More than a million children attend one of Australia’s 15 500 early education services every year. They deserve responsive, skilled guidance through those critical early years and especially as difficulties or vulnerabilities emerge. One in five children enters school with at least one developmental vulnerability (AEDC, n.d.).
Knowing that one in seven children between the ages of four and 17 experienced a mental health condition in the past year, is a sobering thought. That means 560 000 young Australians needed support in the previous 12 months (Australian Government Department of Health, 2015).
Are you confident that they had the educator and family support they needed, when they needed it, wherever they were, whatever age they were?
The early years are the time when the foundations of lifelong mental health and wellbeing are built. Over ECA’s 80-year history, young children’s wellbeing, development and learning have always been at the core of our focus, and in the previous 10 years we have worked closely with Beyond Blue to deliver KidsMatter Early Childhood, to support young children’s mental health and wellbeing.
That’s why ECA is delighted to be part of Be You, the new initiative announced by Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, on Thursday 1 November, joining with Beyond Blue and headspace to deliver professional learning experiences for educators across early learning services, primary and secondary schools. We welcome the Federal Government’s commitment to evolving and building on the work of the early childhood sector and research into children’s health.
Be You is an integrated national initiative that will resource educators and leaders to support children’s mental health and wellbeing. It will expand the capacity of ECA’s expert team so they can reach 2000 early childhood services over the next two years with free professional learning resources and support. The initiative offers multiple ways to connect, including free online resources and events such as ‘Be You Essentials’—to launch action in local areas—and ‘Be You Check-ins’, as well as an expert team of ECA Be You consultants across the nation to work with your team.
In her launch address, former Prime Minister and CEO of Beyond Blue, Julia Gillard, recognised that a strength of Be You is its ‘solid foundations … backed by evidence’. That’s why if your team or organisation has been part of KidsMatter, then take a bow! We congratulate all KidsMatter participants because your commitment and implementation has helped build knowledge and understanding, and has strengthened early childhood practice. From this strong base, Be You will evolve and expand.
Enthusiastic educator and team responses show the benefits and endorse the direction of Be You:
‘We wanted a whole team approach to … understand families’ perspectives and … support families more.’
‘I personally have a keen interest in mental health in adults and children … and I felt it would be an extremely supportive program for our children and families.’
‘… being able to support mental health within our community proactively.’
‘When we had our original meeting, educators could see the importance of participating for each other and as a group.’
One participant, part of the journey from the start, summed it up in her post:
KidsMatter has been an amazing journey for our children, families and educators. We were in the pilot program and have implemented the strategies consistently ever since. Thank you to everyone on the KidsMatter team for your support and wisdom over the years, and thanks to ECA for having the foresight to run with this great program. We will continue the journey under the new banner.
For early childhood education and care, Be You brings some significant shifts as well as preserves some of the best elements of KidsMatter Early Childhood. We are excited that Be You:
- signals the Federal Government’s renewed commitment to expand on the national investment into young children’s mental health and wellbeing
- brings the first-ever national focus to integrate resources and support for educators right across childhood, from the earliest years, through primary and secondary schooling, up to age 18
- aims to grow ‘a mentally healthy generation’ of children and young people and provides pre-emptive strategies for educators as well as responses for children and families when vulnerabilities are identified
- brings a ‘whole setting’ approach, ensuring that children will have integrated, consistent approaches in their early learning services and schools and the support they need through the transitions and difficulties that arise across childhood
- supports future and early career educators to start on a strong footing with practices that promote mental health.
Some current participants may have been confused by the name change and wondered whether they will miss out or need to do anything to stay engaged. Let me reassure current, past and future participants that the expertise, support and free resources that you have come to rely on and expect from ECA, and which have proved so popular across the early childhood sector, will continue to evolve and expand through Be You.
ECA’s Be You consultants have continued to work with early childhood services on KidsMatter while preparing for the launch of Be You. They are ready to support, guide and mentor new participants as well as guide existing services to transition to Be You.
Link up with your ECA Be You consultant now to find a learning community and a ‘whole setting approach’. Sign up at www.beyou.edu.au to explore more and find your consultant. Find Be You Early Learning on Facebook and join the conversation on Twitter at: @BeYouEarly.
Australian Early Development Census (AEDC). (n.d.). Findings from the AEDC. Accessed October 2018 at www.aedc.gov.au/schools/findings-from-the-aedc.
Australian Government Department of Health. (2015). The mental health of children and adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Accessed October 2018 at www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/mental-pubs-m-child2.