By Arwen Hann
Most early childhood education services strive to work with the parents and whanau of their children, and to identify any problems that the children in their care might have, but there is probably always more that can be done.
The government has indicated it wants to increase ECE participation in low decile areas where families often need extra help, so it may be that in the future ECE services become places where parents can access more than just childcare, places that also offer access to health and welfare services as well.
One way in which this is already being done is the Family Partnership Model, which is used in New Zealand by Plunket in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development.
The model was introduced to New Zealand in 2006 and is currently provided by Family and Community Services, part of the Ministry of Social Development, and Plunket. Around 1000 people have taken part in courses from organisations including the police, Work and Income, Child, Youth and Family and Parent Help.
The Family Partnership Model was developed in the United Kingdom by two psychologists, Professor Hilton Davis and Dr Crispin Day. It is aimed at improving existing health, welfare, and education services by building relationships between different organisations and between the organisations and the families they work with.
A report commissioned by the Families Commission in 2009 concluded that the family partnership model had the "potential to eliminate barriers between agencies and organisations, building trust and encouraging communication across sectors". While wider scale training would need funding, the report said that "better support services which can recognise family difficulties before they escalate, and help practitioners to work together where problems are complex, can be cost-effective and beneficial for children and their families".
During the course, participants learn to practice Family Partnership Model skills and work with other organisations to develop common approaches when they work with families. They also work to strengthen the relationship between their organisation and other agencies and the relationship with families. The training also helps each participant develop their skills for identifying and assessing any problems a child might have such as social issues or behavioural problems. Good communication is an important part of the Family Partnership Model, both between organisations and between the service providers and the families they work with.
In an ECE setting, this could help teachers identify problems early on, and build relationships with other agencies to get help with the problem. With many children being enrolled in ECE for increasingly long periods, it may become even more important in the future that ECE teachers can adequately assist with any therapy or programme designed to overcome physical, social, or behavioural issues. It could also help ECE providers to communicate more effectively with parents when there is an issue.
The Families Commission report recommended that if evaluations showed the Family Partnership Model did have benefits then "consideration at policy and operational level of how it can most efficiently and cost-effectively be integrated into staff development training across sectors can be undertaken", although there is no suggestion that this has happened to any great extent.
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