Family day care services: How using only one brush can unfairly taint all

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair, reflects on the quality ratings of family day care services and looks beyond the headline figures.

The family day care sector is in the spotlight regularly, but sadly often not for the right reasons. Family day care has been, and remains, a preferred and appropriate option for many Australian families. The latest Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census, undertaken by the Australian Government, estimates there are more than 30,000 educators working in the family day care sector.

Our most recent NQF Snapshot (Q3, 2017) shows that, as at 1 October 2017, 78% of approved family day care services have been quality rated, equating to some 664 individual services. Less than half (43%) of these are rated Meeting National Quality Standard (NQS) or above.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge that, as a service type, family day care services need to improve their quality ratings. More than three quarters (76%) of centre-based care services are rated Meeting NQS or above, with a third (33%) of these rated Exceeding NQS or above. In contrast, only 16% of family day care services are rated Exceeding NQS or above. However, this is not the complete story. To take the headline figures and then conclude that all family day care services are poor quality is misleading for families.

At the top end of performance, three family day care services have achieved an Excellent rating. To be eligible for this rating, a service must first be rated as Exceeding NQS and then demonstrate how they are promoting exceptional education and care that improves outcomes for children and families, and showing leadership and a commitment to sustained excellent practice through continuous improvement.

One of the three Excellent rated family day care services, Wynnum Family Day Care in Queensland, received the rating for the second time late last year (the Excellent rating lasts for a period of three years), having been the first family day care service in Australia to receive the rating in 2013.

There are then 106 family day care services rated Exceeding NQS and 175 rated Meeting NQS. To be rated Meeting NQS, a service needs to meet all of the quality areas, standards and elements of the NQS. This is a high bar and means that a service may be rated Working Towards NQS based on not meeting only one (or all 58) elements of the NQS.

We want families and the general public to understand what Working Towards NQS means and to look below the overall rating so that they are well-informed about their choices.

Almost 100 (96) family day care services rated Working Towards NQS do not meet seven or fewer elements of the NQS. At the other end of the spectrum, a similar number (94) of family day care services do not meet 27 or more elements of the NQS.

By examining the element level performance of all services rated Working Towards NQS, families will have a much better idea of the range of quality and how close, or far away, individual services are from meeting all of the requirements.

It is also the case that individual services can be rated Exceeding NQS for one or more of the seven quality areas without achieving an overall rating of Exceeding NQS. This could be because they do not receive enough ratings of Exceeding NQS across the seven quality areas or because their performance is below Meeting NQS in one or more of the quality areas.

While only 109 family day care services are rated Exceeding NQS or above overall, a total of 215 services are rated Exceeding NQS for one or more of the quality areas, with 28 services rated Exceeding NQS for all seven quality areas.

While the National Quality Framework is committed to shining a light on poor quality and taking swift action in response to fraudulent behaviour or practice that poses a significant risk to children, we should also ensure that the efforts of the majority of family day care providers and educators are not disregarded or diminished.

One of ACECQA’s roles is to promote and foster continuous quality improvement and to support parents and the community in understanding what quality means. It will always be important to provide a balanced and accurate portrayal of performance across all service types. One of the most important aspects of the quality rating system is that it provides freely available information to assist the decisions of parents and carers when considering which education and care service would best suit the needs of their children.

I would encourage educators to help families to be aware of, and understand, their service’s quality rating and to explain how they are tracking on their journey of continuous quality improvement.

Viewing excellence as a process, not a result

How can we think about excellence as an enriching process rather than a final result?

As the first family day care service in Australia to be awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA under the National Quality Framework in 2013 – and re-awarded the rating in 2016 – Wynnum Family Day Care is passionate about sharing high quality practice and implementing a range of collaborative initiatives. This month on We Hear You, Wynnum FDC’s Educational Leader, Niki Kenny, explores some of the processes that drive the service’s exceptional practice and the principles behind them.

As passionate advocates for high quality children’s education and care, the educators and staff at Wynnum Family Day Care place great importance on collaborative partnerships and relationships with the sector, as well as sharing processes, practices, attitudes and ideals that are central to continuous quality improvement and excellence.

Relationship building

As a relationship-based service with a focus on positive workplace culture and organisational values, Wynnum FDC has developed an interview and orientation process for prospective educators that goes beyond the checking of minimum qualifications and legislative requirements, giving educators an opportunity to assess their ‘fit’ with the service’s culture.

Relationships with families are also prioritised: while it would be possible to conduct all enrolments online, the service invites all new families to attend the family-friendly office space for a face-to-face interview to build their understanding of the coordination unit and educators’ distinct, but intertwined, roles in supporting them and their child (or children).

Inclusive practices that enhance relationship building include:

  • conducting regular surveys of educators and families
  • keeping regular communication via email
  • phone and face-to-face contact, and
  • involving families in decision-making for the service.

One of the rewards of strong relationships and teamwork is longevity of educators, staff and families within the service. The sense of trust that develops over time allows the service to operate in a responsive and proactive way, as opposed to a reactive compliance model.

An example of this is when educators and coordinators work together to solve problems and overcome challenges, with honest and respectful communication. Team members are able to listen to and learn from each other, and view challenges as a learning opportunity.

Another benefit of having long-term team members is the sense of stability that leads to confidence to think outside the square and try new ideas.

Innovation and expectations

Innovation and high expectations go hand in hand at Wynnum FDC: “We set high expectations for ourselves every day – not to achieve a particular rating but in order to deliver the best service we can to our community,” said Manager Cathy Bavage.

Whether writing a new policy, changing a practice or facing a challenge, team members focus not only on what is required by legislation and regulations, but what is current best practice. For example, coordinators tend to be qualified above and beyond the minimum requirements, and have all received additional training in adult learning, to enhance the delivery of training and communications.

“We recognise that children’s learning, development and wellbeing are directly associated with quality professional development,” added Cathy.

There is therefore a strong focus not just on children’s learning but on adult learning as well. The innovative programs and business practices that arise from setting high expectations for early education and care are perhaps the most visible component of Wynnum FDC’s journey to excellence.

Reflective practice

Forward thinking and innovation are enabled by reflective practice. Daily  ‘mini’ team meetings are held in the office as a way for coordinators to share not only practical information about tasks to be completed, but also to ‘check in’ with each other about workloads and the best way to manage.

A weekly team meeting allows for extended time to review current happenings in the service, discuss how any challenges will be managed and by whom, and to reflect on practice by giving and receiving feedback. Due to the trusting relationships between educators and coordinators I mentioned previously, questions about practice can be posed without evoking a defensive response, and instead taken on board as a valuable part of continual professional development.

Bi-annual reviews of the service by an external consultant ensure reflection remains robust and critical.

Other rewards of reflective practice, apart from leading to innovative programs that enhance children’s learning and growth, include being able to constantly align actions with philosophy and to have confidence the service is working towards its vision to provide quality outcomes for children.

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An Excellent rating can be compared to an iceberg, in that the visible part (the rating) is held up by the processes and practices, which are in turn supported by the deeper underlying principles or beliefs that form the service’s philosophy.

Therefore the first steps for services seeking to enhance their rating is to develop a philosophy including the values that are most important for your context and community, followed by the processes that will best enable you to put your philosophy into practice.

Assessment and rating for family day care service providers

The assessment and rating process can be a nervous time for educators and providers.

To coincide with National Family Day Care Week earlier this month, we chatted to Eugenia Gabbiani, a family day care educator at the City of Casey in Victoria, about her experience being assessed and rated and her advice for other educators.

Tell us a little about your service

The City of Casey Family Day Care commenced in 1995 following amalgamations of family day care services in surrounding local government areas that created the largest family day care service in Australia!

Our service remains the largest, currently operating at an average level of 800 equivalent full time places with around 235 educators offering care in their homes to over 2500 children with help from 18 very supportive members of our coordination unit.

How did you prepare for your assessment and rating visit?

The City of Casey has been preparing educators since the commencement of assessment and rating by providing training, advice and information to ensure we are aware of the expectations.

Before the visit, I talked to children in my care about the people coming to see us that day and also spent some time making sure all my documentation was up to date and easily accessible for assessors.

Did you have any concerns or were you nervous about your assessment and rating?

On the day of the visit, I did get nervous. I think it is natural for anybody being assessed on their work performance to be a little nervous. Though once the assessors arrived and the process started, my nerves eased quickly as we were able to show them our service.

Overall I was confident, as we offer high quality education and care every day regardless of being visited.

Do you have any advice for family day care service providers that are due to be assessed and rated?

All educators, not just family day care, have a responsibility to provide the best quality of care every day. When preparing for an assessment, my advice would be to have all your documentation up to date, easily accessible and ensure children’s files are readily available as the assessor will ask to see this documentation.

Make sure that you know what you do – this means know your emergency procedures. Take time to familiarise yourself with regulations as the assessor could ask you questions about this.

Have your activities ready to reflect your program and what your children have chosen for the day. Have your observations available.

We are a multicultural society; include diversity in your activities. I know that children in our service enjoy learning rhymes in other languages. If you have children from other cultures, learn basic words in that language and greet children and families with “good morning” in their mother tongue. Document this so that assessors know you are doing this.

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An Australia Day activity at Eugenia’s family day care service.

Importantly, be proud of the fantastic job you do as an educator. Display your certificates, diplomas, awards and commendations. Not just for the assessor, but for everyone who comes into your service.

Display your children’s artwork as they too are very proud of their work. Have photos of children doing some of the activities planned by you and the spontaneous ones initiated by them. You can also have a ‘community board’ where you can place pictures of the places you frequent with the children.

These recommendations are not just for the assessment and rating process but for your practice. My main advice for family day care educators, and all educators, is to ensure your service is a high quality one all the time, not just when you are being assessed and rated.

Treat assessment and rating as an opportunity to show off your practice to the assessor, let them see that you are prepared and proud of the education that you provide.

You might also like to read our Embracing the assessment and rating process interview from last year with Vashti Hicks, an Authorised Officer with the Queensland Department of Education and Training.

Driving Miss Daisy…Safely

This month Zora Marko, Road Safety Education Project Manager from Early Learning Association Australia, talks about their new Family Day Care Safe Transport Policy for family day care (FDC) educators and providers. Zora explains the importance of protecting children while travelling and provides helpful tips on best practice when transporting children. While this policy is targeted towards FDC educators and providers, Early Learning Association Australia also has a separate Safe Transport Policy for centre-based services.   

Car crashes are one of the leading causes of child death in Australia. Several thousand children aged birth to six years are hospitalised each year in Australia from injuries sustained in car crashes.

And while studies by road safety researchers show that almost all young children in Australia (98 per cent) use child restraints when they travel in cars, about one quarter of children are using the wrong type of restraint for their age, and about 70 per cent of restraints are incorrectly installed or used.

Wrongly installed or used child car seats have alarming consequences for children in a car crash. It is estimated 42 per cent of child deaths in car crashes and 55 per cent of injuries could be eliminated if all children aged one to six were travelling in an appropriate child car seat that was correctly installed, according to a recent study by Australian road safety researchers, published in the medical journal Pediatrics[1].

Early Learning Association Australia (ELAA) worked with VicRoads, Family Day Care Australia and other peak bodies in the family day care sector, as well as leading early childhood experts, to develop the Safe Transport Policy (Family Day Care).

It is based on the Best Practice Guidelines for the Safe Transportation of Children in Vehicles published by Neuroscience Research Australia, an independent, not-for-profit research institute.

The policy reflects best practice and goes beyond the minimum legal requirements outlined in Australian road laws.

For example, it is legal to use a safety harness, also known as an H harness, for children travelling in cars in Victoria, however the policy recommends against their use. Research shows that safety harnesses provide no safety advantages over lap-sash seat belts and may, in fact, increase the risk of injury.

While the law sets minimum standards for the safe transportation of children we still need to do the best we can to protect children and keep them safe while travelling, especially when we’ve got the scientific evidence and the knowledge about the sorts of best practices that should be implemented.

ELAA understands that we’re aiming high with these best practices and recognises that it may take some time for family day care educators to take on all aspects of the policy. ELAA will provide support with education and resources to help the sector adopt the policy.

Moonee Valley City Council, a local government authority in Melbourne’s inner west, is trialling the best practice policy among its 11 family day care services.

The council has held professional development sessions for educators and coordinators about the best practice policies.

Gurpreet Thiara, the council’s Children Services Development Officer, said educators’ main concerns included how to determine the age and appropriateness of a car seat, especially when parents provide their own car seat.

“Educators appreciated the information they received from the training session and they are now more confident, not only in transporting children in their care, but in answering questions from families about safe transportation,” Ms Thiara said.

Shane Lucas, ELAA’s Chief Executive Officer, said the best practice policy, developed in partnership with VicRoads, was a great example of how diverse organisations could work together to create practical improvements for educators, children and families in early learning services.

HANDY LINKS

https://childroadsafety.org.au/road-safety-education-policies/safety_education

www.childcarseats.com.au

[1] Wei Du, Caroline F. Finch, Andrew Hayen, Lynne Bilston, Julie Brown and Julie Hatfield (2010) ‘Pediatrics’, Relative benefits of population-level interventions targeting restraint-use in child care passengers, p304-312.

Food for thought

DBOOSH_32 copyACECQAPhotos_headshot1_edited‘s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, explores the physical implications of nutritious food and why healthy eating practices are such an important component of the National Quality Framework. 

We are all familiar with the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and likely remember being told that “carrots help you see in the dark”. But what are the physical implications of the intake of nutritious food and why is their consumption so highly promoted in the National Quality Framework (NQF)?

When receiving nutrients, studies have shown the body prioritises survival first, followed by growth, then brain development. Being well-nourished can have a significant impact on children’s long term health including physical and motor development, brain development, immunity and metabolic programming.

Due to the rapid pace of brain development, nutrition can affect a child’s learning capacity, analytical and social skills, and their ability to adapt to different environments and people. Research also shows that good nutrition protects the body against disease and determines the body’s metabolic programming of glucose, protein, lipids and hormones.

Longitudinal studies have shown that responding early to cases of insufficient nutrition significantly improves long term health and productivity.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) acknowledges the importance of nutrition for children. For example, Standard 2.2 of the National Quality Standard aims to ensure food and drinks provided by services are nutritious and appropriate for each child. To make informed decisions about what is nutritious and appropriate for children, services are encouraged to refer to guidelines and advice from recognised authorities such as the Department of Health and Ageing’s publication, Get up and Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood and the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia.

Services are also encouraged to ensure that food is consistent with advice provided by families about their child’s dietary requirements, likes, dislikes and cultural or other requirements families have regarding their child’s nutrition.

To meet approved learning framework outcomes, services should provide many opportunities for children to experience a range of healthy foods and to learn about food choices from educators and other children (Early Years Learning Framework, page 30; Framework for School Age Care, page 30).

The Education and Care Services National Regulations require that:

  • the food or beverages offered are nutritious and adequate in quantity, and are chosen having regard to the dietary requirements of each child including their growth and development needs and any specific cultural, religious or health requirements (Regulation 79) (this does not apply to food supplied for the child by child’s parents)
  • if the service provides food and drinks (other than water), a weekly menu which accurately describes the food and drinks must be displayed at the service at a place accessible to parents (Regulation 80)
  • the approved provider must ensure policies and procedures are in place in relation to health and safety, including nutrition, food and drinks, and dietary requirements (Regulation 168).

The NQF recognises the professionalism of the education and care sector. Providers and educators are encouraged to use their professional judgement to make informed decisions when developing policies and procedures for their service, children and families.

Collaborative relationships with families play an important role and will help in promoting understanding of healthy eating for children.

Nutrition Australia – Children and the Guide to the National Quality Standard pp. 60- 63 are also useful resources for educators and parents.

ACECQA spoke with a NSW service to see how they promote healthy eating practices, nutritional value and physical play.

Double Bay OSHC in Sydney encourages children to adopt healthy eating practices on a daily basis. Team Leader, Karim Moulay, said by displaying posters and signs around the kitchen and service, staff and children are reminded of the nutritional value of the food they prepare and eat.

“One of our signs in particular reminds us not to add extra salt or sugar to our food,” Karim said. “And we often refer to our nutritional poster board which illustrates the high sugar content in the foods most children want to eat compared to a healthy replacement.”

“Ensuring the safety of children during food-based activities is also a focus for educators.

“We teach children the safe way to pass a knife, the correct chopping boards to use for meat and vegetables, the importance of tying hair back off their face and shoulders, and to wash their hands throughout the food preparation process to stop cross-contamination.”

In addition, all food-based activities contribute to their overarching health and nutrition curriculum, and learning outcomes.

“Even in our cooking classes our children are learning lifelong skills such as teamwork, cooperation, volume and quantities, cleaning, sanitising and cooking,” Karim said.

The changing face of family day care

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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).

 

Updating your Quality Improvement Plan

In Issue 1 of the ACECQA Newsletter for 2013 we asked ‘What are you doing to ensure your Quality Improvement Plan remains a living document?’ 

Share what you and your service are doing to build on 2012 and keep your QIP up to date by commenting on this post.

Want to read more about keeping QIPs up to date? Check out this post from Gaye Stewart on how she and her team supported the process at a local level.