The paper titled The Importance of the Early Childhood Years discusses mental health difficulties in children and the impacts these difficulties can have on health, behavioural, educational and financial outcomes.
The paper has been developed to put a spotlight on how the early years shape children’s mental health and wellbeing, and highlights the need for continued and expanded high quality early childhood services and schools.
Director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, Jaelea Skehan says the paper is an important step forward in opening the conversation about children’s future development and the role of educators.
“Positive early childhood development is important for the wellbeing of children, and can also lead to lasting benefits for their future health and learning.
“Thousands of children attend early childhood and primary schools services in Australia and educators play a critical part in supporting these children and their families,” said Ms Skehan.
The paper discusses the training and support available to teachers and educators and considers how children’s mental health and wellbeing could be reflected in future investment and policy.
CEO of Early Childhood Australia, Samantha Page states the importance of warm responsive and nurturing relationships as a protective factor for social and emotional wellbeing is well documented.
“Families and early childhood educators have significant influence on how these relationships influence children’s mental health and wellbeing now and in the future.
“It is important that early childhood services are not only recognised for the critical role they play in children’s development but also the role they play in supporting and developing partnerships with families,” said Ms Page.
Ensuring educators are well-trained and supported to implement effective practice is key to creating early childhood and school environments that support children’s development and wellbeing.
“Because early childhood is so influential, adults caring for children must be supported to provide environments and experiences that enable children to develop in optimal ways."
The Response Ability program and KidsMatter initiative are two Australian Government programs that aim to assist teachers and educators to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children.
Dr Lyn O’Grady, KidsMatter National Project Manager at the Australian Psychological Society believes in whole-of-service professional learning and encourages services and schools to implement practices and programs that foster supportive learning environments.
“Because early childhood is so influential, adults caring for children must be supported to provide environments and experiences that enable children to develop in optimal ways,” Dr O’Grady said.
The Hunter Institute of Mental Health, along with Australian Psychological Society and Early Childhood Australia, is committed to working collaboratively in the health and education sectors to achieve positive mental health and wellbeing for children, and to prevent mental illness.
The Importance of the Early Childhood Years - Issues paper