For every child, every right

In this month’s blog, we look at the role of the National Children’s Commissioner and explore some of the projects and resources developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that are relevant to approved providers, coordinators, educators, teachers and staff members working in the children’s education and care sector. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the appointment of Ms Anne Hollonds as the new National Children’s Commissioner.

Ms Hollonds, who will commence her five-year appointment in November 2020, replaces inaugural National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who has served in the role for the past seven years.

The National Children’s Commissioner 

The Commonwealth Government established the National Children’s Commissioner position in 2012 to help promote the rights, wellbeing and development of children and young people in Australia, and ensure their voices, including those of the most vulnerable, are heard at the national level.

The Commissioner promotes public discussion and awareness of issues affecting children, conducts research and education programs, and consults directly with children and representative organisations. The role also examines relevant existing and proposed Commonwealth legislation to determine if it recognises and protects children’s human rights in Australia.

The work of the Commissioner complements the work conducted by state and territory children’s commissioners and guardians. The position sits within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Australia’s national independent statutory body dealing with human rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified in Australia in December 1990. The UNCRC is the main international human rights treaty on children’s rights, and as a party Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

The UNCRC outlines the rights of children in international law. It contains 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.

The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the objectives and guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF). The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) also explicitly incorporate the UNCRC and children’s rights. Likewise, the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics is based on the principles of the UNCRC.

Projects and resources for education and care services

The AHRC and the Commissioner have undertaken a number of major projects to draw attention to the human rights challenges facing children. Two projects, of particular relevance to the children’s education and care sector, are the:

  •  Child Safe Organisations project
  • Building Belonging toolkit of resources
Child Safe Organisations

As part of the Child Safe Organisations project, the Australian Government asked the Commissioner to lead the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (the National Principles), released in February 2019.

Endorsed at the time by members of the Council of Australian Governments, the National Principles are based on the ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) that all organisations that engage in child-related work are required to implement. They are however broader in scope, going beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The Principles aim to provide a nationally consistent approach to creating organisational cultures that foster child safety and wellbeing across all sectors in Australia.

The National Office for Child Safety, established in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, works with the Commissioner, states and territories and the non-government sector to coordinate national adoption of the National Principles.

All organisations that work, or come into contact, with children are encouraged to implement the National Principles to become a child safe organisation. This includes, but is not limited to, sport and recreation clubs, education and care services, schools, child and youth support services, and out-of-home care services.

Practical tools and training resources are available to help organisations implement the National Principles.

At present, compliance with the National Principles is not mandatory. However, organisations – including education and care services, are encouraged to adopt them to demonstrate leadership and commitment to child safety and wellbeing.

Food for thought…

Ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children is an objective of the NQF, and always a priority. Children’s education and care services play an important role in creating and maintaining safe and nurturing spaces that reinforce each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.

How might you adopt the National Principles to support best practice and advocate for children’s fundamental right to be protected and kept safe?

*Note: While the National Principles are broadly aligned with existing child safe approaches reflected in the NQF, education and care services must continue to comply with the NQF and meet existing legislative requirements in their state or territory in addition to their choice to comply with the National Principles. Links to state and territory child safe requirements and resources are available on the ACECQA website.

Building Belonging

Recognising that children’s education and care environments provide the ideal setting for children to begin learning about their rights and responsibilities, and to develop respect for those around them, the AHRC worked closely with the sector to develop ‘Building Belonging’.

Building Belonging is a toolkit of resources which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

The toolkit has been designed to cater to both education and care and early primary school settings, developed to support the achievement of learning outcomes under the EYLF and the Australian Curriculum. The resources closely align with the National Quality Standard (NQS) and are linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Additionally, these resources support the fulfilment of children’s rights principles set out in the UNCRC.

The toolkit is a valuable resource that can be used to support Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) development and review. It can also assist educators in identifying current strengths and priorities for improvement when tackling the issues of cultural diversity and prejudice.

Food for thought…

Take a moment to consider if, or how, your service has accessed and used this resource in practice. Are there opportunities to incorporate, or extend on the use of this resource to support the development of cultural competence in your service?

Additional resources

The AHRC website promotes and provides a range of educational resources and materials aimed at building a universal culture and understanding of human rights. A recent news article, which may be of particular interest to education and care services, explores the potential effect the disruptions caused by COVID-19 may have on children and the important role educators, teachers, parents and carers play in supporting children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Throughout these unprecedented and uncertain times educators and service leaders have shown dedication, resilience and a commitment to continuing to deliver quality education and care to support children and their families. Every children’s education and care service makes ethical choices reflective of their values, and throughout the COVID-19 crisis it has been heartening to see the continued emphasis on the safety, health and wellbeing of children and their rights and best interests remaining paramount.

Thank you for your valued work for Australian children, families and communities during this challenging period.

Further resources

ACECQA – We Hear You – Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children

Australian Government – The National Office for Child Safety

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations

UNICEFThe Convention on the Rights of the Child: The child-friendly version

Documentation – what, why and how

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. 

Documentation is a subject of extensive debate in the children’s education and care sector in Australia and internationally.  ‘How do we document? and ‘How much do we document? are common questions; with time constraints often raised as a key challenge.  The evolution and widespread use of digital technologies has raised further issues to critically reflect on, such as the impact of devices on meaningful interactions and respect of children’s rights.

It is important to remember that documentation is a professional responsibility and there are no recipes or regulated formulas. The outcome-focused standards encourage educators and educational leaders to use their professional judgement and to be creative and innovative in the way the standards are met. Recognise and respond to the unique context of your service and your community members.

You may want to take the opportunity at your next team meeting to think about the theories that inform your practice, and how these influence decisions about what and how you document.

Have the confidence to be courageous, creative and reflective. There are multiple ways to document and meet the standards. Ensure these reflect your unique team, children, families and community.

What is ‘documentation’?

Documentation is the practice of recording and creating evidence of learning and learning progress, helping make it visible. Documentation takes children’s and educator’s thinking, and the experiences that educators observe, hear and feel into written or other records that can be shared, revisited and extended over time. Rich documentation incorporates multiple perspectives, including the voices of children, educators, peers, families and other professionals (Educators’ Guide to the EYLF, p. 37).

Why document?

Documentation supports the provision of quality children’s education and care by:

  • deepening the shared understanding of each child
  • identifying and analysing learning and learning progress
  • informing the educational program, and
  • making learning visible and able to be shared with others.

It also helps educators and educational leaders to reflect on their pedagogy and practices.

From a compliance perspective, documentation is both a regulatory requirement and integral to Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS). From my experience working in the sector, educators work diligently to support children and families and often set high benchmarks for themselves. I am aware that there is a lot of misinformation about how much and what documentation is required, so I think it may be timely to reflect on what the NQS actually requires.

What documentation is required?

The regulatory requirements for educational program documentation are in Part 4.1 of the Education and Care Services National Regulations and include three key components:

  1. the educational program;
  2. child assessments or evaluations; and
  3. information for families.

In the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), assessment for learning is the process of gathering and analysing information as evidence about what children know, can do and understand (EYLF, p.19).

In the school age education and care context, evaluation for wellbeing and learning is the process of gathering and analysing information about how children feel and what children know, can do and understand (FSAC, p. 17). Assessments and evaluations inform the educational program and form part of the ongoing assessment and planning cycle.

  1. The educational program

The educational program must be on display and in a location at the service premises that is accessible to families (Regulation 75). Importantly, information about the educational program must include detail of both the content and the operation of the program. It is not just a list of experiences, but how the program is being implemented. A copy of the educational program must also be available for inspection upon request.

  1. Child assessments or evaluations

Regulation 74 requires documentation of child assessments or evaluations for delivery of the educational program. The emphasis on ‘delivery’ highlights the role of child assessments and evaluations in shaping the educational program. The educational program should evolve and reflect the current learning needs and interests of the children at the service, and be based on ongoing assessments or evaluations.

For a child of preschool age or under, this documentation must include assessment of:

  • developmental needs
  • interests
  • experiences
  • participation in the educational program, and
  • progress against the outcomes of the educational program consistent with the learning outcomes of the approved learning frameworks.

For a child over preschool age:

  • evaluation of the child’s wellbeing, development and learning are required in some jurisdictions – ACT, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

Services that educate and care for school age children in the Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW are not required to keep documentation of evaluations of individual children’s wellbeing, learning and development. However they must ensure evidence about the development of the educational program is documented.  A helpful ACECQA Information Sheet explains this.

  1. Information for families

A copy of the child assessment or evaluation documentation specified in Regulation 74 must be made available to families on request (Regulation 76):

  • information about the content and operation of the educational program, as it relates to their child; and
  • information about the child’s participation in the program.

Why do you document?

To provide reflective insight into your own documentation practices, take a moment to consider why you personally document the way that you do.

Is your practice driven by regulations, the learning frameworks, the NQS, workplace procedures, training, habit, family needs, hearsay or experience?

Pausing to question ‘why’ and unpack these influences will support you to critically reflect and examine your practice, enriching your professional decision-making.

Documentation reflects each unique service

Reflecting the unique context of each service, documentation will not look the same from one service to another. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. One of the best ways to know if you are on track is to consider practice in terms of the outcomes for children and families.

Regulation 74 reminds us to consider:

  • the period of time the child is being educated and cared for
  • how the documentation will be used by educators
  • ensuring it is readily understandable by educators, and
  • ensuring it is readily understandable by families.

It is important to ensure documentation is genuinely understandable by the educators and families at your service. Procedures need to be in place to determine or evaluate this, for example, through input and ongoing feedback from families and reflective practice discussions with educators.

Children also demonstrate their learning and progress in many and varied ways. Therefore the methods of gathering, documenting and analysing evidence to assess learning also need to be varied.

Learning evidence needs to be collected over time and in a range of situations, rather than making judgements based upon limited information or a ‘tick-the-box’ approach.

Documentation should be meaningful, purposeful, sustainable and promote positive outcomes for children and families.

Questions for reflection

  • Are your documentation processes meaningful?

Consider if documentation is simply a ‘task’ to be completed each week or month, and if documentation is part of a meaningful pedagogical process you undertake to gain a deeper understanding of each child.

Some key questions to discuss with your team are:

  • Is your documentation being used to analyse each child’s learning and learning progress; to shape the educational program; and to make children’s learning visible to families?
  • How does documentation support understanding and assessment of each child’s learning progress?
  • How is each child’s participation in the program recorded and acted upon?
  • How does documentation support quality outcomes for families?
  • How are the voices of children included in documentation?
  • How are the voices of families included in documentation?
  • How does documentation meaningfully shape the educational program?
  • Do documentation processes impact educator interactions with children?

Research has confirmed that process quality, “the direct interactional experiences of children in ECEC, the daily back‐and‐forth exchanges they have with educators and other children, and their participation in learning experiences”, has the greatest impact on quality and positive outcomes for children (Torii, Fox and Cloney, 2017).

Social-emotional development is particularly enhanced by process quality.

High quality interactions and relationship-building with children can be compromised if the recording of observations and/or images on digital devices becomes a priority:

  • Engagement with a device can limit time and genuine, two-way and sustained engagement with a child or group of children.
  • Capturing the ‘perfect image’ can be perceived as being what is of value, not the learning or the child.

Consider the Early Childhood Australia Statement on young children and digital technologies and ‘model self-regulated digital technology use…that recognises the importance of sustained social interactions’ and relationships. (ECA, 2018)

In guiding your reflection, you might ask yourself:

  • Is device use impacting interactions and relationship-building with children and between children?
  • How does my service monitor digital technology use for documentation?
  • How does digital documentation promote positive outcomes for children?
  • If devices weren’t used to record observations and assessments/evaluations, what would be the benefits and challenges?
  • How could limited device use promote positive relationships and outcomes for children?
  • What message is sent to children about the ‘photo-worthiness’ of their learning?
  • Does documentation respect the rights of the child?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms children’s rights and provides an ethical and legal framework for their realisation. The Convention acknowledges the obligations and responsibilities that society, communities and families must honour and respect. The 42 Articles specifically affirm children’s right to an education, to privacy and to be protected from any activities that could harm their development.

Review The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and consider:

  • How do documentation processes respect children’s right to privacy?
  • Are children aware of their rights?
  • Is a child’s permission sought before taking images of them or their learning?

Further reading and resources to guide your practice

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Documenting programs for school age children

ACECQA – Resource – Educators Guide: Belonging, Being & Becoming

ACECQA – Resource – Educators Guide: My Time, Our Place

Early Childhood Australia – Resource – Statement on young children and digital technologies

Mitchell Institute – Research – Quality is Key in Early Childhood Education in Australia

United Nations – Resource – Convention on the Rights of the Child