Reflecting on two very busy days: Our journey so far
Located in the heart of Alice Springs, the Alice Springs Child Care Centre has been operating successfully as a community-based not-for-profit organisation for 39 years. Our centre operates from a homely 1942 cottage, and we’re extremely proud of our growth over the past decades.
At the commencement of our assessment and rating process, our Compliance Officer informed us that we should not expect to meet all of the Quality Areas (QA), and that we would not pass. Our first thoughts were that this new process was going to prove more challenging and intense than the previous National Childcare Accreditation Council process.
Upon hearing this from the Compliance Officer, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Were we a bad service, even though we had passed previously? Why wouldn’t we pass? How much would our team have to improve to meet our goals? The looming expectations of the National Quality Standards (NQS) added to the pressure and anxiety.
We continued to work hard in order to make consistent and collaborative changes to the policies and procedures, reviewed our resources in our indoor and outdoor environments, and encouraged our educators to continue studying.
We started on the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) in November 2011, and it was completed before April 2012. Our management, parents and staff collaborated to document all of our goals and improvements. It read more like a checklist of constant change and reflection, and led off into other areas as it developed. Our QIP started resembling War and Peace! As a future reference for everyone—keep it simple and easy to manage. You do not have to cover every QA or action every Element within a Standard.
After the Assessor’s visit, when I first received the draft rating, I was shocked. I thought that we had received someone else’s report, was this really ours? We had met 53 of the 58 Elements, and we were shattered.
It was decided by our service to review each QA, and work together on our comments to submit a reply to the draft. We replied to every QA, and waited.
When we received the final report, it was a relief. Even though we received ‘Working Towards’ as our overall rating, we met 56 of 58 Elements, and were rated as ‘Exceeding’ in QA: 2, 5, 6, and 7; ‘Meeting’ in QA: 3 and 4; and ‘Working Towards’ in QA: 1.
The learning process from start to finish for our service has been both stressful and very rewarding. This process is new to everyone, including our Regulatory Authority, and all of the Assessing Officers. Both of our Assessors were a breath of fresh air.
Our voluntary Management Committee members have all read and commented on the reports, and their participation has been greatly beneficial. Our families are great advocates for the children, each other, and all our educators. They are taking great pride and interest in the quality of the overall service provided, and they are ready to assist us in our improvements moving forward.
I am impressed with many aspects of the new assessment and rating process, such as:
- minor adjustments can be made on the spot, or within a limited time frame
- our improvements and changes are all noted through the evidence we are able to provide
- there is a right of reply by all parties involved, and is more positive and ethical than previous assessment processes
- the draft rating was able to be reviewed and reflected upon by our service and the Regulator
- we were asked during the visit on our feedback in regards to the performance of the Assessors, from the Assessors (I felt confident to say that they were professional, approachable, observant and did not ignore interactions and conversations with the children)
- there were two Assessing Officers, which was greatly beneficial (I know this is probably unfeasible monetarily in the future, but this would be excellent to carry on to provide unbiased assessments).
- The only negative issue is the large evidence gathering required during and after the visit to support each QA, and to review the draft before the final rating. Although this will not change, there is a large amount of work to do in a constrained time frame.
During this new and sometimes daunting process, our Regulatory Authority has been very approachable, honest, professional, and reflective. It has been a refreshing change overall.
For regional and remote areas, especially the Northern Territory, the NQS document is still very much an aspirational document for the future. Recruiting and retaining qualified staff is our biggest challenge, and at the forefront of our operational concerns. Educators are taking up more training, and early childhood teachers are slowly relocating into towns, but there are few attractions to convince them to stay permanently, with many early childhood teachers preferring to seek employment through schools, seeking wages, hours, and leave entitlements that community-based services cannot currently offer. The Commonwealth needs to offer incentives to attract more qualified educators into the early childhood sector, specifically and directly into remote and regional Australian areas and long day care.
Director, Alice Springs Child Care Centre
Don’t forget, Every Child is tax deductible for early childhood professionals