The silent scourge within the pandemic

‘We cannot control the dynamics of children’s home lives, but we are in a position of great influence.’ MEL ANGEL explores the impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence and shares resources to support educators when critically reflecting on the role you play in children’s lives. She asks, ‘how can we make a difference to the generations we are nurturing now, and what tools do we have to work with? and ‘what are our biases and how can we be more aware of them?’

As early childhood educators, we often talk about the difference we can and hope to make to young lives. Our national curriculum for children aged from birth to eight years—the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)—makes clear the extent of our responsibility: Children’s early learning influences their life chances (DEEW, 2009, p.9).

How can we make that difference to address the shocking statistics around violence perpetrated against women and children in this country? The killing of Hannah Clarke and her three young children earlier this year was but one case that affected us deeply. We asked ourselves how a little boy grows up to become the kind of man to murder his wife and children before taking his own life. Every day we see and hear stories that cause us to reflect and despair anew.

During this deeply unsettling time of COVID-19 we are aware that among the many repercussions for us all, the threat to women and children living with domestic violence has increased. This is substantiated by findings from a recent survey on reports of domestic abuse during the pandemic in Australia. Researchers at Monash University found that of 166 practitioners currently working with family violence, 60% said the pandemic had increased the frequency of violence against women as well as provided more opportunities for it to happen. Examples include perpetrators forbidding women to leave their homes, ‘to protect them’ from coronavirus and spreading rumours that victims had COVID-19 to further establish their isolation (Mills, 2020). Tragically for many, the home is not a safe place and evidence shows that violence can increase during and in the aftermath of disease outbreaks (WHO, 2020).

We cannot control the dynamics of children’s home lives, but we are in a position of great influence.

When we reflect on the behaviour of perpetrators (mostly men) who hurt and/or murder their partners and children, our training and experience tells us that these are people who do not respect the rights of others, lack emotional intelligence, and the ability to regulate their emotions. That most, though not all, of these heinous crimes are perpetrated by men suggests that there is something intrinsically wrong in the way we in our society raise children to regard gender, power and equality.

In our professional roles do we unintentionally respond to boys and girls differently in ways that influence how children see themselves and each other? There is no blame game here, just a provocation for critically reflecting on the role we play. How can we make a difference to the generations we are nurturing now, and what tools do we have to work with? What are our biases and how can we be more aware of them?

Let’s consider some of the resources we can access to support our thinking:

  • The EYLF is rich in research-based guidance such as ‘educators who give priority to nurturing relationships and providing children with consistent emotional support can assist children to develop the skills and understandings they need to interact positively with others’ (DEEW, 2009, p.12).
  • The Reggio Emilia Educational Approach values and respects children as citizens with rights, upholding an image of the child that is strong and deserving of a pedagogy that is respectful, collaborative and caring. Role modelling this way of being together can support children to have empathic relationships and to have strong self-esteem.
  • In response to the ‘National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children in 2010 -2022’ the South Australian Government updated the Keeping Safe: Child Protection Curriculum, a valuable resource with strategies to teach children about their right to be safe, managing relationships, recognising and reporting abuse, and developing protective strategies.
  • Seeking out professional learning such as The Anti-Bias Approach or other work by Dr Ruby Red Scarlet can further support our thinking.

Amid the uncertainties and challenges for us all in this time of global change, there are chances for us to stop, reflect and take action on issues that are on our radar yet not been given the attention they desperately need and deserve. Graça Machel—a strong advocate for children’s rights, Mozambique’s first post-independence Education Minister and widow of Nelson Mandela—writes powerfully about an opportunity that the COVID-19 pandemic affords us:

 ‘We have a unique window in which, as a human family, we are able to boldly address the social ills COVID-19 is unearthing, and redesign and build our social fabric. COVID-19 has gifted us a chance to end gender-based violence. We must take it’ (Machel, G, 2020)

We are tasked with many responsibilities in our profession. Supporting children to know how to be inclusive, and to respond respectfully and empathically to each other, regardless of gender, must be part of our current dialogue.

 ECA has developed resources for educators with support from the NSW government. Most recently ECA held Early Signals. First Responses which aims to assist educators to recognise and respond to children’s experience of trauma, even where this is not officially ‘notified’. You can also find resources about gender, equality and respectful relationships at ECA’s Start Early. Respectful Relationships for Life modules. 


ECA Recommends

Helping Children with Difficult Things
Research in Practice Series title

By Pam Linke

Difficulties are a part of everyone’s life. How we respond to them enhances or undermines our coping skills and resilience. This book is about understanding stress in infants and young children; recognising the signs of stress in infancy and early childhood; and responding in ways that support children’s developing sense of security, agency and confidence. It highlights strategies for educators to cope with everyday stresses, and provides guidance in supporting children who are exposed to more serious and damaging stressful events in their lives. Purchase your copy on the ECA Shop here.

Mel Angel

Mel Angel is an Adelaide-based teacher, learner and researcher working in the field of early childhood education. One of her key areas of interest is the impact of contemporary social, cultural and political activity on the lives of our youngest citizens, their families and educators. She has presented and written for both ECA and the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange.

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