Who is supporting the people who support our children?
Spare a thought for the preschool teachers you know.
Over-worked, underpaid and frequently forgotten in the world of education, preschool teachers are at the front-line of the lives of thousands of Australian kids and play an important part in many children’s lives.
And yet these front line workers, very often the first people outside our families to whom we entrust our children, need help.
I met one such group of preschool professionals last week when I visited their Sydney centre.
The centre owner told me that while her team are a fabulous, enthusiastic and energetic bunch – they have no training when it comes to identifying children’s additional needs
More importantly, she feels they lack the skills and confidence to broach the delicate subject of a child’s struggles with parents.
As the Director of a children’s health and therapy service, I hear this frequently.
Parents who attend my centre, Kids First Children’s Services, for Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, tuition or Child Psychology services wonder why their children’s difficulties were not picked up earlier.
Preschool staff tell me that their training is often ‘on the job’ and with the many compliance obligations they are required to meet, there is little time to refine the skills they need to handle those tough moments that no one looks forward to.
So, what’s the key to making things better?
How can we help our early educators and preschool staff be better equipped for their demanding and often difficult roles?
The answer is education… for preschool staff and occasionally for parents and carers.
Early educators who pick up on a child’s differences or difficulties offer many children the best chance possible to receive the support they need to overcome their challenges.
Their role in identifying and supporting kids with additional needs is undeniably crucial to children’s health and happiness.
International and Australian research has, for decades, proven that early intervention is the key to children’s later social, emotional, communication and learning success.
So, what support is out there and how can your child’s preschool access it?
The Australian Government funded Inclusion Support Program is one way in which child care services are able to receive a range of practical supports. Advice, planning and resources are all available so that services are better able to provide all children, including those with additional needs, with opportunities to participate in activities that encourage learning and development.
In NSW, the Supporting Children with Additional Needs (SCAN) program has also been set up by the State Government to increase the capacity of eligible preschool, vacation care, and occasional child care services to include children with additional support needs. In Queensland a program called Disability Support Funding (DSF) is available and similar initiatives exist in other Australian states and territories.
But releasing staff for training during working hours is difficult. Child to adult ratios must be maintained in accordance with regulations and for some kindies, it’s just too hard (and expensive) to send staff away for professional development.
So, hooray for the kindy owners and dedicated staff who are giving up their own time and investing centre resources to attend after hours training.
Well done to the preschools who are proactively bringing in mobile professional development programs which, over an after work pizza and a Coke, give whole staff teams the opportunity to learn about how they can support the children and families in their care.
And congratulations to the hundreds of government backed support agency workers who are doing their darnedest to ensure that Aussie kids get a decent start.
The parents of Australia’s preschools salute you for your dedication to our kids!