Soraya Apps, Inclusion Hub Manager, NSW Inclusion Agency-NSW South West Hub talks about her approach to inclusion, how it works, and why it is successful.
Soraya strongly believes that “authentic Inclusion happens when critical reflection is the foundation for all planning.” In her work facilitating inclusive practice within and together with early childhood education and care settings she has observed that “service philosophies, policies and practices (in early childhood education and care settings) need to be reviewed regularly to ensure that they reflect all children enrolled in the service as well as the community in which the service is situated. Understanding that inclusion is about children’s rights and is not an optional extra, is core to this. Environments, routines and experiences should ensure that all children are able to actively participate.”
One of the most frequent misconceptions around inclusion that Soraya comes across in her work is around the way support is offered and provided to children with developmental delay or disability. Many early childhood educators, other early childhood intervention practitioners and families think that one to one support for children will ensure that children have the best learning opportunities in early childhood education and care settings. However, most often this is not the case. We know that all children learn through play, natural interactions and relationships. The practice of one to one shadowing of children impacts on these learning opportunities.
All children need one to one support at different times throughout the day to scaffold their learning, to support them in their peer interactions and to promote independence. This is very different to continual one to one support or shadowing a child. Soraya recommended a ‘Hidden Messages’ resource that was developed to support educators to think through how their actions might communicate quite different messages to children and to others. For example:
The resource has been particularly useful as a discussion starter for whole team meetings and has also been helpful when navigating new collaborative partnerships since the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). It is available to download on the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency Website here.
In her professional work, Soraya has observed that authentic inclusion happens when therapists, educators and families can work together to support children to fully participate in the service, with all parties bringing their knowledge and expertise about children’s learning, development and goals/interests. When the interventions suggested are built around supporting children’s participation in the service alongside their peers and not just about therapeutic outcomes, this is when authentic inclusion can be realised. The latter may very well be required at times, but it could potentially be better practiced in a different environment.
Soraya is proposing a few reflective questions that could help early childhood educators plan for authentic inclusion:
Soraya also recommends the ECIA NSW/ACT Working Together Agreement which was developed to support educators, early childhood intervention practitioners and families to work collaboratively and in an inclusive way within the service. It is available as a free download from the ECIA NSW/ACT website.
We asked Soraya what Inclusion Professionals actually do in their role. She said they assist educators to develop a Strategic Inclusion Plan (SIP) that supports educators to reflect on their inclusive practices, identify barriers to inclusion and plan for change so that inclusion is embedded in their practice. Educators are also engaged through participation in local Yarnin Circles, facilitated through the Inclusion Agency Indigenous Cultural Hub. These supports are part of the Inclusion Support Programme, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training provided free to federally funded services (long day care, out of school hours care and family day care). You can find out more about the Inclusion Support Programme here.
Soraya Apps has worked within the Early Childhood and Primary Teaching profession for over 20 years. For the past 11 years she has been employed by KU Children’s Services as part of the Inclusion Agency, managing of the NSW SW Inclusion Hub. The Inclusion Agency is part of the Inclusion Support Programme which is funded by the Australian Government. Soraya and her team provide support in rural and regional areas of NSW SW to long day care, family day care, out of school hours care, Vacation Care, Mobile and Budget Based Funded Services to increase educator capacity to include all children and to embed inclusive practice.