12 participants from Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands and Portugal experienced a 3-day programme of discussion, debate, research presentations, visits to local education and family support settings and sharing of practice experiences. The theme of the visit was Prevention and Early Intervention in the Early Years.
The Erasmus+ PINN (Portugal, Ireland, Norway, Netherlands) Project aims to share best practice in the areas of prevention and early intervention (PEI) in disadvantaged populations, evidence informed practice, practitioners training in PEI approaches, and the importance of early childhood care and education as a preventative tool. The project has four partners: International Child Development Initiatives (Netherlands); The University of Coimbra (Portugal); UiT – the Arctic University of Norway; the Northside Partnership hosted Prevention and Early Intervention Network (Ireland). The objective of the learning exchange is to allow partner organisations to develop and reinforce networks, increase capacity to work at transnational level, share and confront ideas, practices and methods.
Preparing for Life’s Early Years and Schools Programme Officer, Victoria Monkhouse, was invited with national colleagues Aileen Kelleher (Early Years Coordinator, ABC Start Right, Limerick) and Tara Scott (Programme Manager, Childhood Development Initiative, Tallaght) to attend the first Learning Exchange Visit of the PINN Project. The Tromsø Exchange Visit was the first of a total of four and was hosted by the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare (RKBU) at UiT in Tromsø, Norway. The next visit will take place in Portugal in January 2019, followed by the Netherlands in October 2019 and finally in Ireland in May 2020.
A packed and informative combination of presentations and site visits highlighted the importance of linking research findings to practice and professional development. In particular, the presentation by Tormod Bøe focused on the links between poverty and the mental health of children and provided some fascinating implications for policy makers and service providers. With the Incredible Years programme supported by the Norwegian State across several municipalities, site visits to Fagereng Primary School and the Kanutten Kindergarten gave firsthand accounts from teachers of how the range of Incredible Years programmes positively contributes to the social skills and behavior of the children they work with.
Throughout the visit we were struck by the value given to nature and culture in children’s lives in Norway. We heard about families with young children meeting together to enjoy cooking around a fire in the snow in early Spring, one of the activities of the Open Kindergarten in Stakkevollan Family House. We saw toddlers rushing over to the low window of kindergarten to watch a large ships go by, as soon as they heard the ships siren, a daily ritual. And of course we spotted lots of young children enjoying climbing, building, digging outdoors wherever we went. In common with the services that Preparing for Life delivers, the passion of expert practitioners to support parents and children shone through.
The Conference on the final day of the Exchange Visit allowed PINN partners to present examples of PEI work in their respective countries and share practice. It was another great opportunity for Preparing for Life to be highlighted on an international level along with our ABC colleagues and the Prevention and Early Intervention Network.
Of course an exchange visit like this is most valuable if the learning and discussion leads to some concrete actions and positive change for the children, parents, and practitioners we work with. Some of the actions we are discussing include: further bilateral exchange of resources and information about Home Visiting Programmes focusing on babies and toddlers, which the Dutch and Irish partners are implementing; broadening the perspectives and approaches in lecturing for the University teams; joint research presentations on classroom management in primary schools using the Incredible Years Programme; collaborating on an article about integrated governance in services for young children and their families…and much more.
Finally, an important ingredient in the success of such a cross-national exchange visit is the relationships between all involved. This is a group which is accepting, supportive and appreciative of humour. Thanks to Oddbjørn Løndal from RKBU North for coordinating the first exchange and all of the PINN partners for their generosity sharing their expertise.