Babies and toddlers might not know there’s a fire but disasters still take their toll



Of course young children notice parents crying but they also notice when they’re unusually preoccupied or irritable.
NinaViktoria/Shutterstock

Karleen Gribble, Western Sydney University and Nina J Berry, University of Sydney

Thousands of families with babies and toddlers have been affected by Australia’s bushfire disaster. This includes children whose homes have been under direct threat or impacted by severe smoke pollution, or where their parents volunteer or work as fire fighters.

Babies and toddlers may not be aware of the danger the fires pose to them or their families. But they find changes in their environment distressing and may notice the stress of their caregivers.

Routine and predictability makes young children feel safe. Evacuating, travelling long distances, noisy evacuation centres and staying in crowded or temporary accommodation disrupts this predictability.




Read more:
Bushfires can make kids scared and anxious: here are 5 steps to help them cope


Kids communicate with behaviour, not just words

Babies and toddlers can’t easily communicate they’re unsettled with words so they show it in their behaviour. This might include:

Babies might want extra attention during a disaster.
Lopolo/Shutterstock

When parents are stressed, they find it more difficult to notice their baby’s or toddler’s behavioural communications.

In the acute phase of an emergency, it may not be possible to respond to a baby or toddler. Very young children can find this extremely stressful.




Read more:
After the firestorm: the health implications of returning to a bushfire zone


How to help your child cope

If your baby or toddler is showing signs of distress, provide them with responsive care. This involves watching and noticing their behavioural cues, including body movements and sounds, and responding to this communication in a nurturing way.

The behavioural changes you see in your child provide you with information about what they need.

A baby or toddler who doesn’t want to go to anyone but their mother is communicating that, right now, mum represents safety and only mum will do.

A child who is waking at night is saying, “I’m scared. I need you near to reassure me when I wake.”

A child who is demanding or withdrawn is indicating they need more attention, not less.

Parents can respond to their child’s behavioural cues about what they need.
Hananeko_Studio/Shutterstock

Try not to worry too much about feeding issues. Allow babies and toddlers to eat when they indicate hunger. Offer food frequently but don’t try force your toddler to eat.

Keeping your baby or toddler physically close will help you to notice their cues and provide responsive care. Baby slings can help parents do this while they get on with other things.

Consider delaying any changes that you were considering before the fires, such as starting solid foods, introducing a bottle, giving up the dummy, starting childcare or moving the child out of your bedroom. When things have settled down again, your baby or toddler should once again be able to manage these changes.

If you feel you’re struggling to provide responsive care to your baby or toddler, ask your family or friends for extra help or contact your child health nurse or doctor.

Breastfeeding mothers – stress won’t reduce your supply

Changes in babies’ feeding and sleeping behaviour during emergencies can be particularly concerning to breastfeeding mothers who worry the stress will affect their milk supply.

Research tells us stress has no impact on milk production. But it can slow the release of milk, making babies fussy at the breast.




Read more:
Evacuating with a baby? Here’s what to put in your emergency kit


If this happens, keep offering breastfeeds. While feeding, focus on your baby and think about how much you love them. This will release hormones that make the milk flow and help you and your baby to feel more relaxed.

We all need to support parents through this disaster

Helping babies and toddlers to recover from an emergency shouldn’t just be left to parents. Those around families with babies and toddlers can help by cleaning or cooking, allowing parents to prioritise caring for their children and other pressing tasks.

The impact of an emergency can persist for some time. If you feel you’re still affected by the disaster, your baby or toddler might feel that too. Give them and yourself time. Babies and toddlers usually recover well after emergencies. Your love and responsive care is the key.The Conversation

Karleen Gribble, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University and Nina J Berry, Post-doctoral Research Associate, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Five ways parents can help their kids take risks – and why it’s good for them



Have real conversations with your kids about what they’re doing, and the potential consequences of their actions.
from shutterstock.com

Linda Newman, University of Newcastle and Nicole Leggett, University of Newcastle

Many parents and educators agree children need to take risks. In one US study, 82% of the 1,400 parents surveyed agreed the benefits of tree-climbing outweighed the potential risk of injury.

Parents cited benefits including perseverance, sharing, empowerment and self-awareness. One parent thought it allowed her son to learn what his whole body was capable of.




Read more:
Should I let my kid climb trees? We asked five experts


Taking risks and succeeding can motivate children to seek further achievements. Failing can lead to testing new ideas, and finding personal capabilities and limits. In this way, children can overcome fears and build new skills.

We mentored a group of educators in a research project trialling how to best introduce kids to risk.

Parents identified sharing and collaboration as one benefit of letting kids climb trees.
from shutterstock.com

Parents can use some of the lessons these educators learnt to help their own children take more risks and challenge themselves.

What was the research?

Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool (NSW) wanted to conduct research around risky play. “Risky play” is a term which has evolved from a trend to get more children out into nature to experience challenging environments.

Adamstown wanted to find out whether adult intervention to promote safe risk-taking would play a significant role in developing children’s risk competence.

Educators engaged children in conversations about risk, asked prompting questions and helped them assess potential consequences.

The Adamstown research built on 2007 Norwegian research that identified six categories of risky play:

  • play at great heights, where children climb trees or high structures such as climbing frames in a playground

  • play at high speed, such as riding a bike or skateboarding down a steep hill or swinging fast

  • play with harmful tools, like knives or highly supervised power tools to create woodwork

  • play with dangerous elements, such as fire or bodies of water

  • rough and tumble play, where children wrestle or play with impact, such as slamming bodies into large crash mats

  • play where you can “disappear”, where children can feel they’re not being watched by doing things like enclosing themselves in cubbies built of sheets or hiding in bushes (while actually being surreptitiously supervised by an adult).

The educators examined their practices in these areas to see how and whether they were engaging children in risky play, and how children were responding.

Skating down a hill is one way kids can engage in risky play.
from shutterstock.com

Here are five lessons educators learnt that parents can apply at home.

1. Have real conversations with children (don’t just give them instructions)

Adamstown educators found children were more likely to attempt risky play when adults talked to them about planning for, and taking, risks.

Parents can use similar strategies with their children, helping them question what they are doing and why.

Phrases like “be careful” don’t tell children what to do. Instead, say things like

That knife is very sharp. It could cut you and you might bleed. Only hold it by the handle and cut down towards the chopping board.

Equally, praise with meaning, using phrases like

You cut the cake, thinking about how you held the knife and didn’t slip or cut yourself. Well done!

It is important for children to provide insight into their own problem solving. You could ask their thoughts on what might happen if they used the knife incorrectly or what safety measures they could put in place. This will help develop their risk competence.

2. Introduce risk gradually

Allow your children to try new things by slowly increasing the levels of difficulty.

At Adamstown, a process of introducing children to fire spanned nine months. First – on the advice of an early childhood education consultant – they introduced tea-light candles at meal times. This then moved to a small fire bowl in the sandpit, before children were introduced to a large open fire pit.




Read more:
Ensuring children get enough physical activity while being safe is a delicate balancing act


The fire pit is now used for many reasons. In winter, children sit around it in a circle and tell stories. Educators show them cooking skills, referencing the ways Australia’s First Nations People cook. The fire pit is also used to create charcoal for art.

Encourage your children to think about risk when they’re in a safe situation.
from shutterstock.com

Children have been made aware of the safe distance they need to keep and about the potential hazard of smoke inhalation.

During the research process, as children were introduced to more risk, there were no more injuries than before and all were minor. There were also no serious incidents such as broken bones, or events requiring immediate medical attention.

3. Assume all your children are competent – regardless of gender

Adamstown educators were surprised to discover that, although they weren’t excluding girls from risky play, the data indicated they challenged and invited participation more often with boys.

Parents may hold intrinsic biases they are not necessarily aware of. So, check yourself to see if you are:

  • allowing boys to be more independent

  • assuming boys are more competent or girls don’t really want to take as many risks

  • dressing girls in clothes that limit their freedom to climb

  • saying different things to boys and girls.

4. Be close-by but allow children to have a sense of autonomy

Children don’t always want to be supervised. Search for opportunities to allow them to feel as if they are alone, or out of sight. Be close-by, but allow them to think they are playing independently.

5. Discuss risk at times that don’t directly involve it

When walking together to the shops, talk about the risks involved in crossing roads, such as fast cars. You can note safe and unsafe situations as well as encouraging your child to notice these as you go about your daily life. This can also be done in relaxed situations like in the bath.

This way, when the time comes for your child to learn a new skill like crossing the road alone, they have already had some opportunity to consider measures to keep themselves safe in a non-stressful situation.

If your child has a fall or other mishap, when everything is settled again, ask your child about why it happened and how they might suggest it could be prevented next time.




Read more:
Kids learn valuable life skills through rough-and-tumble play with their dads


This article was written with Kate Higginbottom, Service Director and Nominated Supervisor at Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool Centre.

The Adamstown centre was part of a larger research project, in which four Australian early childhood centres in Newcastle took part as practitioner researchers.The Conversation

Linda Newman, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle and Nicole Leggett, Senior Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is social media damaging to children and teens? We asked five experts



They need to have it to fit in, but social media is probably doing teens more harm than good.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

If you have kids, chances are you’ve worried about their presence on social media.

Who are they talking to? What are they posting? Are they being bullied? Do they spend too much time on it? Do they realise their friends’ lives aren’t as good as they look on Instagram?

We asked five experts if social media is damaging to children and teens.

Four out of five experts said yes

The four experts who ultimately found social media is damaging said so for its negative effects on mental health, disturbances to sleep, cyberbullying, comparing themselves with others, privacy concerns, and body image.

However, they also conceded it can have positive effects in connecting young people with others, and living without it might even be more ostracising.

The dissident voice said it’s not social media itself that’s damaging, but how it’s used.

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: alexandra.hansen@theconversation.edu.au


Karyn Healy is a researcher affiliated with the Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland and a psychologist working with schools and families to address bullying. Karyn is co-author of a family intervention for children bullied at school. Karyn is a member of the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Committee, but not a spokesperson for this committee; this article presents only her own professional views.The Conversation

Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should I let my kid climb trees? We asked five experts



Falls are the main reason for childhood injuries, but kids usually recover.
from shutterstock.com

Sasha Petrova, The Conversation

We often remember childhood as a time when life seemed infinite and adventures in our backyard felt expansive, as if we were exploring other worlds.

Climbing a tree was its own adventure. You could discover what you were capable of, while also getting the chance to see the world from a different vantage point.

Of course, sometimes you’d fall. But that’s to be expected – there’s a risk in every journey of discovery.

Parents want their children to enjoy the same joys of childhood they look back on fondly, but many struggle with getting the balance right – how much freedom can you give while also making sure your child is safe?

We asked five experts – including a paediatric surgeon who operates on children who’ve fallen out of a tree – if it’s OK to let kids climb trees.

Five out of five experts said yes

Although, in every case, it’s a yes, but…

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” education question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: sasha.petrova@theconversation.edu.au


Disclosures: Shelby Laird is a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education as well as its local affiliate, Environmental Educators of North Carolina.The Conversation

Sasha Petrova, Section Editor: Education, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

6 ways to stop daylight saving derailing your child’s sleep



It’s harder for kids to get to sleep when it’s light outside and they’re not as tired.
Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

Julie Green, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Jon Quach, University of Melbourne

Daylight saving will begin this weekend across most of Australia, signalling warmer weather, longer days and new opportunities for children to make the most of time outside.

It can also mark the start of a rough patch in the sleep department. Children’s body clocks can struggle to adjust as the hour shift forwards means they aren’t tired until later.

There are things parents can do to ease the transition to daylight saving and planning ahead is key. And if things get wobbly, there are also strategies to get them back on track.

But first, let’s look at where the problem starts.




Read more:
Spring forward, fall back: how daylight saving affects our sleep


Children’s body clocks

The body clock – also known as our circadian rhythm – controls when we sleep and wake.

Several environmental cues affect our body clock, the most common of which is the light-dark cycle. When it’s dark, our bodies produce more of the hormone melatonin, which helps bring on sleep. And when it’s light, our bodies produce less, so we feel more awake.

When daylight saving begins, children’s bodies aren’t getting the usual environmental signals to sleep at their regular time.

But a later bedtime means getting less sleep overall, which can impact on their concentration, memory, behaviour and ability to learn.

So, how do you plan for the daylight saving switchover?

1. Take a sleep health check

This is a good opportunity to look at how your child is sleeping and whether they’re getting enough sleep overall. Individual needs will vary but as a guide, here’s what you should aim for:

Most children wake themselves in the morning, or wake easily with a gentle prompt, if they’re getting enough good-quality sleep.

But sleep problems such as trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep are common and persistent. Around 50% of problems that begin before a child starts school continue into the early school years. So, early intervention makes a difference.




Read more:
Sleep problems that persist could affect children’s emotional development


2. Review the bedtime routine

As well as the light-dark cycle, children’s circadian rhythms are synchronised with other environmental cues, such as timing around bath and dinner. A positive routine in the hour before bed creates consistency the body recognises, helping children wind down in preparation for sleep.

Bedtime routines work best when the atmosphere is calm and positive. They include a bath, brushing teeth and quiet play – like reading with you – some quiet chat time, and relaxing music.

Reading stories before bed is calming and helps create a predicable routine.
Shutterstock

Keeping quiet time consistent makes it easier to say goodnight and lights out. Doing a quick check on whether they’ve had a drink, been to the toilet and so on can help address things they might call out for later.

Gently reminding children what you expect and quiet praise for staying in bed helps too.

3. Keep regular sleep and wake times

Sticking to similar daily bedtimes and wake times keeps children’s circadian rhythms in a regular pattern.




Read more:
Regular bed times as important for kids as getting enough sleep


It’s best to keep this routine during weekends and holidays – even though these are times when older children in particular are eager for later nights. This is worth remembering to avoid a double whammy of sleep disruption as daylight saving and the school holidays coincide.

If your child is not tiring until later, try making bedtime 15 minutes earlier each day until you reach your bedtime target.

4. Control the sleep environment

Darkening the room is an important cue to stimulate melatonin production. This can be challenging during daylight saving, depending on your home. Trying to block out light – say, with thicker curtains – is a good strategy. Keeping the amount of light in the room consistent will also make for better sleep.

Research suggests the blue light emitted by screens from digital devices might suppress melatonin and delay sleepiness. It’s advisable to turn screens off at least an hour before bed and to keep them out of the bedroom at night.

Turn screens off an hour before bed.
Ternavskaia Olga Alibec/Shutterstock



Read more:
Wired and tired: why parents should take technology out of their kid’s bedroom


Temperature plays a role in priming children for sleep, as core body temperature decreases in sync with the body clock. So, check the room, bedding or clothing aren’t too hot. Between 18℃ and 21℃ is the ideal temperature range for a child’s bedroom.

5. Consider what happens during the day

Making sure your child gets plenty of natural daylight, especially in the morning, keeps them alert during the day and sleepy in the evening.

Daytime physical activity also makes children tired and ready for a good night’s sleep.

For children over five, keep naps early and short (20 minutes or less) because longer and later naps make night sleep harder.

For younger children, too little daytime sleep can make them overtired and therefore harder to settle into bed.

6. Focus on food and drink

Think about dinner timing because feeling hungry or full before bedtime can delay sleep by making children too alert or uncomfortable.

It’s also important to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine is in chocolate, energy drinks, coffee, tea and cola.




Read more:
Kids’ diets and screen time: to set up good habits, make healthy choices the default at home


In the morning, a healthy breakfast helps kick-start your child’s body clock at the right time.

Finally, worries, anxiety, and common illnesses can also cause sleep problems. If problems last beyond two to four weeks, or you’re worried, see your GP.The Conversation

Julie Green, Principal Fellow, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Jon Quach, Research fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How do you know if your child has hay fever and how should you treat it?



It comes down to the persistence of symptoms.
Littlekidmoment/Shutterstock

Paxton Loke, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Spring has sprung and if you’re one of the one in five Australians who get hay fever, you’ve probably noticed some of those pesky symptoms: sneezing; an itchy, runny or stuffy nose; and red, itchy, watery eyes.

Unfortunately children aren’t immune. One in ten will get hay fever – or allergic rhinitis, as it’s known in the clinic – and the rate appears to be rising.

Pollens generally cause seasonal symptoms (in spring or summer), while house dust mites are mainly responsible for year-round symptoms.

Children who are allergic to both seasonal and perennial allergens may experience a marked increase in their symptoms during spring.

Hay fever can lead to fatigue, irritability and poor concentration, and can affect children’s learning and social behaviour. But the good news is it’s usually easily treated.




Read more:
Future hay fever seasons will be worse thanks to climate change


Why do kids get hay fever?

Hay fever can begin as early as 18 months of age, when children are exposed to pollens or house dust mites.

Tiny particles get trapped in the hairs and mucous that line their nasal cavity, or can enter via the conjunctiva – the tissue that covers their eye.

The body treats these invaders as dangerous and mounts an attack, using antibodies called immunoglobulin E, or IgE.

When the allergens bind to IgE antibodies, which are present on immune cells (such as mast cells), the cells quickly release chemical mediators, including histamines and leukotrienes. This causes sneezing, itchy and/or runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

The body then recruits other immune cells, such as T cells, causing more inflammation and worsening symptoms.

How do you know if it’s hay fever?

While hay fever can be a life-long health issue, symptoms can fluctuate over time.

As well as sneezing, an itchy, runny nose, and itchy watery eyes, you might notice your child has a dry cough, is snorting or sniffing, or continually clears their throat.

In some instances, they might make a clicking sound with their tongue when they use it to scratch the roof of their mouth.

Hay fever symptoms in children are the same as adults.
Creatista/Shutterstock

While these symptoms may initially look like the common cold, the persistence of symptoms after weeks usually points towards hay fever.

Children with hay fever usually don’t have fevers (which are more common with infections) but they may be more prone to recurrent colds.




Read more:
Health Check: how to tell the difference between hay fever and the common cold


If you’re unsure, take your child to your local doctor for a diagnosis. If necessary, they can use skin prick or blood tests to detect the presence of relevant IgE antibodies to the suspected allergens.

Your doctor may then discuss the three main treatment options: avoiding the allergen, oral and topical medications, and allergen immunotherapy.

Avoiding the allergen

Once you suspect or know the allergen, you can help minimise your child’s contact with the cause of their hay fever.

For children who have seasonal allergic rhinitis, allergen minimisation strategies could include:

  • staying indoors on windy days with high pollen counts
  • avoiding activities with allergen exposure (such as grass mowing)
  • having a shower promptly after outdoor activities
  • using re-circulated air in the car.
Try to keep kids with hay fever indoors on days with a high pollen count.
Eva Foreman/Shutterstock

For cases of perennial allergic rhinitis, where house dust mite is the dominant cause, avoidance strategies could include:

  • washing household bedding (sheets and pillow cases) in hot water (above 60°C)
  • removing soft toys
  • replacing woollen underlays with dust mite covers
  • vacuuming carpets with vacuum cleaners fitted with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

Medications

Medical therapy is often required in addition to avoiding the allergen.

First line treatments are non-sedating oral antihistamines such as cetirizine, loratadine, fexofenadine and desloratadine. These are available as a syrup or tablets, and can be used for children aged 12 months and over.

They’re available over the counter at pharmacies, or your doctor can advise you on which might work best for your child.




Read more:
Health Check: what are the options for treating hay fever?


Nasal steroid sprays (also called intranasal corticosteroids) are also very effective in alleviating symptoms when used correctly.

For children who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, nasal steroid sprays should be started prior to the start of the pollen season, and maintained throughout the season.

Nasal steroid sprays can be used for children aged two years and above, and need to be started under the direction of your doctor.

Side effects can include nose bleeds or nasal dryness. While long-term use is generally safe, it’s best to have ongoing reviews by your doctor.

Other treatment options include:

  • intranasal decongestants – sprays to dry the nose – which relieve congestion in the nose by shrinking swollen blood vessels in the nose. These can be used for up to three days
  • antihistamine nasal sprays, which may act more quickly than oral antihistamines but only in the nasal passages
  • nasal irrigation with saline (salty water) to clear the nasal passages of the allergens.

Desensitisation

Allergen immunotherapy involves monthly injections, or daily drops or tablets.
Microgen/Shutterstock

Allergen immunotherapy, also known as desensitisation, is an option for children who aren’t getting enough relief from medications and avoiding the allergen.

It involves a regular administration of the allergen, either via monthly injections (called the subcutaneous route) or daily drops/tablets under the tongue (known as the sublingual route).

Allergen immunotherapy is available for children aged five years and above via a paediatric allergy specialist, and successfully reduces symptoms in 40-50% of patients.

Treatment is usually given for a period of three to five years, with costs ranging from A$50-A$200 monthly, depending on the number of allergens and products used.




Read more:
Health Check: what’s the right way to blow your nose?


The Conversation


Paxton Loke, Paediatric Allergist and Immunologist, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s childcare plan: parents, children, and educators stand to benefit, but questions remain


File 20190428 194616 rzox.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hundreds of thousands of Australians parents would be in work if childcare was more affordable.
from shutterstock.com

Jen Jackson, Victoria University

Labor’s proposed A$4 billion reform to the childcare subsidy on Sunday confirms that early childhood is a key policy issue this election. This is on top of Labor’s previous announcement of 15 hours of funded preschool for every Australian three-year-old.

The latest announcement will no doubt be welcomed by families balancing the costs of childcare against the benefits of participation in paid work. In 2015, the Productivity Commission estimated around 165,000 Australian parents would like to work more, but were prevented due to poor accessibility or affordability of suitable childcare.




Read more:
Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Under Labor’s proposal, families on incomes up to A$174,000 with children under five would be better off on average by A$26 a week, or A$1,200 a year per child. Most families earning up to A$69,000 would get their childcare free. Currently, they receive a subsidy of 85%. Labor’s proposal would save them up to A$2,100 annually per child.

The current subsidy gradually tapers down as earnings increase. The lowest subsidy available is 20% for the highest-earning families, before it cuts out at A$351,258.
Families on incomes above A$174,000, under Labor’s plan, would continue to receive the same level of support as under current arrangements.

The current subsidy was introduced as part of the Coalition’s major childcare reforms (worth A$3.5 billion) in 2018, which included a means-tested subsidy and removal of annual caps. The reforms benefitted an estimated one million lower-income families – but also left around 280,000 families worse off, including families with neither parent in work.

ANU modelling had predicted that while the reforms would benefit low-income families, the activity test would mean families not working or studying would be at risk of missing out.




Read more:
Childcare funding changes leave disadvantaged children with fewer hours of early education


This is where early childhood policy gets complicated. Policies can be motivated by different goals. The Coalition reforms were aimed at encouraging parental workforce participation. Labor’s proposal for the childcare subsidy seem similarly motivated.

But parents are not the only beneficiaries of childcare subsidies. Quality childcare also benefits children’s learning. Many childcare programs for four-year- olds (and increasingly, three-year-olds), incorporate preschool. For children of all ages, Australian childcare providers must provide a play-based learning program, guided by the national framework.

That’s why childcare and preschool services are all known as early childhood education and care: whenever children are being cared for, they are also learning. Even a nappy change offers opportunities to support children’s learning, as skilled educators use playful, caring interactions to help young children develop skills like communication, trust and well-being.

Educators can also help families recognise these opportunities, so learning continues at home. Children in low-income households often have fewer opportunities to learn, due to factors such as stress and limited resources for investment.

By supporting access to quality early childhood services, governments can help families learn everyday ways to enhance their children’s learning.




Read more:
Both major parties are finally talking about the importance of preschool – here’s why it matters


To maximise benefits for children, all early childhood services need skilled, professional staff. Labor’s promised wage increase of 20% over eight years for early childhood educators addresses an issue that has been in the too-hard basket for too long.

Research has shown many Australian early childhood educators are paid so little they are financially dependent on others in their households — ironically while enabling financial independence for other working women.

Low wages place downward pressure on the quality of early childhood programs. Educators’ qualifications are lowest in low-income communities, where families cannot afford to meet the costs of higher wages. Government subsidies can help to break the link between educators’ wages and families’ ability to pay fees, so the best educators can reach the children who most need them.

Of course, the devil is in the detail when it comes to policy implementation. Labor has not specified how the wage increases will be delivered, instead committing to further consultation with the sector. Big questions remain about how government subsidies – to parents or educators – will be absorbed into a sector with for-profit and not-for-profit providers.

Close monitoring of the impact on childcare costs will be essential. Labor’s plan includes asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate “excessive” childcare fees. But can support for families be increased without stimulating an increase in fees? Can educators be supported to earn a fair wage, while keeping prices fair for families?

There is much to be gained by engaging with these questions. When parents are working, the economy benefits. When children are learning, everyone benefits, as the impact of early learning lasts throughout school and beyond. Countries like Sweden and Finland show what may be possible when parents’ and children’s needs are prioritised equally.

We owe it to Australia’s children to keep these issues on the election agenda.The Conversation

Jen Jackson, Education Policy Lead, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In a big hit announcement before the start of pre-polling, Bill Shorten on Sunday will pledge a A$4 billion boost for child care, making it cheaper for every family earning up to $174,000.

From July 2020, 887,000 families would benefit from the ALP plan, with some being up to $2,100 better off.

Under the initiative:

  • families with children under five on incomes up to $174,000 would be better off on average by $26 a week – $1,200 a year – per child

  • the majority of families earning up to $69,000 would get their child care free. This would save them up to $2,100 annually per child.

Families on incomes above $174,000 would continue to receive the same level of support as under current arrangements.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Palmer flypaper sticky for both sides


The plan is central to Labor’s campaign on cost of living, with Shorten describing it as “massive cost of living relief for nearly one million families struggling with the costs of child care”.

“Under the Liberals, the costs of child care has gone up 28%, costing families using long day care $3,000 more a year.

“Labor will increase the subsidy families receive, we will kick start the process to limit out-of-control child care price increases, and we will review the impact of the system on vulnerable and very low-income families,” Shorten says.

“This is a $4 billion investment in early education, in working parents and in helping families with the rising cost of living. Labor can pay for cheaper child care for working families because unlike Scott Morrison and the Liberals, we aren’t giving bigger handouts to the top end of town,” Shorten says. The $4 billion cost is over three years.


Source: ALP

The main elements of Labor’s plan include:

More child care fee support

The subsidy rate would be increased from 85% to 100% up to the hourly fee cap (currently $11.77 per hour for long day care) for families earning up to $69,000 who meet the activity test. This would make child care free, or almost free, for up to 372,000 families.

The present tapered reduction would be updated to reflect the higher subsidy rate.

Families earning between $69,000 and $100,000 would receive a subsidy rate between 100% and 85%, up to the hourly fee cap.

Families earning between $100,000 and $174,000 would receive a subsidy rate between 85% and 60% up to the cap – an effective increase of 10%.

Families accessing approved Centre Based Child Care, Family Day Care and Outside School Hours Care, including holiday care, would all benefit from the higher subsidy.




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Cracking down on excessive fee increases

Labor would give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a new role of investigating excessive fee increases and unscrupulous child care providers. Findings would be made public through mychildcarefinder.

The ACCC would also look at mechanisms to ensure greater controls on child care fee increases to keep child care affordable.

Reviewing the system for vulnerable children

Labor says that in the nine months of the current subsidy system, the number of vulnerable and very low-income families using it has fallen.

“Reports suggest the numbers accessing the Childcare Safety Net have fallen by almost half, from 35,000 to 21,000.

“Labor will urgently review the new system to make sure that vulnerable and low-income families and children aren’t falling through the cracks,” Shorten says.

Labor has already committed to every three-year-old child being able to receive 15 hours of subsidised preschool. It has also said it would extend the current arrangement for four-year olds.

Shorten says this would create “a two-year program to support the most important years of a child’s development and ensuring our kids don’t fall behind the rest of the world”. For many children this would be free or nearly free.




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Labor is also set to make an announcement on boosting the wages of child care workers, who are among the low paid.

The first votes will be cast at pre-polling stations on Monday, as the campaign ramps up in its final three weeks. Scott Morrison and Shorten will meet in Perth late Monday for their first face-to-face debate.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Catholic Church is investigating George Pell’s case. What does that mean?


Ian Waters, University of Divinity

Cardinal George Pell was this week sentenced by a Victorian court to six years’ jail for sexually abusing two choirboys, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

Although Pell was found guilty of the charges against him in December, he has remained a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. The Church previously said it would await the outcome of an appeal before taking action, but it has since confirmed that an investigation of Pell’s case will be conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An American former cardinal was recently expelled from the priesthood by the Church following a canonical trial into claims of child sexual abuse. Here’s what it could look like if Pell was subject to a similar process.




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Canonical trials are governed by the rules of the Church

Most cases concerning the wrongdoing of Catholics are tried in secular courts. The decisions and punishments handed down by the courts are normally accepted by the Church as sufficient.

But the Church will conduct its own examination of cases where the church’s canon law requires punishment outside the competence of the courts of the land. That includes the excommunication of a member of the church, or the dismissal of a priest or bishop from the clerical state – often referred to as defrocking.

Tribunals to adjudicate matters that concern the Church’s own internal governance are principally governed by the rules and regulations of the Church, which are known as canon law (from the Greek etymology κανών or kanon, meaning a “rule”). These regulations are set out in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which came into effect in 1983.

Since such trials are conducted because of the requirements of canon law, they are known as “canonical trials”.




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Sexual abuse cases are handled by the Holy See

Catholic Church tribunals are normally held in the diocese of the parties to the case. The bishop of the diocese can judge cases for his diocese. But since bishops often have little or no in-depth knowledge of canon law, most cases in Catholic Church tribunals are handled by judges (clerics or laypersons) appointed by the bishop. The presiding judge is a priest known as the judicial vicar.

Some matters cannot be introduced at a diocesan tribunal, but are reserved for the various tribunals at the Holy See. This includes cases involving dioceses and bishops, and certain serious matters regarded as crimes in the Catholic Church. Examples of this would be matters of sacrilege (offences against the sacraments), and sexual offences by a cleric against a minor under the age of 18.

A college of judges try difficult cases

Usually a single judge presides over contentious and penal cases. But a college of three or five judges will normally try more complicated or difficult cases – especially if the prescribed penalty is an excommunication from the Church, the dismissal of a cleric, or if the case concerns the annulment of a marriage or an ordination.

Other officers of the tribunal include the promoter of justice, who is the prosecutor in penal cases. The tribunal also has notaries who swear in witnesses, and commit their testimony to writing.

Like any legal system, parties in a case have the right to appoint an advocate who can argue for them at the tribunal. If a person cannot afford an advocate, the tribunal can assign one to them free of charge.




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Defendants are presumed innocent

Catholic Church tribunals do not use the adversarial system used by the courts of the common law tradition. Rather, Catholic Church tribunals use the inquisitorial system law found in most European legal systems. That means the judges lead the investigation.

The standard of proof used by the Catholic Church tribunals is “moral certainty”. Certainty results from examination in good conscience of the available evidence. This isn’t the same as “absolute certainty”, but it’s more than mere probability. It is normally stricter than guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, which is usually held to be the absence of doubt based on reason and common sense.

As a general rule, the defendant has the presumption of innocence, which means the defendant will win by default unless a majority of the judges is convinced with moral certainty of the petitioner’s case.The Conversation

Ian Waters, Professor, Lecturer, Department of Moral Theology and Canon Law, University of Divinity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.