Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Health Promotion: A New Leadership Role for Early Childhood Professionals

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Health Promotion: A New Leadership Role for Early Childhood Professionals

Article excerpt

Early childhood education in the new millennium

The role of early childhood education is changing. Early childhood education in the new millennium is now seen to incorporate a definition of service and quality that goes beyond child-focused activities within the physical setting. Analysts are referring to this as the fourth discourse of early childhood education. Traditionally, early childhood services were defined by three discourses: services to support female workforce participation (the first discourse); services which provide compensatory experiences for families and children who have special needs (the second discourse); and/or school readiness programs which provide socialisation and early literacy/numeracy experiences to preschool-aged children (the third discourse) (Lero, 2000; Pence & Benner, 2000; Hayden, 2000).

The emergence of a fourth discourse acknowledges that early childhood services serve myriad economic, educational and social needs (Goodfellow, in press). In the new millennium a majority of families are making use of early childhood services for very young children. Early childhood settings are increasingly likely to be the first institution that families interact with on a long-term basis, and the first instance of collaboration between professionals and families. In this way early childhood settings have become a significant facilitator of knowledge, skill, attitudes, and relationships around children (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 1999; Hayden, 2000). Thus the fourth discourse represents a changed focus for early childhood settings--from being child-centred to being family and community-centred (McBride, 1999; Hayden, 2000a).

Indicators of quality in child care

In keeping with the fourth (family and community oriented) discourse, quality care indicators are seen to incorporate two sets of variables. The first refers to the traditional `micro' items which are present in the classroom/centre. The second set of quality variables refer to macro or contextual influences on service delivery and the development of social capital and civil society.

Thus assessing child care service delivery also calls upon two distinct approaches. The first approach assesses child-centred outcomes and child-focused practices. Here, quality is related to variables associated with the development and implementation of the program/curriculum and the factors associated with care and education of children within the physical setting (see Doherty-Derkowski, 1994; Hayden 1996).

The second (macro) approach for assessing quality focuses on relationships and linkages. This is reflected in practices which are culturally sensitive and which encourage family involvement and community participation. Factors associated with this second approach include the extent to which services perform in the following areas:

* respect for language, culture, and religion of families in the community;

* two-way communication between home and centre;

* collaboration with community organisations and other linkages;

* empowerment of parents (Doherty-Derkowski, 1994; Lero, 1999; McBride, 1999; Moss, 1995).

There is a significant similarity between these macro indicators of quality care and components of health promotion.

What is health promotion?

In the context of societies with high infant mortality, a focus on children's health in preventing and curing illness is understandable. But with the reduction in infant mortality in many societies, there is less excuse for thinking of health in the narrow biological perspective of what `needs fixing'. There is an imperative to take on board the definition of health from the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO holds that health means not only the absence of disease, but the total physical, psychological, and emotional wellbeing of individuals and communities (WHO, 1984).

The health promotion movement is part of this wider shift in health thinking and policy. …

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