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The Value of Reflective Supervision/Consultation in Early Childhood Education

Nichole Paradis, Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health, Southgate, Michigan; Kira Johnson, Mississippi Association of Infant Mental Health, Jackson, Mississippi; and Zsalanda Richardson, The Children’s Center, Detroit, Michigan

Abstract

With an average annual salary of just over $16,000, the work of early childhood education professionals is grossly undervalued and leads to high turnover rates. And yet, the quality and consistency of the care they provide to infants and young children has a lasting impact on their brain development and social–emotional well-being. This article makes a case for demonstrating the value of their work through the provision of reflective supervision/consultation (RSC) in early childhood education settings. The authors share research, evidence-based practice standards, and case illustrations to review the impact of RSC on reflective functioning, job satisfaction/burnout, insight, and secondary trauma. They explore how these impacts might strengthen the capacity of the early childhood education workforce, including administrative leadership, to grow and respond in ways that benefit the infants, young children, and families they serve.

Approximately 6 million infants and toddlers in the US are in out-of-home care settings, with approximately half of children under 3 spending 25 hours a week in care with someone other than their parents (For Our Babies, n.d.). The relationships that infants and young children form with their caregivers in these settings is critical to their development, particularly their brain development and social and emotional well-being. For years, leaders in the infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) field have made the case for providing reflective supervision/consultation (RSC) to early childhood education professionals as a workforce development activity that both supports the emotional component of the work and strengthens capacities to respond sensitively to the infants and young children in their care (Bernstein & Edwards, 2012; Einhorn, 2019; Emde, 2009; Virmani & Ontai, 2010; Weigand, 2007). And now in the midst of the “twin pandemics” of COVID-19 and on-going structural racism, the stress on early childhood education professionals is exponentially higher. This article will explore how support for early childhood education professionals in the form of RSC can provide a space to acknowledge the difficulties of their work, make sense of the emotional responses that inevitably arise, promote insight and reflective functioning, and decrease burnout (see Box 1)—all which may lead to lower rates of staff turnover and ultimately benefit the babies and young children in their care, including their families.

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