4A The first 1000 days


Mandy Taylor,
The Cairnmillar Institute

Associate Professor Claire Thompson,
The Cairnmillar Institute

Professor Kathryn von Treuer,
The Cairnmillar Institute

Thursday November 22 2018

Time: 3:45pm – 4:15pm

Room: Kuranda Ballroom

4A The first 1000 days

The Big Tent Program; enhancing experience and knowledge of professionals in early childhood settings.


The Big Tent program assists early childhood teachers and health professionals who work with vulnerable children. Children who are affected by trauma, or who have faced adversity in many forms, often have difficulties in many settings, from challenging behaviours, emotional dysregulation and difficulties connecting with peers and others. Often the responsibility of detecting and managing children who are struggling falls wholly or partially to maternal and child health nurses, teachers in early childcare centres or the classroom, and early childhood professionals such as play group facilitators through to kindergarten teachers. Despite this, many educators and health professionals lack the training and support in detecting trauma and the early childhood professionals themselves are vulnerable to sadness and burnout. The Big Tent program aims to build capacity, capability and confidence in these key professional groups in early childhood environments to identify and manage the emotional stressors they encounter in their work. The Big Tent program consists of six sessions, 2-hour supervision and education groups, providing relevant skills training or psychotherapeutic supervision, focussing on enhancing the understanding of psychological issues that are involved in developmental vulnerability. The program is facilitated by a psychologist experienced in working in childhood trauma and aims to draw on the collective wisdom and experience of the participants. To date this program has run for 28 years and been offered at no cost across Victoria. In 2017 the Big Tent program was evaluated. The findings of the evaluation suggest that the Big Tent program has beneficial effects for managing participant’s levels of perceived stress and secondary traumatic stress. However, further data remains to be collected to determine whether this preliminary result is robust. The program was very well-received by those who gave feedback. Recommendations for ongoing development of the program were provided. Despite recognising the positive outcomes of the evaluation, we noted that both education and health professionals as well as children and their families who live in rural and remote areas are already at a disadvantage simply because of where they live as we cannot offer our program in all areas. Thus, there is an urgent need for a service that is accessible (online and virtual), provides general skills and support for teachers and health professionals emotionally effected and/or who need advice about these complex cases. We are currently planning to pilot our online and in time Big Tent supervision program in late 2018 and 2019.


Mandy Taylor is an endorsed clinical psychologist and registered supervisor with an extensive experience working in mental health. In her current role, Mandy manages Cairnmillar’s psychology clinics and community programs including the Big Tent program. She operates systemically as both a clinician and manager and brings a solution-focused approach to her work.

Associate Professor Claire Thompson is an endorsed clinical psychologist and a registered supervisor in psychology. Claire has 30 years of professional experience in clinical, research and teaching psychology, including provision of mental health services to children and to older adults.

Professor Kathryn von Treuer is an endorsed health and organisational psychologist. She has over 30 years of industry experience, mainly in the health and education sectors. She is the Executive Director at The Cairnmillar Institute and Honorary Associate Professor at the School of Medicine, Deakin University.