I know quality when it comes to lots of things like chocolate, wine and music but ‘my’ quality may not reflect ‘your’ quality. For example I am pretty loose in my definition of ‘quality’ when footwear is concerned. It could be thongs (flip flops to the poms) it could be tasteful platforms (yes, there is such a thing), sparkle flats! When it comes to wine, quality to me means the sweetest sugary wine, I can find and in music it’s anything from disco to pop and Kylie (yes she is a genre all by herself). So maybe we cant ever be friends based on my ‘quality’ disclosures but you can certainly appreciate my definition of quality in those categories may be different to yours. Choosing childcare is hard and often it doesn’t feel like a choice if you are in a capital city and you are on a 2 years + waiting list. The point is when you are short-listing your options get an idea of quality how you define it and how ‘quality’ is defined by early childhood research and the combo will be gold!
Develop your own childcare ‘quality’ criteria
When you first move out of home you pretty much have 3 main criteria.
- Located near work/uni/ tafe/maccas/pub
- Bedroom (preferably not shared unless housemates are hot)
- Fridge or esky
Having done little research, having not experienced it, having not googled online forums you stick to a basic criteria. Your moving out criteria may have been different too mine, but what I’m trying to say is that when you first start the childcare journey you will have your own criteria which will be based on your needs at that moment informed by your knowledge. Firstly choose what’s important to you in terms e.g. experienced educators, real grass and music program, the vibe
Understand what factors don’t always define ‘quality’ childcare
We live in a commercialised world and that is no exception even when it comes to childcare. Slick marketing, a snazzy website the price at $160.00, per day. All these things do not define quality. The trick is that we may assume they are quality indicators but they are not. I’m not saying that if your childcare service is $160.00, has a snazzy website and slick marketing it is the rubbish, I’m just saying as parents we need to get a bit savvy to cut through the ‘sell’ and to stick to our criteria and the ‘quality’ indicators that really define quality childcare.
Get familiar with Starting Blocks
A few years ago the government established a National Quality Framework to ensure that across Australia we had a national standard for all rebated childcare services like long daycare, family daycare, kindergartens and out of school hours care. This has developed into an assessment that each service undergoes and is measured on something like 58 elements across 7 quality areas. Sounds complicated but the govie have just launched a new site called www.startingblocks.gov.au to help parents search on the quality ratings. The challenge is, not all services are rated yet so some may be blank. Each state rates their own registered childcare services and some are quicker than others.
Understand the Quality
The quality areas were not developed from a game of ‘pick a quality area from a hat’ or ‘guess the quality area we will rate’. They are evidence-based in research. Basically the research suggests there are 2 key elements which equal ‘quality’ childcare 1.process and 1.structural. So process is all about child to child and child to adult interactions and the children’s education program and structural is all about the qualifications of staff, numbers of qualified staff, staff to child rations and requirements like group size, health, safety and space. In addition staff are warm, caring and nurturing and know the children engaging them in play-based activities that help to be, belong and become.
Understand how to use the ratings
These are the types of ratings you will see when you search on Starting Blocks for childcare:
- Exceeding National Quality Standard
- Meeting National Quality Standard
- Working Towards National Quality Standard
- Significant Improvement Required
If a childcare centre you were in or wanting to enrol in was rated as ‘working towards’ your child’s safety is not at risk. It means the service is making progress it is not ‘failing’, it’s been given a few pointers. If your centre has a ‘Significant Improvement Required’ rating it may mean they failed one or more of the 7 quality areas.:
- Educational program and practice
- Children’s health and safety
- Physical environment
- Staffing arrangements
- Relationships with children
- Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
- Leadership and service management
A ‘Significant Improvement Required’ rating does mean in one or more quality areas the service is posing an unacceptable risk to the safety, health or wellbeing of a child or children being educated and cared for by the service. This may mean a suspension or cancellation of the service approval and rebate.
Ratings offer a point of discussion with your childcare service. Just like any other critical decision parents make we have some base line criteria like location, availability, philosophy we need to match to the quality standards to ensure a service lines up with their child’s development needs.
So when you go to choose childcare remember it’s like chocolate, quality counts!
About the author: You can read more from Rebecca McIntosh at her website Day Care Decisions a great resource for working parents exploring the daycare journey.