ItemChildLinks Issue 3: Professionalisation of the Early Years Sector(Barnardos, 2017) BarnardosThe issue of the professional status of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in Ireland has been the subject of much discussion in recent years among both those working with young children and Government. There are many facets to the term ‘professionalisation’ including recognition and value as a professional; conditions of employment; training and qualifications; and professional practice. In ECEC, professionalisation is directly related to quality and best outcomes for children. This issue of ChildLinks considers this focus on professionalisation, highlighting both the progress that has been made in Ireland and the existing gaps. It examines the work currently underway in the areas of qualification and continual professional development; the establishment of a professional body; pay and conditions; the naming of the profession; and a common Code of Ethics. The first article in this issue looks at the journey towards professional status in early years services. It proposes the need for an Early Years Council, an autonomous single agency with responsibility for accreditation of education and training providers, developing key standards for education and training programmes, workforce registration and fitness to practice criteria. Other articles consider the training and qualifications pathway for those working in ECEC, examining very different models. The first of these, from Early Childhood Ireland, considers the opportunity to develop an innovative apprenticeship programme that supports high quality learning and progression within the ECEC sector, which could provide a flexible learning route for individuals to work towards an accredited qualification in Early Childhood Education and Care. The second article gives an overview of the DCU, Institute of Education, Bachelor of Early Childhood Education programme, examining the key elements underpinning the programme – the principles, processes, pedagogy and approaches of professional practice. This article considers how degree programmes can support perspective graduates to become leaders in improving practice, transforming the sector and advocating for children’s rights. Professional titles are valued in society and the need to balance the self-identity of professionals working in early childhood education and care with one that resonates with all stakeholders is the subject of another article in this issue. It is essential that the professional title used reflects the knowledge and expertise of those working with children as well as the important contribution that they make in the lives of children during their foundation years. Finally, an article from Heino Schonfeld, Barnardos Early Years Development Manager, highlights the work currently underway to develop a Code of Ethics that outlines the values and ethics underpinning the work of early years professionals in Ireland and offers a set of principles to guide day-to-day decision making ItemChildLinks Issue 2: Empathy(Barnardos, 2017) BarnardosIn this issue of ChildLinks we look at empathy, which can be defined in general terms as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is generally accepted that highly empathic people enjoy more successful, less stressful relationships as they are aware of, understand and are sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of others. The ability and willingness to show compassion, to relate, take turns, share, care, compromise, conciliate and cooperate are all part of empathy and all valuable skills for children to learn. The best way for children to develop empathy and become socially intelligent, emotionally literate individuals is to experience being in relationships with people, especially parents, family and teachers, who are themselves empathic. The first article in this issue evaluates the importance of children learning the skills of empathy if they are to become socially competent members of society. In the article that follows, Dr Geraldine French demonstrates how experiences and interactions in the earliest months of life impact on neural circuits, overall brain development and, in particular, the development of empathy and altruist motivation in children from birth. This article also offers guidance on supporting empathy in early childhood education and care practice through responsive reciprocal relationships. The following articles look at programmes that have the specific aim of supporting children to develop social and emotional skills, and empathy in particular. Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom programme that has been shown to reduce aggression, including bullying. The programme aims to increase prosocial behaviours such as helping, sharing and caring in the short term, and strives to break intergenerational cycles of violence and poor parenting in the long term. The Restorative Practices programme encompasses both a philosophy and a set of skills with the core aim of building strong relationships and resolving conflict in a simple and emotionally healthy manner. Restorative Practices skills range from the universal everyday proactive ones of using restorative language and having restorative conversations to the more targeted use of restorative conferencing to repair harm. The third programme, the Changemaker Schools programme, has four key components: empathy, creativity, leadership and teamwork. This programme highlights how an empathy-based curriculum can be delivered in a simple, inexpensive way within the cultural context of a school. The final article in this issue looks at the suite of evidence-informed, outcome-focused programmes Barnardos offers to children and parents, all with the aim of increasing children’s capacity to learn and develop, and to improve their emotional wellbeing and safety. Barnardos believes in investing in the development of empathy in children from an early age as children who are empathic are better able to cope with conflict and difficult social situations, are less likely to engage in bullying behaviour, and are more likely to grow into well-adjusted adults with adaptive coping skills. ItemChildLinks Issue 1: The Home Learning Environment(Barnardos, 2017) BarnardosThe home learning environment (HLE) concerns any activities that parents carry out with their children to support learning. This might include interactions that encourage learning opportunities, practices and activities that nurture learning, and the availability of educational materials in the home. The quality of the HLE during a child’s first years of life impacts on their school readiness and social emotional competence, as well as having a long term impact on their academic attainment, progress and learning behaviour. Home learning practices and resources are widely recognised as crucial contributing factors to language ability outcomes in infants and children. The first article in this issue of ChildLinks looks at the impact of the HLE on language development and shows how the practices of shared reading, talking to the child, educational play, screen time and the availability of educational resources all contribute to the overall HLE. Also in this issue the home numeracy environment is considered. Children develop early mathematical competencies long before they start school, acquiring mathematical language, such as the names of shapes, positional and directional language, and number words, as part of general language acquisition. The HLE provides many opportunities for parents to support their children’s increasing competencies in daily activities such as using recipes, measuring ingredients or counting out cutlery. Two further articles examine programmes that support the HLE. The first gives an overview of Better Finglas, one of the programmes in Ireland selected to participate in the Area-Based Childhood (ABC) Programme, which aims to improve outcomes for children and their families in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country. Better Finglas recognises parents as the first educators of their children and has designed its programmes to reflect the essential need for a positive HLE. The second looks at the Parent-Child Home Program, which works with under-resourced families in the US and several other countries, including Ireland. This programme targets parent child interaction and the child’s social-emotional and language development, with the aim to improve the quality and quantity of verbal interaction between parent and child, and to foster pro-social behaviour in children to improve school readiness and, ultimately, overall functioning in childhood and beyond. Also in this issue, Dorothy Keane, a Home School Community Liaison Coordinator, outlines a study that aims to gain an understanding of the issues that impact on the involvement of fathers in the education of their children. Some strategies identified that encourage paternal involvement include a strength-based, gendered approach, enlisting the support of mothers and building on fathers’ interests together with an overall proactive approach to communication with fathers by all educational professionals. It is apparent from all of the articles in this issue that the home learning environment is highly influential and that the more involved parents are in their children’s learning and development, the better the outcomes for the child.