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The Centre’s 2024 Early Years Forum

The Centre’s Early Start Bright Future team was privileged to bring together strong voices with varied experience and expertise in discussing the intersection between family violence and early development.

“The panel discussion, with the lived experience view, gave me a real drive to continue doing what I do in my work with victim-survivors.’’ – Attendee.

Bronwen Fitzgerald, Deputy Secretary of Early Childhood Education, opened the forum by highlighting the Department of Education’s commitment to improving the lives of disadvantaged children.

Dr. Wendy Bunston has worked with children in recovery from family violence for over 25 years; she offers a transformative perspective on work with infants and young children. Dr Bunston delivered an impassioned and captivating keynote presentation summarising key themes such as recognising children’s voices, trauma’s impact on learning, the importance of community connection, and the role of professionals working with children and families in the early years.

Lived Experience

Tanya, a participant in the Centre’s Lived Experience Design Project, recounted her journey and generously shared her experience of engaging her children in early years education in the wake of family violence. Tanya addressed the sensitive and challenging issue of child protection workers visiting children in their safe spaces. Tanya’s children experienced this in their kindergarten, a situation common among many children who encounter it in their school setting as well. The recent Let Us Learn report provides further insight into this challenge.

Tanya spoke about feeling disempowered by the many systems supporting her and her children. Her key message was, avoid labelling parents and children. Don’t just tick the family violence box and assume they will be troubled – have high expectations. Partner and collaborate with parents and caregivers to understand their situation so both parties can work together to ensure these young people thrive.

The Early Start Bright Future team is passionate about the importance of quality early education. We are currently working with several stakeholders to develop a resource to support caregivers and professionals in identifying what quality education in the early years looks like, how to find it, and why it matters.

Transitioning To a Nurturing Environment

Jacinta Anderson shared a powerful case study from Moe Heights Preschool, illustrating a transformative journey. The preschool transitioned from a challenging environment, marked by children using violence onsite and high staff burnout rates, to a calm, safe, and nurturing setting. This shift was achieved through collaboration with Koorie Engagement Support Officers (KESOs), implementation of trauma-informed practices, advocacy for structural changes, and a commitment to creating a supportive environment for both children and educators.

Claire Stanley spoke about the opportunity MARAM provides. “MARAM represents a way of partnering, changing from doing to, to being with. To be successful in safety and wellbeing, we have got to listen to children, and we must listen to the adults providing care around them.” Claire said.

Kathy Warwick, Head of Trauma Consulting with the Allanah Madeline Foundation, reminded us,

“It’s forums like this, it’s the professionals that come to these spaces and that work in these spaces – the more we understand, the more we get to reflect and make sense of these different experiences – the more we can share the responsibility.”

Our forum opened a rich conversation around children’s rights, trauma and empowerment, and the importance of collaboration.

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