Inclusion support critical in pandemic, and beyond23 Jul 2021
While COVID-19 pandemic-driven impacts of extended lockdowns, rising Delta infections in children, and constantly changing restrictions for families continue to devastate the early childhood education and care sector, inclusion in early learning has never been more important for our youngest Victorians.
Inclusion means that every child has access to, participates meaningfully in, and experiences positive outcomes from early learning programs. Effective inclusive practice supports children’s individual learning and development, as well as their mental and physical health, benefiting them now and into their futures.
The Victorian Inclusion Agency (VIA) administers the Australian Government’s Inclusion Support Program, an initiative that supports early childhood teachers and educators to include every child and family that walks through their door.
Julie Price, Executive Director of Community Child Care Association (CCC), lead delivery partner of the VIA alongside consortium partners Yooralla and KU Children’s Services, says that ‘the combined impacts of stress on educators and families is directly affecting thousands of children, placing extra emphasis on the importance of inclusive practice for what it can provide now, during especially tough times, and more sustainably over the longer term.
’ In Victoria, inclusion outreach and support to services are provided by the VIA’s state-wide network of more than 50 Inclusion Professionals. And while Inclusion Professionals are reporting increased anxiety on the ground amongst early childhood educators, as well as children and their families, they are still managing to offer practical support in a range of significant ways.
These days, most help is delivered virtually.
The VIA works closely with early childhood educators to identify barriers in their environments or programs so that they may encourage full inclusion. Inclusion Professionals can provide tailored support for educators with practical advice and strategies, along with resources and a list of local training opportunities where available.
Inclusion Professionals also help services to develop Strategic Inclusion Plans, known as SIPs. A SIP is an assessment and planning tool that includes strategies for improving and embedding inclusive practice. SIPs also identify if funding is required through the Inclusion Support Program and can provide access to specialist equipment.
From late July 2020 to June 2021, the level of Inclusion Professionals’ support to services increased significantly, particularly the assistance they provide to a service’s SIP development, up from 58.7 per cent in 2019–2020 to 74.8 per cent in 2020–2021. This activity has largely helped create programs for all children, including those experiencing stress and anxiety who may be demonstrating this through complex behaviours.
As an example, a VIA Inclusion Professional recently worked with a Melbourne early childhood service whose team was burnt out because of COVID and was struggling to support children who appeared to be affected. Through the Innovative Solutions funding stream, the service engaged an occupational therapist and an accredited play therapist to build educators’ capacity and knowledge on trauma, and identify strategies for creating appropriate environments. This valuable work built educators’ understanding of trauma and attachment, and helped to bring back a sense of calm.
‘It is important to remember that inclusion is for all times, not just when we respond in a crisis. That’s why the VIA builds strong, reliable and supportive relationships with services, to keep the conversations going,’ adds Ms Price.
‘It’s a key focus at any time, but when so many people and communities are suffering, inclusion is absolutely critical for every child.
’ For more information or to arrange an interview with Community Child Care Association Executive Director, Julie Price, please contact Cath Newell on 0423 587 478