Tuning into families

This is the third in a series of blogs by CATHARINE HYDON on the idea of professionalism in times of uncertainty—a conversation worth having. This blog explores how early childhood professionals can tune into families even when there are questions we can’t answer and futures we can’t know drawing on a professional code of ethics. Find more resources at the end of this blog.

Building strong and respectful relationships with families has always been a fundamental part of the way early childhood professionals work. Central to our pedagogical compass is the need to walk alongside families as their children’s first and most important teachers, building programs that enhance children learning and development.

In challenging times, the need for honest, open and respectful relationships is more significant than ever and poignantly more challenging to establish and maintain. As professionals, we are required to draw on our knowledge, practice experience and courage to navigate the daily connections with families who are (like us) stressed and very uncertain about what the future holds.

I have heard many stories in this unfolding crisis of families who, with the best of intentions centred around their children’s best interest, have challenged educators to come up with answers where none are known. From hygiene practices and managing social distancing with babies, to how fee subsidies and notice times will work, educators have spent hours talking through decisions and attempting to respond calmly to irate questions. To add to the complexity of these conversations, our varying beliefs and understanding about children and child-rearing practices are brought forward. Fractious conversations have followed as we attempt to be truthful with children about what is happening while at the same time, respectful of families views.

Likewise, there are stories surfacing of families who although keeping their own children at home are agreeing to pay fees to maintain the viability of an early childhood service they value and to ensure the employment of educators who they can’t imagine not being part of their children’s lives.   And in recognition of our professional expertise families are publicly sharing their admiration of the amazing contribution educator have made to their capacity to be a great parent to their children.

And all the while we are managing own anxieties at the growing uncertainty—many of these questions and concerns are also true for us. We stand in two worlds.

So how do we navigate our relationships with families in these difficult times? Is it our role to listen and refrain from comment?  Or should we defend our decisions with resolve? Is it a combination of both? Is it a matter of doing the heavy lifting: rising above and demonstrating respect in the face of disrespect?

The ECA Code of Ethics provides childhood professionals with a way forward.

  • Central to our ethical obligation is the requirement to recognise families as their child’s first and most important teacher and the right of families to make decisions in their children’s best interests even if we disagree (the safety of children notwithstanding). So, if a family does not want us to talk to their children in explicit terms about this crisis, we must respect their opinion.
  • In the same vain and yes, a bit contradictory, we are invited to advocate for children as global citizens with rights and the capability to understand their world. Perhaps our ethical obligation is to tread lightly here. Listen, learn from families and offer our perspectives gently and carefully.
  • And maybe as a final note and a starting point we ought to be explicit with families that these are taxing times and that we are in partnerships with them and our communities in our ‘shared responsibility for children’s learning, development and wellbeing’.


ECA Recommends

ECA Learning Hub module – Partnerships with families
presented by Anne Stonehouse

This module has been developed to help educators build and strengthen partnerships with families on an ongoing basis, taking into account different circumstances and settings.

The module includes video interviews with educators from long day care, family day care and outside school hours care. Whichever part of the children’s education and care sector you work in, this module will provide helpful information, ideas and opportunities for reflection. You can purchase this module on the ECA Learning Hub here

ECA Learning Hub module picture

ECA Learning Hub module – Working with the ECA Code of Ethics 
presented by Catharine Hydon

This module, presented by Catharine Hydon, extends upon the revised ECA Code of Ethics and examines what it means to be ethical and how early childhood educators can use the Code of Ethics to strengthen relationships with children, families, colleagues, societies and the profession. This module also includes interviews with various early childhood educators and shows how they apply the ECA Code of Ethics into everyday situations.

Suitable for early childhood education and care professionals at all stages of their careers, you can purchase this module on the ECA Learning Hub here

Catharine Hydon

Catharine has extensive experience in the early childhood sector in Australia and overseas. Beginning as a teacher in a sessional kindergarten program Catharine has gone on to manage a range of services for children and their families from long day settings to community hubs. Catharine has a Masters in Early Childhood Education specialising in early childhood practice, policy and governance, the delivery of integrated services and the exploration of innovative programs to engage vulnerable children and their families. Catharine draws on this study in her work with practitioners to consider how theory connects and informs practice. Catharine’s involvement in the early childhood field is an important part of her commitment to the sector. She is a long-time member of the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) currently serves as the Co-chair of the Reconciliation Advisory Group and is a regular contributor in ECA publications. Catharine has been a member of the ECA Code of Ethics working group for the last two reviews and is a co-author on the recently published Ethics in Action Implementation guide. Catharine is also a member of the Respectful Relationship Expert Advisory Group for the Victorian Department of Education and the EY-10 Curriculum and Assessment Committee for the VCAA. Catharine is a dynamic speaker and collaborative facilitator and is skilled at engaging professionals in reflective dialogue and creative conversations.

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