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.