Standard 2.2 Safety – Case study 1
Each child is protected.
This preschool / kindergarten service catering for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, is situated in a school setting in a remote location several hours drive from the nearest city. The service is surrounded on three sides by bushland, which poses increased risks during the bushfire season. Additionally, many family members volunteer as firefighters at this time.
The location of the service presents it with unique challenges regarding child safety and emergency management that have required non-traditional solutions. A key factor in reaching these solutions is the strong relationships established between the service and the school, families, local Aboriginal Elders and emergency organisations. This process is consistent with the service philosophy, which highlights the value of partnerships in achieving the best possible outcomes for children. The service is also in regular contact with their regulatory authority, which is familiar with their unique context and aware of their emergency management plans and procedures.
Through ongoing conversations the service director, school principal, family members, Aboriginal Elders and representatives from local emergency organisations, detailed procedures for managing emergencies, including evacuation procedures, have been developed. These procedures take into consideration a range of risk factors given the service’s remote location, alongside dense bushland. One risk factor is possibly being unable to contact families or other emergency contacts due to poor phone signal coverage. Another risk is that many families assist in fire-fighting and may be unable to reach the service quickly in an emergency.
All staff receive training specific to child safety and emergency management as part of their induction to the service. This ensures all educators have a clear understanding of their roles, responsibilities and expectations in relation to child safety and emergency management in general, as well as the specific procedures required in their particular setting.
Staff also receive annual refresher training to ensure they remain familiar with related policies and procedures and are clear about their respective roles and responsibilities. Following the most recent refresher trainer, the director held a Q&A with educators about what they learned and how it linked to the service’s philosophy, policies and procedures. The Q&A also required educators to explain the purpose and rationale behind current practice, to ensure this was clear to everyone.
Regular emergency drills are held throughout the year to ensure all children and educators are familiar with the procedures. Each term a date is identified in the calendar to ensure they happen regularly. During the bushfire season the drills occur every three weeks. Afterwards, the director facilitates discussions with all educators individually as well as during team meetings, to reflect on the drills with a view to seeing where and how they can improve. Details of the drills and follow up reflections are documented as an ongoing record and to inform any changes that might be required. Recent critical reflections following a drill identified that further items should be added to the emergency pack and a staff member allocated to regularly check that all equipment is in working order and not past its use-by date.
During enrolment, families are informed about the service’s emergency procedures and plans to manage incidents. These are developed and reviewed in consultation with families, school representatives, Aboriginal Elders and representatives from local emergency organisations. As part of this process, the service asks families for information that may impact on the emergency procedures. This includes if they are a member of the local emergency service, their work hours and patterns (e.g. are they a shift worker), and how long it takes families to drive from their home to the service. Regular updates on these procedures are provided to families, particularly during the bushfire season.
If families or nominated emergency contacts are not available to collect their children in an emergency, children are transported to a safe designated location in the school bus. Families are all notified during enrolment procedures of the location of the emergency site and are provided with clear directions to reach it.
In addition to ensuring all required transport maintenance and safety checks are undertaken, specific supervision procedures have been established and are reviewed regularly. These include checking who is on the bus using an attendance roll, having an educator sit at the back of the bus for supervision during the trip and an educator at the front to check off the children as they get off. The educator at the back of the bus double-checks by looking under all the seats as they exit. All educators at the service are aware of these procedures and can explain the importance of being consistently attuned to the health, safety and wellbeing needs of each child at all times. This includes managing the particular risks that arise when transporting children.
Educators have developed teaching resources, including story books and puppets to act out possible scenarios, as a way of talking to children about the emergency procedures and providing them with time and space to ask questions or talk about their concerns. Practicing emergency drills every three weeks during bush fire season also helps the children to see these procedures as part of the normal program and means they are less likely to become distressed if a real emergency occurs.
Educators are also mindful that bush fire season can be a stressful time of year for all involved. It’s important, therefore, that they are emotionally prepared and equipped to support themselves and others in an emergency. With this in mind, the director and two educators attended a training course about building positive mental health skills, including coping skills and managing stress. The school principal and a teacher from the school also attended. This information was shared in a combined meeting with staff from the service and the school to assist everyone support children, families and each other in a potential emergency situation or the aftermath.
In another collaboration with the school, the educational leader and school principal sought to increase the knowledge, skill and confidence of all staff in teaching children protective behaviours. Following a recent child protection training, the educational leader did some additional research about incorporating protective behaviour concepts and strategies in the educational program. They also undertook a review of their resource library specific to protective behaviours. In doing so, they discovered a lack of suitable resources on this topic, both for children and families. This led to further conversations with the school principal about how they can work better together to promote child safety and protective behaviours within the local community. This included looking at key messages for families and community members about child safety. It also included sharing existing resources between the service and the school specific to child safety and protective behaviours.
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