Working in early education and care is an incredibly rewarding job, but the role can come with numerous challenges. This is especially true for educators in charge of children presenting with trauma, self-regulation and behavioural issues, or from challenging home environments.
At times it can feel like you’ve tried everything you know of to try to make things work, so where to next?
We take a look at who you can call for advice when supporting children and families experiencing trauma and complex behavioural issues, and share how educators and children at two centres have benefited from support services.
How an Inclusion Support Agency can help
The best first step you can take is to call your Inclusion Support Agency – they exist to provide support for services to include children with additional needs. This support now extends to include children presenting with challenging behaviours, trauma-related behaviours or mental health conditions.
“Inclusion Professionals are here to help educators and directors in services,” says NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency Manager Carolyn Wilson. “Our role is to listen to their needs and support them. When services call, we talk about what’s challenging them, what barriers they are experiencing and how we can help address them – in the context of what children need in order to be included.”
There are two funding streams available to help services support children who have experienced trauma – Innovative Solutions Support and Immediate Time Limited Support.
Any service in NSW or the ACT can call 1800 703 382 and be linked to their local ‘inclusion hub’.
(In other states visit the national Inclusion Support Program website to find your 1800 number.)
|The Inclusion Support Program (ISP) assists Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services to include children with additional needs alongside their typically developing peers in order that all children have genuine opportunities to access, participate and achieve positive learning outcomes.
The ISP includes the Inclusion Development Fund Manager and seven Inclusion Agencies across the country.
The Inclusion Development Fund Manager is the single national team that assesses applications for all Inclusion Development Fund streams for all ECEC services. Inclusion Professionals within Inclusion Hubs work with educators to include children with additional needs through planning and accessing resources.
Additional needs may arise for children who:
- have a disability or developmental delay
- are presenting with challenging behaviours
- have a serious medical or health condition, including mental health
- are presenting with trauma-related behaviours
Two services share how calling in help has built staff capacity to better support children with extra needs
At Gerringong Coastal Cottage on the NSW south coast, Director Skye Kollias called her local Inclusion Hub because one of the children came back after the 10 week Covid-19 isolation period with severe separation anxiety.
“Pre-COVID he had mild separation anxiety, he would cry for his mum at drop off, but after 10-20 minutes, he was fine. Coming back after 10 weeks at home, drop-offs became extreme, he was a different child, intensely angry.
“Our Inclusion Professional helped us get Inclusion Development Funding (Immediate Time Limited Support). We were able to hire a local highly experienced Early Childhood Teacher to focus on support for the child and to develop a transition plan with the family and staff.”
The Gerringong community really suffered during and after the summer fires, so Skye and her team have made it a priority to help children talk about their feelings.
“Each morning we sit together and ask the children to say how each of them is feeling. They each have a photo of themselves on a stick, and when they name their feelings – happy, sad, angry, they put their photo ‘lollipop’ into the jar with that name on it. As their feelings change through the day, they go and move their photo to another jar.”
The service also has two pet guinea pigs that families can take home for two days to a week, which has proven to be a great way to help children feel calm and lift their spirits.
Romp and Stomp, an outside school hours care service, accessed Innovative Solutions Support to fund an Educational Consultant who mentored educators to build their capacity to include children with complex and challenging behaviours, which can include children who have experienced trauma.
Director Pat said it was a fantastic help and has increased staff morale and confidence.
“The educators have gained so much from the experience and they now feel they are equipped to support all children’s inclusion. The Educational Consultant was excellent and made educators feel at ease.”
TrACS (Early Years Trauma Consultancy Service)
Victorian Early Childhood services can now get support from the Early Years Trauma Consultancy Service (TrACS) run by the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. Services often access Inclusion Support Funding to bring in their practitioners to embed a trauma-informed approach to their practices, environment and routines.
“We help stressed educators to step back from their own reactions to these children, to stop focusing on trying to change their behaviour, and start finding out what’s happening in their life and understand the pain that they’re experiencing,” says Lee Cameron, Head of the Foundation’s Care Programs.
Sometimes a small change in response can prevent the behaviour occurring if we understand the triggers.
“I was at a service where a child was struggling to sit on the mat at reading time – and when he got too fidgety the educator would draw attention to him and make him sit right up in front, facing her with his back to all the other children and he got even worse,” says Lee.
“I could see that he was acting out of anxiety – he didn’t feel safe not being able to see behind him. Children who have experienced violence at home become hyper-alert to danger. I suggested that the educator invite him to sit next to her with his back to the wall and facing the whole class, and he calmed down.”
Support for our children and educators is needed now, more than ever
The impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated childhood disadvantage due to the changes in economic and social circumstances that have eventuated.
Prior to COVID-19, around 750,000 children were living below the poverty line, with a consistently high rate of childhood poverty since 2007.
Certain cohorts of children, such as those from families in remote areas and those in out-of-home care, are more vulnerable than others, but family disadvantage affects children in every community, and joblessness has a particularly severe impact on children.
The Australian Early Development Census found that around 1 in 5 children were developmentally vulnerable in one or more domain in 2018.
Early childhood education plays a key role in remediating disadvantage, providing children with support, attention, socialisation and nutrition that may be scarce or unavailable at home. We hope that every early educator supporting these families, in turn, has access to the support that they need to do their jobs and stay mentally healthy.
Further reading and resources
Inclusion Support Program
(includes a contact number for the Inclusion Support Agency in each state/territory)
NSW/ACT Inclusion Support Agency – brochure
Emerging Minds Community Trauma toolkit
Be You – (BETLS) observation tool
A tool to observe behaviour, emotions, thoughts, learning and social relationships to assist educators to gather information about a child’s behaviour. This will allow educators to recognise and understand potential mental health issues.
ECA Learning Hub – Early Signals First Responses program
Supports early childhood educators and carers to better recognise and respond to young children who have been exposed to or experienced family violence.
Australian Childhood Foundation – Trauma training
What does it mean to support a child who’s experienced trauma?
Amplify article by Sarah Riddell
Helping refugee children and families using a trauma-informed perspective
Amplify article by Camille Howard