The importance of supporting and nurturing children’s mental health and wellbeing as part of their broader early education is being highlighted by the launch of a new Australian Government-funded practical resource for early childhood educators, Connections.
Federal Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley, said Connections was a joint initiative between the Australian Government and the Hunter Institute of Mental Health and its release coincided with National Mental Health Week 2014 (5-12 October).
Ms Ley said Connections had been developed in partnership with early childhood educators to help build their “knowledge, skills and confidence” in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children at their service.
“It’s widely accepted that a child’s mental health and wellbeing is a crucial factor in their early development,” Ms Ley said.
“And with well over one million children enrolled in early education and care programmes throughout Australia, the nation’s early childhood educators have a significant role to play.
“Connections is designed to be a practical resource for educators aimed at bolstering the important work already being undertaken to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in early childhood services across the country.
“It’s also about recognising that every child is an individual and supporting educators with the tools to identify and manage the unique mental health challenges that can arise on a regular basis.”
Director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, Jaelea Skehan, said this included everything from tips on how best to talk to children about their feelings through to strategies and case studies helping educators, families and professionals work together if a child was experiencing difficulties.
Ms Skehan said Connections also included additional support for educators working with: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families; refugee and migrant families; children experiencing trauma, loss and grief; abuse and violence; and children with parents with a mental illness.
“Educators can help young children learn how to manage their emotions and interact well with others. They are also well placed to identify when a child may be experiencing mental health difficulties and assist families,” said Ms Skehan.
“Mental health is everybody’s business, not just the domain of the health and mental health sector.
“No one expects educators to be providing counselling or treatment as part of their role. But we want to make sure that they have access to good information and tips that will help them in their day-to-day work with children and their families.
“Extensive consultation has been undertaken with early childhood educators across Australia, as well as early childhood and mental health peak bodies, to ensure the suitability, relevance and usefulness of this resource for early childhood education and care services.”
Ms Skehan said the content of Connections had been based on international evidence, expert opinion and best practice and also linked to formal early childhood regulations such as the National Quality Standard, Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care.
Connections is an Australian Government-funded initiative developed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, with hard copies to be distributed to long day care, family day care, preschool and out of school hours care services throughout Australia.
For electronic copies of Connections or further information, please visit www.himh.org.au/connections or the Department of Education website (education.gov.au).
About the Hunter Institute of Mental Health
The Hunter Institute of Mental Health has built a reputation as a leading national organisation dedicated to reducing mental illness and suicide and improving wellbeing for all Australians. For more than 20 years, the Institute has been delivering successful, evidence-based mental health and suicide prevention programs from their base in Newcastle, NSW. These have made a considerable contribution to the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians. As part of their work, the Hunter Institute leads programs around child and youth wellbeing, and is committed to building the capacity of those who work with children and young people to support their mental health and wellbeing. For more information visit www.himh.org.au
Media Contact (Hon Sussan Ley): Troy Bilsborough 0427 063 150
Media Contact (Jaelea Skehan): Brooke Cross 0414 292 403