This week is National Family Day Care Week. To recognise the work family day care educators and providers do for children across Australia, Family Day Care Australia has prepared this blog on their experience of the different ways family day care meets the needs of families, including a service that is helping children with autism.
Family day care has always prided itself on offering unique learning environments and experiences, but the sector has come a long way since the initial pilot program was launched in Australia 43 years ago.
Then, the much smaller sector was unregulated, and thought of as a cheaper and less formal form of child care run by ‘day care mums’ or ‘backyard babysitters’.
Now, family day care has cemented itself as a high-quality form of early childhood education and care provided by qualified, professional educators.
With more than 142,400 children enrolled across Australia, family day care now accounts for 13 per cent* of the entire early childhood sector.
Numbers have jumped 15 per cent in 12 months, making family day care the fastest growing form of child care in the country.
It is the very nature of family day care – being run by individual educators in their homes to the meet the needs of individual children – that contributes to this increasing popularity.
Family Day Care Australia’s Sector Support team has noticed a growing number of new, innovative services popping up – particularly specialising in the areas of multiculturalism and sustainability.
Whether it is through Indigenous programs, remote locations or a holistic, back to nature approach, family day care services are offering a unique form of early childhood education and care.
It is this personal touch that allows family day care services to meet the extremely diverse needs of modern Australian families.
One ground-breaking example of a family day care service that is targeted to a specific need in the community opened last month in Harrington Park, Sydney.
Registered with Camden Family Day Care, educator Dennys Martinez has developed a unique family day care service that is very close to his heart.
Autism Family First Family Day Care is Australia’s first ever family day care service run specifically for children with autism.
The idea was born out of the Martinez family’s own personal experience with autism as Dennys and his wife Maria’s two children, Maya, 7, and Eric, 5, were both diagnosed with the disorder.
As a result, the family travelled to the United States to learn about different therapies to help with their children’s development and discovered the home-based, child-centred “Son-Rise” program, developed by parents for parents with a focus on sensory integration and relationship-based play.
Dennys returned to Australia with a desire to empower other parents with skills and knowledge to support their children who have autism in the long term.
“I ran some workshops but had lot of parents saying to me ‘I don’t know where to take my kids’ as there were only three autism specific early learning and care centres in NSW,” he said.
Dennys said he discovered a real need for autism specific care and found family day care to be the ideal environment.
“The numbers are small, it is in a familiar, home-based setting and the ages go up to 12. But the fact that it is about assisting children in their own way is what is most important because no one child is the same,” he said.
“All children need to find a place where they are understood and can be nurtured and not be left behind so I created this care to allow children on the spectrum to grow and gain the skills they need in life.”
There are structured activities such as martial arts, yoga, music and art, with help from volunteer therapists.
Children and their families have a transition period to adjust to regularly attending family day care and Dennys has even developed a children’s book called ‘Jack & Skye Go to Family Day Care’ to help children with autism understand the process and reduce their anxiety.
The service also offers a lot of support for families. The website has a forum for parents to login and share ideas, tips, events and different therapies or research.
“The parents are all very grateful because I understand what they are going through and they can leave their child with me knowing it is a place they will be assisted and well cared for,” Dennys said.
Dennys hopes other educators will be inspired to develop family day care services that are targeted to meet specific needs within the community.
“This model can be replicated and I would love for other areas and states to embrace a similar model – not necessarily for autism, but it could be for any other special needs.”
Find out more about National Family Day Care Week.
(*Source: The Department of Education (formerly known as DEEWR) Child Care and Early Learning Summary March 2013).