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Lessons from the best family day care centres

Being flexible is as good as gold in childcare. That’s the message from a recent report on Australian family day care centres.

The UNSW Social Policy Research Centre report Perspectives on Quality in Australian Family Day Care involved interviews with 52 participants from six services nationally.

Commissioned by Family Day Care Australia (FDCA), it examined only centres deemed high quality and found several advantages of this care model. The key one, however, was flexibility, which extended beyond just hours to centres’ practice.

Speaking of the report with FDCA, co-author Dr Megan Blaxland explained the value of flexibility: “[These centres were] particularly well-placed to implement the Early Years Learning Framework well because they could respond immediately to what the children were interested in [and] their needs.” She relayed an example in which one educator suggested the children dig a trench to collect water, which then flowed into a mud pit, “so that when it rains, they could really have a lot of fun”.

In terms of flexible hours, Blaxland highlighted as exemplary a rural centre that opened at 4am during harvest season to allow parents to return to their farms in time for the morning cropping. “Flexibility also meant they were able to provide care to a wide range of people, so if there were children who needed extra support, say, someone needed additional assistance eating, then an educator could spend extra time with that child,” she added.

Blaxland implied this autonomy in programming also benefits educators personally. “I feel like everyone I spoke to was leaning forward and their eyes were sparkling. They were so keen to tell me about what they did,” she recounted.

Aside from its sunny subject matter and findings, there was an essential purpose underlying the study. Researcher professor Deborah Brennan broke this down: “There’s really not enough research on family day care, and that’s the case in Australia and internationally…yet it’s significant. Almost 20 per cent of children in Commonwealth-subsidised services are using family day care.”

Brennan deemed the report’s conclusions significant. “…What this research does is tease out the concept of flexibility in quite a substantial way”, she averred. “I think that’s a substantial contribution to our thinking about early childhood education and care.”


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