Goodstart’s Alma-Jane O’Donnell addresses WAIMH Conference 17th World Congress
The National Manager of Goodstart Early Learning’s Child and Family Service, Alma-Jane O’Donnell, addressed delegates from the World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) Conference last month as a panelist at the 17th World Congress which attracted thousands of scientific and educational professionals and authorities around the globe virtually and in-person.
She joined panel experts in the early childhood and education and care (ECEC) sector along with infant mental health clinicians to discuss the role of early learning in promoting and restoring infant mental health – particularly for children who have experienced trauma.
“It’s a shared responsibility to affect better life outcomes for children and it was incredible to have this opportunity on a world stage to share our knowledge and collaborate with others to create stronger solutions,” Ms O’Donnell said.
“Educators and teachers support children to feel safe and secure and lay the foundation for healthy social and emotional development. With this in place, a child’s learning prospers.”
Ms O’Donnell described the knowledge-sharing and discussion about what is working well to promote and restore a child’s mental health within Australia’s early learning sector as “perfectly timed”, following the release of the Australian Mental Health Productivity Commission Inquiry report which was released last year.
The report recommended strengthening the skills of early childhood educators to meet the needs of children’s social and emotional development from birth to three years, something Ms O’Donnell believes is key to supporting enhanced outcomes for children.
“This report, coupled with other work underway by government, including the National Mental Health Commission’s Strategy to address the Australian Government’s Long-Term National Health Plan, all continue to highlight the valuable role of early learning and call for increased investment,” she added.
“This strategy is the first of its kind with a focus on children from birth through to 12 years of age. It’s an exciting time for our early learning profession, because it means with increased investment we can achieve more for Australia’s children in the years that count most to affect their outcomes for school and life.”
As part of her participation in the conference Ms O’Donnell shared details of Goodstart’s universal practice and targeted interventions that aim to enhance children’s social and emotional development from birth to school age.
“I was particularly proud to share insights not just about our universal practices, but also about our targeted interventions, including our very bespoke, child-centred Intensive Individual Support Plans, that aim to address the unique needs of children experiencing trauma and who are at risk of poor learning, development and wellbeing outcomes,” she shared.
Goodstart’s Intensive Individual Support Plans (IISPs), have supported more than 175 children attending Goodstart centres using an approach that involves an educator working one-on-one with a child under the guidance of a child and family practitioner, using trauma-informed and attachment-based practices.
“Fundamentally, our IISP is about a child feeling a strong sense of belonging, by experiencing a warm and responsive relationship,” Ms O’Donnell said. “With this foundation in place, they thrive because they feel safe, nurtured and valued, leading to better learning outcomes.”
Research into the effectiveness of IISPs by the University of Adelaide has shown that the intervention increased children’s ability to name their emotions, improved their language skills, increased their capacity to participate in learning experiences and saw children demonstrate more empathy toward their peers.
To learn more about Goodstart’s social inclusion work and programs please see here.