Expelled – Why banishing a three-year-old says more about the service than the child
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Can expelling children in early childhood education be the start of a slippery slope with long-term social and economic impacts? Numerous pieces of research have shown that exclusion and expulsion of children is detrimental at any age, but especially in early childhood. In this piece, Sandi Phoenix, from Phoenix Support for Educators, examines expulsion from the perspective of three year old Jayden, and the staff who care for him each day.
Jayden’s arrival to his early childhood centre on Monday morning brings with it a threatening storm. Will it pass? Will it wreak havoc? Time will tell. Anxiety swells, children hide, educators brace themselves. The storm hits. Furniture is thrown about, fear rises, glass breaks. Here we go again.
Jayden’s educators haven’t lived through these types of storms before. They’re unprepared for conditions like this. Like a straw hut in a deadly whirlwind, not knowing what to do, their fear becomes panic. They don’t know yet that they can become better prepared, build stronger foundations, gather the skills and tools they’ll need, and then be able to withstand the storm quickly and with minimal damage. They don’t know yet that after ‘Cyclone Jayden’, life can get back to normal. In time they will learn that peace and harmony can be restored – but not without intention, support, and dedication to inclusion.
When the storm has passed, Jayden’s educators stand amongst the physical and metaphorical debris and demand action. Some angrily protest, while others are exhausted and distressed. With some parents threatening to leave, something has to change. Nominated Supervisors and Approved Providers have a responsibility to shelter their staff from the storm. They’re now faced with two options:
- bail out; or
- become prepared.
Let’s travel down each path and see what happens next.
Path A – Bail out – Exclusion
Enough is enough. Parents and educators all agree, they have a duty of care to other children to keep them safe. Jayden has to go.
Jayden’s parents were already at their wits end. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. They’re not sure how much more they can take. They need support.
Jayden’s already been ‘expelled’ from one childcare, how many more will kick him out? Jayden’s parents need help, and they need to find a way for their child to be included in this community. If trained professionals don’t have the skills to teach him, Jayden’s parents feel even less capable.
Jayden feels the full brunt of his parent’s anguish. He had also made a good friend at that service, and he really loved Miss Kelly. He’ll miss them both, and feels more misunderstood than ever. A sense of belonging to his community will not be possible for him as he received a very clear message – you don’t belong here, you’re too hard to help.
The early childhood service he left behind are relieved by the calm after the storm. They’re tired but bask in the sunlight for a short moment. That does not last long.
Soon they meet ‘Hurricane Jaxon’. A storm much like Jayden. Here we go again. Jayden and Jaxon’s service is still a straw hut, unprepared for these stormy conditions. Panic is quicker to escalate. Like a sunburn, educators flinch when behavioural buttons are pushed, quick to react to damage that has happened before, but still hurts now.
Some educators burn out, whiles others leave for another service where the grass looks greener, though it’s only a mirage – there are stormy conditions wherever educators go. Other parents are again demanding action. Exclusion worked last time, didn’t it? ‘The problem’ went away. The cycle continues, and educators turn over as quickly as the children do.
New families come but when they notice the weathered straw hut, the burnout and turnover of staff, the obvious suffering of the program and service, and the stormy atmosphere still in the room they decide to go. No new enrolments means no growth in occupancy. No occupancy growth means no revenue for new resources, or professional development. No resources and no professional development mean passionate and dedicated staff vote with their feet.
There is no getting off this roundabout of exclusion.
Path B – We’ve got this – Inclusion
Jayden’s educators look around after the storm and demand action – to support his inclusion. They know they, as educators, need stronger foundations, bricks and mortar, skills, experienced tradespeople, and cooperation. They know they need to come together as a community to create a safe space where storms of emotions aren’t a problem, and spaces can be rebuilt.
The educators create a meaningful and detailed Strategic Inclusion Plan that maps out everything they require to ensure not only Jayden’s successful inclusion, but the inclusion of all children.
Jayden’s educators are exhausted from being in the path of ‘Cyclone Jayden’ every day. They know need to put their own oxygen mask on first, and that their wellbeing is paramount, so professional learning around Educator Wellbeing is going to be a vital first step.
If Jayden’s educators get the right support, they’ll learn a lot about themselves, their own behaviours, and start to get an understanding of the behaviours of the children and families. They’ll learn how to get their own needs met, create a wellbeing plan, and they’ll start prioritising that. They’ll become stronger as an individual and a team. Ready to charge on and build an inclusion ready service.
In supporting Jayden and his family, Jayden’s educators learn more than their studies could teach them alone. Jayden’s parents are relieved. They need the respite that the early childhood service gives them, and they know how much their son needs the expertise of his educators to support his social and emotional learning.
The team around Jayden rally their professional community and learn fast. They engage mentors, skilled colleagues, inclusion support professionals, consultants, and allied health professionals. These specialists can all provide their own perspectives to support the wellbeing and inclusion of the children. Jayden’s educators receive the professional development, resources, and community connections they need, as well as learning about his behaviours and how to support them. Their early childhood service is strengthening its inclusion readiness.
Sometime later, when Hurricane Jaxon arrives, and becomes Jayden’s best friend, this team of educators are ready to include them both. A sturdy brick house with strong foundations. They’ve got this.