Regulation in children’s education and care services

Recent media commentary about regulation in the children’s education and care sector posed the idea that regulations are different to ‘common sense’.

There are a number of factors to consider in this issue.

The NQF has consolidated regulation under both the previous state-based licensing and national accreditation systems.  This particularly helps providers with services in more than one jurisdiction, which includes a number of small providers with two or three services as well as the much larger providers.

Another factor is that the NQF is new, and that the introduction of any new system requires an adjustment period. We acknowledge the work of educators and providers to support the NQF in this foundation period has been significant. As new processes settle in to place, we expect day to day administration will become more routine.

A level of administration and paperwork is an essential part of any well-run enterprise. This is even more so for education and care services where parents and the community want to have confidence children are safe and secure at all times.

Naturally people who work in the children’s education and care sector are expected to take a common sense approach to looking after children in their care.

That’s in line with the expectations of families, the community and governments.  It’s in line with professional conduct.

It’s also in line with the new regulations as quoted in recent reports.

For instance, regulation 81 is about children receiving adequate sleep. It has been cited as an example of over-regulation when indeed, it does seem to be just common sense.  However, from the perspective of educators and administrators, the sector knows that sleep times can be highly contentious.  Families, especially parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers, can have very strong views about the way their children receive adequate rest.

Regulations help to set the common sense down in black and white, and are helpful to services when setting policies, and helpful to parents seeking reassurance.  They help ensure a consistent approach to the education and care of children.

In the case of this example, many jurisdictions already had regulations that covered children’s sleep and rest before the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care came into effect in 2012.

The regulations do not mandate the number of hours that children must rest, nor do they tell services how to go about ensuring children get that rest.  They do, however, set an expectation that little children will get adequate rest according to their needs.

If a parent wants to check whether their service is operating in the right way, or if there is a debate between staff about how to do something, they can find the answer in the regulations. They can – and often do – also contact the regulatory authority in their state or territory or ACECQA.

It is clear from the enquiries ACECQA receives that educators are keen to do the right thing by their children and families. Often ACECQA receives enquiries from educators or providers seeking clarification when an unusual situation arises in their service – we then refer to the law and regulations to give consistent advice.

When things go wrong, people expect something to be done about it and regulations provide the grounds for taking action and applying penalties.

ACECQA’s role is to ensure the Framework is now implemented consistently across the states and territories. National consistency is about fairness and efficiency rather than rigid uniformity. The NQF accepts that services can reach the same standards of quality in different ways.

We want to know what we can do to improve its implementation. That’s why it was always planned that ACECQA would conduct research to consider the regulatory burden of the National Quality Framework.

We begin that research this year, speaking to many educators and providers about how the new regulations have affected their operations.  You can read about the research in this week’s newsletter.

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