The program, based in Western Australia, is supported to the tune of $500,000 by the Woodside Development Fund, and involves 20 early learning centres, including 13 Goodstart centres.
Goodstart Banksia Grove’s Lynne Scotland will be one of the mentors for the new centres taking part in the program in the next 12 months.
“I originally did the Family Connections program in Western Australia as part of the Woodside Development Fund and I really enjoyed it,” Mrs Scotland said.
“The centre has gone from strength to strength in that time and when I received an email about presenting the program at other centres, I jumped at the chance.”
Banksia Grove is in a low socio-economic area, with many vulnerable families. The Family Connections program supports family relationships by building connection with community services.
“The program is like a missing link for us,” Mrs Scotland said. “We knew we could do more in the community but we just weren’t sure how to do it. We did put a lot of effort and work into it but I felt like it was an extension of what we were doing anyway and when we began to see the results, it was amazing.”
The centre now has built great relationships with the local school, child and parenting centres and the Department for Child Protection.
“When our children are starting school, we build a relationship with the teacher who will look after them, and spend time at the school to get them settled,” she said.
“By running community programs, we can also help families throughout the community rather than just those at our centre.”
Mrs Scotland will mentor groups from four different Goodstart centres, including Queens Park, Clarkson, Stratton and Girrawheen as they undertake their Family Connections program.
They will work through the topics together, touch base often, celebrate achievements and build a culture of encouragement and support.
“This program really does make a difference to our educators, families and communities. Our educators have learnt so much through this – empathy and understanding of children’s behaviour.
“Rather than saying children have behavioural issues, we now talk about their unmet needs and how we can help them feel more secure. In just four years our occupancy has gone from 51 per cent to 100 per cent and I believe that’s as a result of having the empathy to talk to parents.”
Family Connections also partners with a number of allied health professionals and other support agencies. It’s a unique program for centre directors and educators to improve the learning outcomes for children and their families in vulnerable circumstances.
This year, two community partners will also take part in the program – Connecting Community for Kids and Communicare.
Goodstart educators attend one and two day workshops during a year-long period to learn to support children’s learning at home and within centres. Topics include communication, social, emotional and sensory development, community links and attachment-based principles.
Family Connections has been implemented in more than 152 communities in Australia. The program supports Goodstart’s commitment to social inclusion because it focuses on child development and aims to improve early childhood outcomes, particularly for those experiencing vulnerability.
Goodstart Early Learning Western Australia state manager Todd Dawson said the support for the program from Woodside would enhance educational programs and practices across child care services for the ultimate benefit of children and their families.
“We know children who are vulnerable benefit most from early learning experiences, but often participate the least. This is why we work to ensure all children – regardless of their circumstances – have access to high quality early learning programs.”