CCC says pandemic stress on educators is directly affecting thousands of children
The combined impacts of stress on educators and families is directly affecting thousands of children, placing extra emphasis on the importance of inclusive practice, Executive Director of the Community Child Care Association (CCC) Julie Price has said.
In Victoria, the Victorian Inclusion Agency (VIA) delivers the Australian Government’s Inclusion Support Program, an initiative that supports early childhood teachers and educators to “include every child and family that walks through their door”.
Inclusion support professionals are reporting increased anxiety on the ground amongst early childhood educators, as well as children and their families, due to thew COVID-19 pandemic-driven impacts of extended lockdowns, rising Delta infections in children, and constantly changing restrictions for families continue to devastate the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector.
Despite the challenges, inclusion support professionals are still managing to offer practical support in a range of significant ways.
“Inclusion in early learning has never been more important for our youngest Victorians,” Ms Price said.
“Inclusion means that every child has access to, participates meaningfully in, and experiences positive outcomes from early learning programs. Effective inclusive practice supports children’s individual learning and development, as well as their mental and physical health, benefiting them now and into their futures,” Ms Price explained.
The VIA works closely with early childhood educators to identify barriers in their environments or programs so that they may encourage full inclusion. Inclusion Professionals can provide tailored support for educators with practical advice and strategies, along with resources and a list of local training opportunities where available.
During the pandemic much of this help is delivered virtually. Inclusion support professionals also help services to develop Strategic Inclusion Plans, known as SIPs.
A SIP is an assessment and planning tool that includes strategies for improving and embedding inclusive practice. SIPs also identify if funding is required through the Inclusion Support Program and can provide access to specialist equipment.
From late July 2020 to June 2021, the level of Inclusion Professionals’ support to services increased significantly, particularly the assistance they provide to a service’s SIP development, up from 58.7 per cent in 2019–2020 to 74.8 per cent in 2020–2021. This activity has largely helped create programs for all children, including those experiencing stress and anxiety who may be demonstrating this through complex behaviours.
Innovative Solutions funding has COVID-19 applications
These programs support whole services to manage the challenges of the pandemic. Earlier this year a VIA Inclusion Professional worked with a Melbourne early childhood service whose team was burnt out because of COVID and was struggling to support children who appeared to be affected.
Through the Innovative Solutions funding stream, the service engaged an occupational therapist and an accredited play therapist to build educators’ capacity and knowledge on trauma, and identify strategies for creating appropriate environments.
This valuable work built educators’ understanding of trauma and attachment, and helped to bring back a sense of calm.
‘It is important to remember that inclusion is for all times, not just when we respond in a crisis,” Ms Price said.
“That’s why the VIA builds strong, reliable and supportive relationships with services, to keep the conversations going,” she added.
“It’s a key focus at any time, but when so many people and communities are suffering, inclusion is absolutely critical for every child,” she added.