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Past experiences add up for team leader

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Working as a labour mediator in apartheid South Africa may not sound like the usual experience for a Goodstart Early Learning Child and Family Services team leader.

But it’s this background working in high stress situations, dealing with different opinions, and gaining experience in negotiation that Craig Nevin says helps him in his role at Goodstart.

Mr Nevin now supports educators at three EChO centres (Warwick Wood St, Warwick Percy St and Richlands), encouraging them to reflect on improving their practice during weekly on- and off-the floor sessions.

Enhancing Children’s Outcomes (EChO) centres are in communities where there is a high number of children who are developmentally vulnerable.

“I aim to inspire educators to create a safe haven experience for children so they can feel more comfortable exploring and learning through play,” he said.   

Mr Nevin, who has a degree in social science and psychology, arrived in Australia 20 years ago and started his career at Reconnect, working with parents and adolescents.

“I supported children who wanted to move out of the family home because things were no longer working out for them, and their parents who wanted them to stay,” Mr Nevin said.

“We tried to mediate with the parents and children so that they could stay in their homes and for me it was a great experience because we had a lot of success in keeping families together.”

Mr Nevin then moved into child protection, a role he describes as challenging and frustrating, with little contact with the actual children he was trying to protect.

“I found working there that when there is dysfunction in relationships, the older we are the harder it is to unravel the issues and problems. The more entrenched the problems become over the years, the harder it is to heal. I started to notice that if you could work with families and children who were younger, you have a much better outcomes,” Mr Nevin said.

This led him to Goodstart, and a focus on the emotional regulation of children who are struggling with big emotions.

As a not-for-profit organisation, Goodstart is committed to improving the lives of Australia’s children and their families. Its purpose is the ensure children have the learning, development and wellbeing outcomes they need.

“My work takes in a large part of Goodstart’s overall purpose,” Mr Nevin said.

“Our aim is to support our educators to get a better understanding of how to deal with big emotions and by doing this, we enable children to learn and thrive.

“We work to encourage them to understand what’s happening in children’s lives, how we can better support them, and how we work with parents to create better outcomes.”

Research by Harvard University shows 90 per cent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of five years old.

In the first five years of life, more than one million new neural connections are formed every second, a process driven by a child’s experiences. It’s these early connections which build the brain architecture upon which all future learning depends.

“So much happens in child development before the age of five years old that it’s where you can really make a difference and that’s why early learning is so important,” Mr Nevin said.

“We introduce the circle of security for children to feel safe in the hands of their carers so they can learn and explore. This is an easy way of explaining attachment theory and it ties in beautifully with the existing framework of the organization,” he said.

As a Baby Boomer with grown-up children, Mr Nevin is enjoying sharing his experience with educators and parents.

“I really enjoy sharing my experience and seeing the results of that work,” he said. “You often see a child who is angry and frustrated at the beginning, and by providing a safe environment and the help and support they need, you see a smiling happy child.

“It’s really easy to enjoy your job when you see that – we can get very immediate rewards out of it.”

As a male in a predominately female dominated industry, Mr Nevin said walking into a centre for the first time was “terrifying”.

“It was actually my biggest fear about joining early learning. But I quickly learnt that children want to connect and they treat you like a bit of a Rockstar because you’re a male,” he laughs.

“We are a bit different to what they’re used to but there is something to be said for men in early learning. Many of the children we’re working with don’t have strong role models in their families or they’re being taught to behave in a certain way.

“There will always be a stigma and misunderstanding about men in early learning but overall it does bring something to it – it’s no better or worse, it’s just different.”
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