ECEC educators working with children with mental health, behaviour concerns tops 80%
A major mental health survey by the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) has reportedly found that “most teachers” in schools and kindergartens are stressed, with fears of students hurting themselves or others due to behavioural or mental health problems.
The findings, which were shared as part of a broader article in relation to teacher stress published yesterday by the Herald Sun found that nearly 84 per cent of preschool educators surveyed said they were teaching children — mostly four year-olds — with mental health and behaviour problems.
The Herald Sun cited the Victorian AEU findings, quoting AEU president Meredith Peace as saying “We hear from members who might go out on WorkCover or on sick leave for stress related injuries and it can often be a result of something specific which has happened or it can be cumulative over a period of time.”
Otten the mental toll of dealing with cumulative stress points is worsened for those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings because there is less access to psychological support for young children than there is in schools, she said.
Serious behavioural or anger management problems, anxiety, depression and even self-harm were named among the issues affecting the ability of preschoolers to learn, and stressing teachers, the Herald Sun noted.
The Victorian AEU findings, as quoted by the Herald Sun revealed that nearly 64 per cent of early childhood staff reported feeling stressed most or all of the time, with 43 per cent claiming they suffer from anxiety, and 16.5 per cent from depression, as a result of their work with children.
One educator described the cumulative effects of workplace stress, which led to a subsequent breakdown; “I was crying on my way to work most days and putting on a smile when staff, children and families arrived. I did some serious damage to my self-worth and am not yet better. I wish I had recognised what I was doing to myself.”
Management structures in some kindergarten settings were exacerbating the problem, Ms Peace said to the Herald Sun, because such structures limit the specialist support available for more challenging children, adding “In early childhood settings they don’t necessarily have that system support from the Department of Education … and I think that makes it all the more difficult.”
Support is available for ECEC educators working with children experiencing mental health challenges. Be You, an online training and resources package backed by 70 expert staff, is designed to support ECEC professionals to deal with issues relating to mental health concerns in children.
Educators can claim completion of Be You learning modules towards their professional development, and the program brings together educators, parents, support staff and children to develop and roll out action plans tailored to the needs of each school or early learning service.
Developed by Beyond Blue in partnership with delivery partners Early Childhood Australia and headspace, Be You is available for free to all 24,000 early learning services, primary and secondary schools in Australia.