Forming and strengthening partnerships

2: Forming and strengthening partnerships

2.1 Partnering your Centre Leader

To kick start the inclusion journey in your centre, it is important to check in with your centre leader on their expectations of the ICO role and direction for the centre. The following provides you with a possible roadmap on how to kick start the conversation with your centre leader. 

*Check out this sample template for workplanning!

If you are keen to learn more about collaborating with fellow EC educators and EI professionals, do check out Domain 4 on Coordinating Support for Children with DN.

2.2 Partnering families

Collaboration with parents/caregivers is paramount to their understanding of their child’s development holistically.

Family-centered practice can be useful for fostering collaboration with families, through a set of beliefs, principles, values and practices that support and strengthen family capacity to enhance and promote child development and learning:

  • Get to know the family, not just the child
  • Focus on strengths, not deficits
  • Form a collaborative partnership

A. Get to know the family, not just the child

When we get to know families who have a child with developmental needs, it is a privilege when they let us into their lives and to be a part of their journey. This means that we should take time and effort to get to know about the family.

  • This can be done through formal tools such as the Ecomap, which can tell you about the family composition, who surrounds the family, and what kinds of resources they may have to tap on for the caregiving and support of their child.
  • A routines-based interview can also provide insight into what the child and family is doing at different points of the day, and what are the top-most priorities of the family at a given point in time.
  • Try to create opportunities for informal face-to-face conversations, beyond the formal conversations scheduled for the purposes of assessments, goal-setting or progress monitoring. Be the one to initiate an informal chit chat with parents, as that signals to them that conversations do not always have to surround the child
  • For example, set time for informal chit-chat with parents during dismissal time (rather than arrival time, as parents may be more in a rush)
  • Get to know what the family’s belief system is and what they value. This will give us an idea of how we can frame our approach in engaging them in understanding about early intervention.

The family is very often the constant in the life of a young child.

  • While we spend time assessing the child’s strengths and needs, and have an idea of what kind of help or intervention would work for them, it is important to put these pieces of information in the context of the family’s strengths and needs.
  • For example, if the family is struggling with finances and logistics of caregiving, it makes sense that they may not want to even consider the idea of having to send their child to an early intervention centre for additional services. This means that we probably need to find an alternative source of service, or refer the family to a social worker at a Family Service Centre who can help.

B. Focus on strengths, not deficits

When we observe a young child playing with toys, participating in class, and interacting with their friends, are we able to point out what the child can do? Or do we take a deficit-based lens and pick out what the child cannot do that is expected at his or her age?

When we speak to parents and family members, do we jump to conclusions about the family situation and what the family cannot do instead of focusing on what strengths they may already have?

While it is definitely important to be able to place a child against developmental norms to assess the degree of delay, very often, parents have already been told what the child cannot do.

  • In our interaction with parents, it is thus important to consider carefully how we can phrase our conversations such that parents feel empowered and not overwhelmed or discouraged with their child’s abilities.
  • By recognizing what the child or family can already do, we encourage improvement and provide opportunities for growth. Spend some time observing what the child can do and share these with parents – “Look at how he reached out to hold your hand when he saw you!”
  • Complimenting both the child and family does not have to involve grand gestures or big words. What we want to be able to convey is how much we do value the child and what the family is doing for their child. The compliment should be highly individualized and most of all, genuine and sincere.
  • For example, when discussing about the child’s performance, instead of saying, “Kayden was not able to participate with his friends during group games today.”, we can say “Even though it was hard for him to respond to my instructions during group games, Kayden was able to sit with his friends and watch what they were doing during group games. Tomorrow we will help him ask for a turn during the game.”
  • Notice what the family has done for the child - “You must have spent quite a bit of time preparing his snack today.”

C. Form a collaborative partnership

In family-centred practice, there are shared roles and responsibilities among families and professionals.

  • It may be important to establish the expectations of the relationship from the get-go, through our conversations, our communication behaviour and how we interact with parents.
  • In a family-centred partnership, there is respect for the family’s control over the choices they make; while we provide information that they need, parents are the ultimate decision makers.

This practice calls for a shift from a professionally-centred model where professionals have control over determining what the child and family needs, recommends or prescribes what they think will benefit the family, to a model where the belief is that parents are the experts of the child’s strengths and needs and will make the best decision for the child.

It shifts the way that we approach families or talk to them, as we are no longer the expert with the answers, but an equal partner who listens and facilitates the decision-making process.

Seek to understand what the challenges faced by the family are in the context of the family’s values and belief system. Encourage and give families space to share their perspectives and preferences. Providing professional input without due understanding of the priorities or current concerns of the family will be counterproductive.

In building a collaborative partnership, information sharing at key junctures are important. For example, a child’s transition between classes, levels or schools can be particularly challenging for families. However, this can be supported through a joint effort among ECEs, EI professionals, and families, to bring all onto the same page to reinforce the child’s learning and intervention strategies.

  • For example, it may not be meaningful to set a priority goal for parents to learn how to use an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system during meal times if the family is having difficulties bringing the food to the table.
  • Family circumstances are also not taken into consideration, if we advise parents to instil a wind-down sleeping routine by 8 pm so that the child will learn better in school. The family may have certain bedtime habits or beliefs, such as the whole family sleeps at midnight or perhaps the child is not able to go to sleep because the EC educators prefer for him to take a longer naptime in the afternoon due to various reasons.

Your centre can consider coordinating and organising workshops for parents, that provide information regarding:

  • transition process
  • the benefits for the child to proceed to the next class level
  • expectation of the new class, new routines and curriculum
  • strategies for supporting their child’s adjustment
  • activities that can be done at home for the child to enhance specific skills for the transition
  • opportunity for parents to ask questions and address concerns.