Over the past few weeks, children right across Victoria have been getting to know their new schools. cohealth has been supporting children with these big first steps through the School Readiness Funding (SRF) program.
The SRF program helps address educational disadvantages for children attending kindergarten. Through the SRF program, cohealth’s Child Youth and Family Team supports almost 150 kindergartens in the Hobsons Bay, Maribrynong, Melbourne, Moonee Valley and Wyndham LGAs.
By working with early childhood educators, the program supports the learning and development of children in:
- social and emotional wellbeing
- access and inclusion.
“What’s special about our program is how individualised it is,” says cohealth Child Psychologist Victoria Thornton. “It’s not a copy-and-paste program – we really listen to the service’s needs and address them, which helps our skilled team build those strong relationships.”
Through the SRF program, the cohealth team will support educators to learn and grow their own teaching by considering their interactions with children, children’s play skills and the classroom environment.
“We develop a rapport with these educators,” says cohealth Childrens’ Speech Pathologist and SRF Team Leader Ingrid Quanchi. “A lot of preschoolers have difficulty regulating emotions, for example, so they often need support and new ideas for how to manage those difficult behaviours.”
Ingrid explained how the team supported an educator who working with a child who was very active but wasn’t talking. By finding out that the child was interested in painting and drawing, and by working with the educator the try different strategies, the team was able to help engage the child in learning.
“Soon he was painting like never before. Then he started using words and making eye contact. [The educator’s] face lit up; she’d never heard him speak. Even his family had said that he didn’t really talk,” says Ingrid. “But here he was, showing us his work, copying what we were doing, demonstrating his sensory preferences and having a back-and-forth conversation. It was a huge moment to see that this child who she thought couldn’t speak actually could, just in a different way.”
SRF supports 3-year-old and 4-year-old children in all state-funded kindergarten programs in Victoria, as well as long day care. The team hosts presentations and workshops to help kindergarten staff use different strategies and ideas for their students. It also provides
- coaching and mentoring
- case consultations
- resource development
- family information sessions.
The lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 presented many challenges, both for the SRF team and the educators they support.
“The educators’ stress levels are very high, because some children post-COVID have more heightened behavioural problems and anxiety,” says Victoria. “And without things like playgroup, they’ve been with their parents for a much longer time than most other children, plus a huge increase in screen time, so we’re unfortunately dealing with a lot of anxious children.”
“Because of the [staff] shortage,” said Ingrid, “the staff can’t be relieved when they’re sick, and obviously can’t come in, so sometimes the whole centre has to shut for the day and they feel guilty. In a lot of our kinders, they were already experiencing difficulties with children and families, and the stress on top of that caused them to resign. Then they couldn’t recruit to fill their position, which meant we couldn’t get time to support the remaining staff – it’s all very taxing.”
In what is sometimes a very challenging landscape, Ingrid and her team still found moments where their brilliant collaborative work shines through.
“We just had to be creative with how we support. We needed to be very sensitive to their needs and time, and our team has responded brilliantly to those demands.”
“We’re hoping this year can be more ‘stable’ now that we’re back on-site,” says Victoria. “We’ve been able to build their skills and work through so many problems, as well as change some parents’ minds about what kindergarten ‘should be’. It’s all so interesting and important, and our teams working together has been so great.”