Family centred early childhood intervention

Recognising the value of family centred early childhood intervention

For 40 years, EarlyEd has been advancing family centred early childhood intervention to children, their families and communities! To celebrate this milestone, we have created a community resource in the form of a historical timeline and stories from families, young people and those who have worked together with families. Early childhood intervention from 40 years ago and continuing to today, recognise the importance of the practices used to achieve effective outcomes for children with a disability or delays in development. This resource is a unique opportunity to see what a difference family centred early intervention made 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago and now. These practices were evidence based then and since have advanced further and underpin the way EarlyEd engages with families. Family voices are critical to understanding what matters. Their lived experience, sometimes confronting, becomes practice-based evidence and forces all providers and families alike to reflect on how we offer support services to children. The key messages coming through about families centred practices are:

  1. The importance of a focus on supporting families to know how to support their child at home, during the week, between sessions in everyday life.
  2. Parents and children who connected at the group sessions and were able to support each other during the week.

Since 1979, EarlyEd has supported thousands of children with disabilities and their families. What a legacy those early, very involved EarlyEd families and determined staff have left in advocating and campaigning for local services for children. EarlyEd has adapted to changes over the years and continues to be a well-respected early childhood intervention service. Families are still our focus. Family-centred practice underpins our methods because we know it makes a long-term difference to parents, siblings, extended family and the child who is involved with the early intervention.

The beginning

In 1978 a group of teachers in special education with Sandra Leonard, a psychology graduate from Macquarie University who had worked as a teacher with the Macquarie University Down Syndrome programme (supported by Moira Pieterse), were the main drivers of this initiative to start up a program that any child could access and that would become EarlyEd the following year. In 1979, EarlyEd commenced operating in Northern Sydney in response to UNESCO’s International Year of the Child. It was soon delivering services in Western Sydney area from Parramatta due to need. It was the first service of its kind in NSW to cater for all children aged 0-5 with a disability. While other services existed for specific disabilities such as physical disabilities, sight or hearing, EarlyEd was unique in that it supported all children with disability, aiming to help each child to achieve their full potential and offering family centred supports to parents to help support their child’s development at home. “One of the main advantages to us was learning how we could help Andrew in his early development. He learned socialisation skills in group activities and, in one-on-one sessions, he acquired basic pre-learning skills such as observing relationships between objects and determining similarities and differences between objects.  We met wonderful parents who have remained friends for over 30 years! (Anne, Andrew’s mother). EarlyEd started at a time when research in Australia into intervention approaches to support children with disabilities was delivering as clear outcomes as it was overseas. Macquarie University Down Syndrome program was well established. However, not everyone could access this service.

Services were first offered from Cremorne and soon were available at Parramatta and Camperdown. Some families came from the country areas once a month. Bernadette was born in 1982 and at birth was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. “We lived in country town Dubbo – 6 hours drive from Sydney. Absolutely no advice or help was available in those days. Just a small brochure describing Down Syndrome. No family intervention or ancillary services. …Oh what a challenge to our busy family with no knowledge of how to help her develop. Possibly around April-May 1979 a Dubbo friend (now living in Sydney) sent a small cut out from Sydney Morning Herald speaking about Sandra Leonard who had set up an Early Intervention Clinic in Cremorne. We made contact and proceeded to endeavour to bring Bernie down once a month to the clinic for development therapy and methods of how we as a family could assist Bernie to learn the skills that other children developed naturally.” (Carmel, Bernie’s mother)

With thanks to North Sydney Council

By being able to partner with a far-sighted North Sydney Council, EarlyEd was able to create a strong base for the beginning of this long-standing service by establishing its first local centre.  These early EarlyEd children are adults now and are working and independent. Their families are still connected with each other and are continue to support each other.  Our North Sydney office is still the core to the now, much larger, organisation We currently support approximately 500 families at any one time from across a large area of Sydney from Pittwater to the Blue Mountains, through early intervention groups, home, preschool / childcare and schools visits and supported playgroups.

Our celebration

The focus of this celebration was to hear the stories of what an impact early childhood intervention has on communities, individuals and their families. We have collected many stories, many of which can be found on our timeline. We have some more to publish but want to hear more stories from families and children of what made, and still makes, the difference. Would you like to know more about family centred practices? Read our stories and follow us on Facebook to find out when new stories are added. Make contact with us at any of our centres.  Are you one of the thousands of people that has been supported by EarlyEd over the last 40 years?  If you have stories or photos to share please email or call us on (02) 9923 2727 You can also join our mailing list to find out more about what EarlyEd offers families here. Congratulations to everyone: families, staff, community and especially children, for 40 years of achievements. These stories are definitely a celebration.

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