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From Hervey Bay to Canberra, meet the family daycare luminaries

Imagine a family daycare centre that’s essentially plastics-free, allows kids to play in the bush and on the beach, and uses mostly natural elements as toys. That’s just a snippet of what it takes to win Educator of the Year at Family Day Care Australia’s 2016 Excellence in Family Day Care Awards. Tabitha Penman, owner of Bayside Butterflies Family Day/Overnight Care in Queensland’s Hervey Bay, has done just that for the second time.

In addition to her service’s nature focus, she offers parents, many of whom are shift workers, the option of overnight care. With the modern deterioration of close family networks, she saw this additional offering as a need, not a want. Penman questioned why, in her view, the government is seeking to remedy this issue with nannies. Speaking of family daycare, she offered that we “already have a great model”.

Respite care, too, is offered, thanks to Penman’s inclusive philosophy. “It would be nothing for me to have two or three special needs kids in during the course of the night,” she casually remarked.

But Penman’s family daycare ambitions extend beyond her alternately leafy and sandy back yard. She has established a Facebook group for family daycare operators to network and further develop best-practice guidelines.

“I want people to get out of their comfort zones,” she explained. “There’s a competitive aspect to family daycare … [but] it should be about what’s best for children.

As for how she’ll spend her prize – a $2500 educational resources package from Modern Teaching Aids – more Fairtrade and sensory-loaded goods are on her shopping list.

“My [own] children have requested Lego,” she giggled. “I had to tell them – that’s not how it works, guys, this is for my daycare kids!”

Photo: Tabitha Penman, courtesy of Family Day Care Australia

Tabitha Penman. Photo: Family Day Care Australia

Another repeat award recipient was Australian Capital Territory-based service [email protected] It won Service of the Year for the second consecutive year.

Family Day Care Manager at [email protected], Phillipa Hargrave, said her team was “very excited” about and “proud” of this achievement.

Established more than 30 years ago, with 110 educators on its books, it was the service’s professional development focus that scored it the gong.

“We see early-childhood educators as professionals. They’re amazing!” Hargrave enthused.

Tailored provisional development through social events like networking dinners allows educators to learn within a support network, she said.

[email protected], bolstered by the win, has far-reaching plans for 2017. It will develop marketing strategies for its operators, continue its educator health and wellbeing plan, and attempt to foster stronger community connections by extending initiatives such as outdoor play groups and neighborhood gardens. And, of course, in Hargrave’s words, “continuing to challenge and inspire” their early-learning professionals will be a priority: the benefits of this trickle down to the kids in their care.

Photo: Phillipa Hargrave, courtesy of Family Day Care Australia

Phillipa Hargrave. Photo: Family Day Care Australia

According to September 2015 the latest government figure, from September 2015, about 130,000 families make use of 800-odd family daycare centres, nationally. The sector, including in-home care, was growing at a yearly rate of about 10 per cent.

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