood Education and Care with a number of key components.

I enjoyed the self-paced flexible delivery of modules and webinars, but found the online coaching aspect of the program, which is currently being piloted, the most valuable part of the program.  Working with psychologist and child protection specialist, Greg Antcliff, provided an opportunity to examine evidenced-based practice skills and to reflect upon language and communication, and consider self-regulation and physical wellbeing along with cognitive skills. The coaching support enabled me to identify, and break down my goals and how I saw my role in supporting vulnerable families and turn them into clearly defined skills. Establishing an ongoing connection with my cohort group was invaluable too; the sessions were a place to explore ideas, discuss challenges and feel supported by educators no matter our location.

The Early Signals First Responses program addressed an already identified gap in professional education for early childhood educators; one that has only been highlighted by the current pandemic and the bushfires earlier this year in which community services may be disrupted. Children and families who are experiencing violence during lockdown have fewer ways to access support networks and may be in the company of the perpetrator more often. As an essential service, and with many employees working from home, interactions with early childhood educators during pick-up and drop off times may be the only close interaction a person experiencing violence may have throughout the day. The invisibility of children, especially pre-verbal children and the greater control that perpetrators have is a significant increased risk during lockdown or other pandemic restrictions. It’s important not to minimise your impact, presence and value to a family. Personally, I integrate the professional development from Early Signals with the Be You program, the e-safety Early Years program, Reflect Respect Relate, Munch and Move (NSW) and Emerging Minds to provide a holistic approach to continuous improvement in my educational practice with children and families; all of it underpinned by the National Quality Standards and Quality Areas.

Author biography

Debra Williams is passionate about Early Childhood Education and Care and has been working in the sector for 39 years. My current role is National Compliance and Development for Early Education and Care services in two states for a community based organisation, supporting families and communities who are experiencing domestic and violence by offering guidance, encouragement, referral and resources. This role includes support for educators in procedures, policies, quality improvement, resource and professional development and sharing of evidenced based practices.

On completing a PhD inquiring into the implementation critical reflection in Early Education and Care over the previous five years, and a Harvard University online course ‘Child Protection – Children’s Rights in Theory and Practice’, I am passionate about supporting teams to implement critical reflection because it is foundational to the NQS in underpinning all that we do to provide the  best outcomes for children and families. Critical reflection supports teams to help families experiencing domestic and family violence through understanding that critical reflection constitutes a way of working and learning that only seeks to improve our work.