The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Jo Cole, who contributed to the ideas and writing that appeared in a similar chapter in the first edition of this book. While the chapter in this second edition has been updated and revised from the first edition, we acknowledge Jo's earlier contributions that appear here.
Early childhood is a critical time for children's brain development. The experiences children are exposed to shape brain development and the skills and capacities developed during this time provide the foundation for lifelong learning and mental health and wellbeing. While children's primary caregivers and the family environment have the most significant impact on children's early development, children learn within the context of all their relationships and, increasingly, children experience significant relationships with early childhood educators. The number of children attending an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service is growing in Australia, as is the amount of time each child spends in the service. This provides an opportunity to influence ECEC services and educator knowledge and skills to support positive social and emotional development and good mental health. Educators can build the ‘social and emotional capacities of infants and children by supporting predictably available, adequately sensitive and responsive care giving’ (Australian Association for Infant Mental Health and Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth, 2013, p. 3). Educators who are consistently engaged with children and families, can also assist in preventing or mitigating the consequences of mental health problems by buffering young children from serious threats to their wellbeing (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007).
ECEC sector reform in Australia has led to a National Quality Framework (NQF), which is the result of an agreement between state and Commonwealth governments, to improve the quality of early childhood education and care. This Framework comprises the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (Council of Australian Government (COAG), 2009) and National Quality Standard (NQS) (Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), 2013), and applies to most long day care, family day care, and preschools/ kindergartens in Australia. Quality in early childhood education has been shown to lead to better outcomes in learning, health and wellbeing for children.