Goodstart highlights early learning role for infant mental health
Goodstart’s commitment to ensuring the best possible outcomes for Australia’s children, particularly our most vulnerable, was in the spotlight at the World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) Conference last month.
The National Manager of Goodstart’s Child and Family Service, Alma-Jane O'Donnell addressed delegates as a panellist at the 17th World Congress – which attracted thousands of scientific and educational professionals and authorities around the globe virtually and in-person.
“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,” Alma said.
Alma joined panel experts in the early childhood and education and care 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.
“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.”
“One of the many discussions had, was whether a high-quality relationship or a high-quality education was of more importance. I and others stated both were equally important for achieving the best outcomes for children.”
Alma said knowledge-sharing and discussion about what is working well to promote and restore a child’s mental health within Australia’s early learning sector was perfectly timed, following the release of the Australian Mental Health Productivity Commission Inquiry report (2020).
The report recommends strengthening the skills of early childhood educators to meet the needs of children’s social and emotional development from birth to three years.
“It takes a community to raise a child, and more than ever government and health officials recognise the powerful role of high-quality, inclusive early learning and care in supporting enhanced outcomes for a child’s social and emotional development,” she said.
“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.”
“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.”
Alma’s involvement at the WAIMH Congress allowed her to present these findings and the vital role of early learning as a powerful intervention to affect life outcomes for children experiencing vulnerability.
Alma 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 also 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 aims to address the unique needs of children experiencing trauma and who are at risk of poor learning, development and wellbeing outcomes.”
Goodstart’s Intensive Individual Support Plans (IISPs), have supported more than 175 children attending Goodstart centres. The approach involves an educator to work on-on-one with a child under the guidance of a child and family practitioner, using trauma-informed and attachment-based practices.
“Fundamentally, our Intensive Individual Support Plan is about a child feeling a strong sense of belonging, by experiencing a warm and responsive relationship. With this foundation in place, they thrive because they feel safe, nurtured and valued, leading to better learning outcomes.”
Alma then shared the outcomes from the evaluation of the IISPs by The University of Adelaide: “the evaluation showed that children’s ability to name their emotions increased, their language skills improved, they had increased capacity to participate in learning experiences and they demonstrated more empathy toward their peers,” she said.
“The program also enables educators to develop a greater understanding of the child which creates mutual confidence and trust between the child and their educator.”
Goodstart exists to create positive social change by giving Australia’s children, especially our most vulnerable, the best possible start in life.
about our social inclusion work and programs.