A Framework for Early Childhood Development, Challenging Behaviors, and Resilience
From Kimberly Polstein, LMSW
Director of Social and Emotional Development Services, Capital District Child Care Council
The Capital District Child Care Council (CDCCC) located in Albany, NY serves six counties in the Capital region and Mohawk Valley. The Social Emotional Development Services team works directly with the DCRC staff and their resources to provide quality social and emotional support to communities across counties. The team primarily works with Albany County and Saratoga County Head Start programs as mental health consultants. Through this work, the Child Care Council staff helps Head Start programs implement the DECA Program to fidelity using the Devereux Reflective Checklist, the DECA Infant/Toddler and DECA Preschool on the e-DECA, and by providing support training for staff centered around childhood resilience and the DECA Program resources.
The DCRC materials have enhanced the mental health consultation services that we provide to at-risk populations. The materials are comprehensive and clear, yet simple enough that they are easily used by all staff members. I personally enjoy having a strong framework, with research to back it up, that aligns with my own personal/professional philosophies on approaching challenging behaviors and childhood resilience. The strong focus that I have on attachment and relationships aligns well with the DECA tool and all of the trainings and other materials offered through DCRC. I have also taken the Building Your Bounce adult resilience journal and developed training for providers in which we discuss the resilience model, how our resilience relates to the work we do with children, and work through a few strategies from the book together to support staff resilience. Participants learn where they can access more information about Building Your Bounce so that they can continue to foster their resilience after the training. Our team has recently started working with the Your Journey Together (YJT) materials to build parent workshops. I find that the YJT material is easy to use and easy to train. Teachers and parents respond well to the breakdown of protective factors, and how those factors translate in the classroom and in the home. These same ideas hold true for the DESSA as well; we use the DESSA tool with our school-age programs to help staff understand and support social and emotional well-being across the populations they serve.
This past year, I looked back through the e-DECA reports to pull together trends from the Albany County and Saratoga County Head Start programs, with the hope of better informing our practice for the upcoming year. We discovered that 42% of all children reported on in Albany County had at least one area of need on their fall DECAs. We noticed that there was a significant need to focus on attachment/relationships in Albany, so I worked with staff to understand the importance of building strong relationships and the effect that can have on challenging behaviors. Often, once the children and their teachers had a strong working relationship, the behaviors decreased. Through global planning and individualized planning, the teachers, administrators and support staff were able to build children’s resilience in the Head Start program, and saw significant increases in the Strengths reported on the DECA. The CDCCC saw similar results in Saratoga County. Below are some highlights:
- 50% of children moved from an “Area of Need” to the “Typical” or “Strength” range in the Self-Regulation category
- 64% of children moved from “Area of Need” to the “Typical” or “Strength” range in the Initiative category
- 79% of children moved from an “Area of Need” to the “Typical” or “Strength” range in the Attachment/Relationships category
Our Mental Health Consultant in Saratoga County Kathryn Nixon Davis, LMSW worked with teaching teams to build stronger relationships with children and used coaching practices to help teams plan for global and individualized strategies. Kathryn also trains Head Start teachers and other child care providers on the proactive strategies to prevent challenging behaviors, such as building friendship skills as well as responsive strategies to challenging behavior in early childhood and school-age programs. Trainings from the CDCCC work to pull in philosophies and practices from DCRC to best support childcare providers in building strong social and emotional development across the children and families they serve.
I have really enjoyed finding a framework and tools that align with my own beliefs and philosophies on early childhood development, challenging behaviors and resilience. The greatest lesson I have learned since starting work with DCRC and the DECA materials is to always look deeper to really understand behaviors. Sometimes it is easy to forget how a stressful home life can affect a child, and when we overlook what is going on at home, we miss key triggers or understandings of that child. I have also been able to strengthen the work I do with relationship building by using the DECA materials. I think it is important for those working in early childhood to understand how children develop in relation to their experiences in and out of the classroom, and to help foster strong social skills and emotional intelligence within their students to promote healthy social-emotional development across their lifetime. I’ve also learned the importance of building adult resilience, which is not something I had considered working with prior to coming into contact with DCRC and the DECA materials. I really enjoy working with the adults who have strong impacts on children to boost their own resilience. I feel that this work is as important for the adults as it is for the children in their care.