While the holidays may be time to take a break or be together as a family, they’re also a very stressful time.
We know that domestic and family violence increases over summer, especially during Christmas and New Year. We also know that calls to domestic and family violence services, and police reports, increase following a significant sporting event or traumatic incident, such as the 2020 Australian Bushfires.
Over the holidays, you may suspect a child has an unsafe living situation at home, or you may be approached by a family member directly. During the holidays, we’re all busy, tired and stressed, but it’s important that processes and procedures are communicated and enforced, and that disclosures by adults, or children, are taken seriously.
You can support families during the holidays by:
Reviewing mandatory reporting requirements
As you would know, all children’s services employees—early childhood educators, family day care workers and other carers—, as well as teachers, principals, school counsellors and other professions that work closely with young children are mandatory reporters under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.
Under the Care Act, an individual who witnesses or suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report it to government authorities.
It’s important everyone in your team understands their obligations under mandatory reporting and how to make a report, including recording sufficient and important information and accessing help services. If you’re an employee of the Department of Education, you can contact your Child Wellbeing Unit for assistance.
For more information on mandatory reporting, click here.
Sometimes, you may be unsure about whether an action constitutes mandatory reporting. If you’re unsure, it’s always better to report it.
Most people travel to see friends and family during the holidays. With this, there may be new people—grandparents, or extended relatives and friends—in the child’s life that are not usually around.
A declaration of ‘I’m Brodie’s Grandma, I’ve just come into town and I’m here to pick him up for the afternoon’ may have the best intentions, but if Grandma isn’t on Brodie’s Emergency contact list, and you know that Brodie’s mum is picking him up at four, you will need to have a conversation with Brodie’s Grandma.
Every centre has a policy on this—it’s always best to check and remind families and each other of the expectations and processes.
When families have AVOs and Family Violence Orders (FVOs) or court orders, this can become clearer due to the legal responsibilities around child protection.
This resource from the Victorian Department of Education provides information about delivery and collection procedures.
Relationships and communication are key in supporting children and families—make time, preferably not during pick-up or drop-off, to talk with a family about their plans during Christmas. Some children will be spending time with extended family or be navigating custody arrangements. There may be added emotions if a child is spending Christmas in a way they didn’t expect or don’t prefer, or if there is tension between parents during the holiday.
If a child is transitioning to school next year, they may also feel heightened emotions around leaving early learning and the environment that they’ve come to know. This is normal, and you can help children feel confident about transitioning to school by talking to them about their fears, concerns, and worries as well as sharing the exciting aspects about school.
For many children, early childhood education is a space where they can escape the tension at home and play, explore and learn. The sense of routine in what they know supports them to feel safe and secure. Early childhood educators have a special role in the lives of children and the importance of this should not be discounted.