Ethics in action

We are surrounded by ethics every day in every setting, whether it be a decision or situation. But what about applying ethics in early childhood education and care? Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has launched a series of workshops around New South Wales (NSW) engaging with ECA’s Code of Ethics in a practical and meaningful way for teams learning how to use the code. 

‘I believe children benefit from being around self-respecting adults’—Lilian G. Katz[1]

Ethics is in Australian news. Every day we see reports about the behaviour of individuals and organisations that we had trusted to do the right thing. At the highest levels of government through to the playground, we find that the behaviours of others are not what we hope for or expect. And this affects the whole community whether we are consumers, families, young children or students, worshippers, employees, taxpayers or fellow citizens. This means there is a new level of scrutiny and awareness about behaviour, ethics and responsibility. Organisations find they need to take stock of themselves and the situations that arise in their workplaces and in dealings with clients.

More than ever, new recruits and new entrants to the early childhood sector as well as families of young children are reappraising education and care settings. What does it mean to be ethical when working with families and young children? What does it mean to be part of an ethical team? What do ethics in action look like in early childhood? Is there a professional code of ethics in place? Who do I go to when the situation becomes unclear?

For leaders and managers in the sector, the questions include how do I support my team to understand the ethical dimensions of their practice? Are educators in my team equipped to respond to the many tricky situations that arise every day in an early childhood setting?

Recent exploration of trust and the workplace by marketing group Edelman (19th Annual Edelman Trust Barometer, 2019) suggests that while big gaps have opened up around the world in the trust that individuals place in organisations and institutions, more people are now looking for reliable sources of information. Many see their employer as a trusted source of information and link a trusted employer with leadership on change and social impact ie contributing to the betterment of society.

Lilian Katz, internationally renowned and much-respected early childhood thought leader, says developing and trusting our own judgement as early childhood professionals is crucial.

‘As teachers, all we have at a given moment in a specific situation is our own very best judgment,’ Katz says. ‘Throughout our professional lives, we study and reflect in order to refine that judgment; we exchange with colleagues, consider others’ solutions to the problems we face, examine the available evidence—all in order to improve our judgment.’[2] But in the last analysis, our very best judgment is all there is’ (Katz, in Rothenberg, 2000, p 394).[3]

The ECA Code of Ethics has been in place since 1988 and has continuously developed over the years, in consultation with sector professionals and experts. The ECA Code of Ethics longevity says a lot about the commitment and professionalism of the early childhood sector that has remained in high demand since it first appeared. The brochures and posters for ECA’s revised Code of Ethics (2016) remains our most requested publication and is high on the list of social media engagement.

Due to the high interest, ECA has looked for other opportunities to explore ethics in practice. At the 2018 ECA National Conference the panel on ethical leadership with Dr Simon Longstaff AO, (Executive Director of the Ethics Centre), Catharine Hydon, Anthony Semann and Conjoint Associate Professor Linda Newman was among the most popular sessions for the 2000 participants.

‘Ethics is relevant to the everyday life and work of professionals, and is therefore not something abstract or removed from reality. Ethical professionals think carefully about their decisions and, individually or collectively, will enact values that the profession considers central to their work’—Catharine Hydon.

ECA is also trialling a workshop in response to educator interest in opportunities for face to face professional learning and networking with peers. The workshops Ethics in Action: A practical guide to implementing the ECA Code of Ethics are being held across regional NSW facilitated by leading early childhood consultant and educator Catharine Hydon. Catharine is former President of ECA Victoria Branch and a leading early childhood thinker and facilitator, who is well known for her professional learning conference sessions and workshops. She was a key part of the team that revised and consulted with the sector on the ECA Code of Ethics (2016).

Catharine says in her experience the workshops are an opportunity for educators who missed the session at ECA’s National conference in 2018, to be part of the ongoing conversation in the early childhood sector about ethical practice and ethical challenges. It is a chance to listen to colleagues, ask questions and explore answers on the ethical dilemmas that arise every day for educators and their leaders. One workshop participant who attended as part of a team commented that the workshop provided an opportunity ‘to have such an open and honest conversation … [the professional learning experience] felt like it brought our team closer together, learning together.’

‘The other thing about these sessions’, says Catharine ‘is that it makes the Code real—it’s the practicalities about how to use the code that will prove invaluable to teams as they engage in the National Quality Standard and exceeding practice.’


[1] 2000, Rothenberg, D. (Ed) p 394, Issues in Early Childhood Education: curriculum, teacher education, & dissemination of information, Proceedings of the Lilian Katz Symposium November 5-7, Catalog no 227, published by Early Childhood and Parenting (ECAP) Collaborative, University of Illinois.

[2] 2000, Rothenberg

[3] 2000, Rothenberg.

If you would like to be part of a face-to-face Code of Ethics conversation you can click here to find the workshop closest to you. We would love to have your feedback. With five held across NSW, including Port Macquarie (21 February) and Central Coast (Tumbi Umbi) (8 March), there’s one near you. Learn more and register.

Early Childhood Australia

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has been a voice for young children since 1938. We are the peak early childhood advocacy organisation, acting in the interests of young children, their families and those in the early childhood field. ECA advocates to ensure quality, social justice and equity in all issues relating to the education and care of children aged birth to eight years.

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