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Supporting our most vulnerable children

I am a firm believer that children deserve a holistic education, in which we educate their mind, body and soul.

The late great Nelson Mandela, famously quoted: ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.’

With this in mind, I am therefore pleased to have Jane Evans as my guest blogger. Jane has built up a wealth of parenting and early-years knowledge throughout her career as a parenting worker for a domestic violence organisation, a respite foster carer, a childminder, a children’s practitioner in a family centre and a support worker in a child-protection team, whilst also working in and with schools and pre-schools.

She now uses this as the basis for her writing, speaking and the training she delivers on attachment in early years, on parenting and children affected by trauma ‘Tuning In To Children and Parenting Beyond Trauma’.

Jane writes:         

head shot profile sept 2012

“I am passionate about Early Years, its where my work began with children and families and where my heart still lies. Having supported families with complex needs for 20 years, I use this experience and my passion for neuroscience and research into attachment in my training and my direct work and writing, especially in relation to Early Years settings and practitioners.

When children have experienced early childhood trauma this can bring an additional level of complexity and need to an Early Years setting and should be seen as potentially a safeguarding concern, and most definitely an additional set of needs. Early Year’s trauma conjures up the unusual life shattering one off events like death of a close family member or involvement in a catastrophe. However, the trauma I refer to is the more daily diet of harsh parenting, living with domestic abuse, parental mental illness or having parents who are so stressed they become emotionally available to their child.

Early, even pre-birth, exposure to high levels of stress can mean a child’s brain is already more reactive than is helpful for their learning and their overall well-being as they are more alert, tense, explosive even, and may be seen as difficult, or possibly as having ADHD. They often find things a challenge, especially being still and getting along with others and playing co-operatively. They are the children who are hard to fathom out and present as a problem.

Or, they may be the child who tries to give others exactly what they want, who plays quietly, if at all, repeats behaviours rather than taking risks to test things out. They often move very little, in contrast to the child who finds it hard to settle. They are easier to be around but their development and vulnerability should also be seen as concerning and in need of extra support. In fact both children will have too much of the stress hormone cortisol in their systems. This is one of the stress/threat chemicals released when the brain detects threat in the vicinity.

The child who has a huge reaction to a lost hair clip or not getting their turn on the slide needs support as they are overwhelmed with stress at that moment and big emotions. Their calm thinking brain is off line so it’s better to take an ‘emotions’ based approach, “wow missing your turn on the slide looks as if it’s hard for you today”, I wonder what big feelings you have?” Pause and then maybe gently suggest a few but don’t jump in with angry too quickly as traumatised children get told they are angry too often which is neither helpful nor true!!

A whole setting approach based on a good grounding in trauma and attachment has the best outcomes for both children and staff. Trauma is on a continuum and presents in a variety of ways so feeling confident about putting in appropriate support is reassuring for the children and those passionate about their work in Early Years.”

Jane has written an early-years story book to enable children to explore feelings relating to domestic violence, How are you feeling today Baby Bear?  Please click for further information.

 Drop by on Jane’s website: www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk

Follow Jane on twitter: @Janeparenting

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  • Linda Speck

    Hi Jane
    I just wanted to say that I have just read your blog on vulnerable children and you have described a couple of children in our setting, both of whom have witnessed domestic violence and one who has, I believe, just been wrongly labelled as having severe special needs. I wish more awareness was made of the effects on young children of a difficult home life.
    Thank you


  • Laura Henry

    Hi Linda, thank you for your comments.

    I will share with Jane.

  • Jane Evans

    Thanks Linda, sadly what you describe is not uncommon. Those who work with children are so dedicated to getting them help as soon as possible that often understanding what they see and their skills can get overlooked.

    I am really keen to deliver as much knowledge around what early childhood trauma, such as domestic violence, looks like in a child to early years as that is where great changes can begin. Your awareness is very reassuring and something which can be shared and built upon.

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