Toddlers with cleft palate in ECEC: Listening to families

Anna Cronin, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Sarah Verdon, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: The lives of families of young children with cleft palate ± cleft lip (CP±L) are complex. Research with young children with CP±L has focused on treatment and intervention, and previous qualitative research has been collected predominantly via interviews, so little is understood about the day-to-day lives of families of young children with CP±L and the settings the children access.

Aim: To increase understanding of the lives of children with CP±L across contexts such as early childhood education and care (ECEC), as well as the experiences of their families.

Method: Ethnographic observations were undertaken of seven families of children with CP±L and their significant others including parents, siblings, aunts, grandparents, and educators. Observations occurred across settings including home, ECEC and community activities. Multiple types of data were collected to gather information about different aspects of the children’s and families’ lives (such as their strengths, routines, preferences, challenges and experiences). There were 84 artefacts collected: 18 interviews, 29 videos, one extended audio recording of a mealtime, seven photos contributed by families, seven case history questionnaires, 18 field notes, and four research reflections. These data were analysed inductively using thematic analysis.

Results: Findings revealed the many strengths of children and families and the support networks that could be used to facilitate their participation in society. The data also revealed the trauma and challenges experienced by families in the early years. Many of the toddlers were accessing ECEC; however, some were excluded due to additional needs their families had to advocate for their inclusion. This exclusion had far reaching implications for children’s social inclusion as well as families’ financial and emotional wellbeing. Data triangulation revealed differences in perceptions of the children’s communication and participation across settings (i.e., ECEC vs. home).

Conclusions: Ethnographic methodology facilitated the collection of unique insights into the lives of young children with CP±L and their families. These findings highlight the barriers faced by children with CP±L and the need to address to promote their access to ECEC.

Implications for children: You are capable communicators, and we listen to you and support you the best we can.

Implications for families: You are strong advocates for your children, and we empower you to continue to do this for them.

Implications for practitioners: You have a sound knowledge of children’s strengths and development, and we provide you with more specific information about the unique challenges children with cleft palate may face. It is essential that all children are given the opportunity to access ECEC and participate in society.

Funding: Australian Government HDR ATP scholarship

Key words: voices, families’ voices, professionals’ voices, communication, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: