What happens when parents and carers lead the conversation about what they want to know to support the best start for their children? The Burnie approach to the First 1,000 Days ( F1,000D) starts here, listening to understand and then bringing in the expertise and evidence of early childhood development to provide opportunities to grow and learn together.
In 2021, The Burnie Child and Familiy Learning Centre (CFLC) partnered with Burnie Community House and Burnie Library on a B4 Storytelling Grant to design the F1,000D project.
This grass roots, community-led program set about making the messages of First 1,000 Days research meaningful to families to improve lifelong outcomes for children. Together with local parents, we looked at the research, developed a logo and devised the 4 Quadrants which reflect the key aspects of the research:
- Connection – the importance of face-to-face interactions from birth for good brain development
- Nutrition – the importance of healthy food choices from pre-pregnancy right through to 5 years and beyond
- Moving the importance of physical health
- Caring – understanding the impact of toxic stress on brain development
Early relational health is a biological necessity for good growth and development. Building parental understanding about the profound impact of serve and return interactions from birth on brain development is already increasing parents engaging in this type of interaction with their baby earlier and more frequently. This behaviour also contributes to the development of secure attachments between baby and carer which is foundational to wellbeing. The connections made in the brain as a result of frequent face to face interactions set foundations for emotional regulation, social and cognitive skills and school readiness.
Parent and child nutrition impacts healthy growth and development. Building on parental understanding of how their diet impacts their growing baby is leading to more thoughtful engagement with food behaviours. Storytelling workshops with parents about bottle-feeding, breastfeeding and introducing solids is leading to the clarification of outdated information and providing an opportunity for parents to ask questions and interrogate information in a safe, non-judgemental space. In one example, after listening to a local mum explain her breastfeeding experience, more pregnant mums in the group were interested in trying it.
Toxic levels of stress impact a caregiver’s capacity to be kind and patient with children. For babies in utero and after birth, it interrupts good brain development. The formation of positive relationships (encouraged also in Connection) protects against the negative impacts of toxic stress. Other programs can upskill parents to learn to better tune in to their own emotions and learn to coach their children to be in tune with theirs as well. External supports for mental health issues beginning during ante natal care and continuing throughout, is crucial.
Raising awareness of baby and toddler needs for movement can reassure carers about how they can introduce daily opportunities for moving and strength-building. Sometimes, carers can be fearful about letting small children do what appears risky, but what which is essential for healthy development and negotiating acceptable risk. Carers are also likely to experience better health if they are active every day. Implications for increased movement within families may reduce stress and complement nutrition messages.
Storytelling is a key feature of the program’s learning strategy. Parents have participated in storytelling workshops which proved a powerful mechanism for building understanding about the key messages. For example, while most parents knew that soft drink was not a healthy choice, it was only through sharing personal experiences that people were inspired to think differently about their own choices.
We realised that what impacts brain development during the F1D, remains key throughout the lifespan and so the messages are consistent at all ages. Currently in Burnie, the CFLC and Community House both use shared logos and language re quadrants in their work.
The CFLC team continues to co-design programs with parents. This year, pregnant parents are contributing to design outreach packs for pregnant parents to receive in the home. The parents are providing valuable insights about what they want to tell other parents based on what they wished they were told about the four quadrants in pregnancy.
This builds on our successful ‘Look Who’s Talking’ program which is already being rolled out and upskilling parents to understand their important role in supporting their baby’s development from pregnancy.
Seeing the impact of this approach at both the CFLC and in the design of programs at the Burnie Community House, in 2022 and 2023, Burnie Works brought together the UTAS CAPITOL (Critical Aged Periods in the Trajectory of Obesogenic Lifestyles) project team, the CFLC, Community House and a range of other public health stakeholders. Together this group has designed a project that builds on what has been learned through the community-led F1,000D approach. The result is a project to co-design learning pathways for each of the quadrants. Starting with the story-telling approach, where parents and carers identify what they want to know more about and how they would like to engage with the information, the project will bring together the evidence for the best start to brain development in each quadrants along with engaging experts from across UTAS.
Core to the project is ensuring that what is being developed and learned in Burnie with this community-centred approach can be scaled and implemented in other communities across Tasmania and beyond.
The outcomes of the project include:
- The two-way learning model (co-construction) engages more parents as active learners.
- Parents have the capacity, resources and confidence to support child development for wellbeing from birth.
- Increased attachment-building behaviour from birth interrupts generational patterns.
- Parents are inspired to share their learning through stories, creating a ripple effect.
- Parents adopt key strategies early, positively impacting baby’s brain development which will lead to greater school readiness across the population.
- F1,000D literacy and understanding increases across community.
We have made significant progress in a short period of time, and this shows what is possible with collective focus and good resources and skilled facilitation. Optimism!
Feeling like we can do this thing that could really make a big difference for children and adults. This project is about empowering community members with knowledge, and giving them some recognition for their efforts in gaining that knowledge.
The project will hopefully be seen an exemplar of what can be achieved in the Burnie community to address health and wellbeing through a considered, collaborative, and community-minded approach, which will have potential to influence children, families, and communities across Tasmania. This project also is a project that is hitting at the right time with a growing change in the dialogue and narrative around the early years from a international, national and state level. At a state level the governments launch of It Takes a Tasmania Village: Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy (the Strategy) which has prioritised the First 1,000 Days further creates fertile ground.
Burnie Works, Burnie Child Family Learning Centre, Burnie Community House, UTAS Schools of Health Sciences and Education, UTAS Peter Underwood Centre, Tasmanian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Tasmanian Department of Health, Tasmanian Department for Education, Children and Youth, B4 Early Years Coalition.