Standard 6.1 Supportive relationship - Case study 3

Respectful relationships with families are developed and maintained and families are supported in their parenting role.

This case study is a collection of examples of high quality practice to prompt reflection and discussion about Exceeding NQS practice in a range of service contexts. It is not an extract from an assessment and rating report for a service that is rated Exceeding NQS for this Standard, and does not comprehensively describe the ways that a service can demonstrate Exceeding practice.
image of wall art in a education and care service

 

an icon representing school age children - a boy and a girl playing with a ball

This long day care service is situated in a regional town. The service is one of several early childhood education and care services across the state operated by the same approved provider. The service values and prioritises respectful relationships and collaborative partnerships with families in all its endeavours. This includes partnerships with families that use the service and also families within its local community, and those engaged with the broader organisation.

The service’s commitment to respectful relationships with families is consistent with their service philosophy, which highlights the importance of community and experiencing ‘belonging’, “knowing where and with whom you belong”, in line with the approved learning framework, Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework (2022, p.6). The emphasis on ‘belonging’ was strengthened and updated during their recent philosophy review as an outcome of ongoing reflective conversations between educators, children, families, and community, exploring the question, ‘What does “belonging” look like and feel like for our children and families in the context of our community?’ 

Establishing respectful relationships with families is a key focus from their first point of contact. The team recognises the first time any family walks through their doors or phones the service can be the start of a longstanding relationship, and that warm, friendly, and respectful responses are important from the very beginning. During enrolment, when asked about their reasons for choosing the service, families typically respond that they know other families who have used the service who speak highly of educators’ genuine and respectful engagement with families. This is demonstrated by children and families continuing to return to visit the service and educators, years after they are no longer attending. 

The service team is committed to continuously looking to build and sustain an inclusive and culturally safe and responsive environment through ongoing collaboration with families. This is particularly evident in the ongoing refinements to their enrolment and orientation processes, as well as their processes for moving children to different rooms within the service, and then during transitions to school. Feedback from a recent family survey highlighted the importance families placed on the director’s open-door policy and genuine willingness to support families.

This included being a reliable and trusted source of information about resources and support services within the local community. For example, one family spoke of the director’s support in helping them navigate the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to access and coordinate early intervention services for their child. Another family, whose first language was not English, recalled the time the director accompanied them to the Centrelink office to help them apply for Child Care Subsidy (CCS). 

Reflecting on this success, educators identified that the newly created orientation checklist, developed in response to family feedback, helped to ensure they addressed all key points and created time for families to ask questions. The orientation process included providing a ‘frequently asked questions’ information sheet that covered the different ways families are informed about their child’s progress and how they can contribute to the service’s educational program, as well as how the service supports parenting and family wellbeing.

Another change that the team identified as contributing to their success, was the introduction of a brief family survey immediately after their enrolment and orientation experience, seeking more targeted feedback on these processes to further strengthen and enhance practice. Several families commented on the personalised welcome note their child received in the mail a few days before their first day in the service. Others were impressed that all educators greeted them by name and demonstrated a genuine interest in them from the beginning of their time with the service.

Opportunities for further improvement were suggested by a small number of families. For example, one family, whose child was quite shy, felt that having more pre-commencement visits to the service may have eased their joining the service. Another family was new to the town and had not used a children’s education and care service before. They suggested that a follow up meeting after orientation, to go over key points and have another opportunity to ask questions, would have been helpful. 

These comments created lively discussion within the team. Educators acknowledged that, as all families are different, it can be challenging to meet the needs of each individual family, however they noted that the comments highlighted the importance of being aware of, and responsive to, all families’ unique and different strengths, aspirations and priorities. Educators reflected on the extent to which they might sometimes make assumptions about what families need to know when commencing in the service. They also discussed how they might better understand families’ expectations and needs during the orientation process. For example, commencing conversations by asking families about their priorities and aspirations for their child and their expectations of the service.

Family feedback and subsequent team discussions were documented in the staff meeting minute book, noting the service teams’ strengths and achievements, as well as where and how practice could be improved. Suggestions from families were also added to the orientation checklist to help ensure future families had the best possible start at the service. 

The service continued to explore their relationships with families and at a recent staff meeting, the director led a discussion about the different ways families can be supported to get involved and contribute to the service. Educators noted that perhaps in some cases families can be unaware of the significance of their contributions and the impact they make. As a result of this discussion, the team decided to include an article in the next newsletter describing examples of how families influence decision-making at the service and how this helps ensure practice is tailored and responsive to the needs of the children, families and the community.

One example illustrated how helpful it is for educators when families share experiences their child has at home, or interests that have emerged for their child, as these can change over time. The article described how a parent had shared that their child was showing interest in the different sounds that are made when they tap surfaces using various kitchen implements, and that they seemed to have a well-developed sense of rhythm and beat. Educators followed up this interest when planning the program by setting up a music station outdoors to enable the child (and others) to experiment further. Small music groups were also planned that encouraged children to recognise the different sounds and instruments being used, and to create their own rhythms using percussion instruments. This experience was documented and shared with the child’s family, who in turn followed up on some of these ideas at home. The family continued to share photographs and stories of the child’s ongoing interest and developing skills, including the child’s interest in making their own percussion instruments. This was reflected and extended on in the educator’s program planning, with the child sharing with other children what kind of instruments they had made at home, and for those children who were interested, provisions were made for them to start making their own instruments at the service.

As an extension to their discussions about relationships, the director asked educators to make some notes about their response to the questions in the Guide to the National Quality Framework (NQF) to guide further reflection on practice for Standard 6.1. Questions included, ‘How can we improve our approach to support relationships with all families?’ and ‘How does the service establish and maintain meaningful partnerships with all families?’ The director asked educators to particularly reflect on what ‘all families’ means to them.

At the next staff meeting, educators shared their thinking about the questions. An enthusiastic discussion arose about current approaches and what they could do differently or better, to ensure that all families feel welcomed and accepted, and to better support them in their parenting role. One educator related the questions to the service philosophy and the notion of ‘belonging’, noting that this will look and feel different for individual families. Another educator shared that the questions prompted them to reflect more deeply on their own values, beliefs, assumptions and biases, and how these might impact on their relationships with families.

The discussion about the importance of ‘all’ in the questions reinforced the uniqueness of each family, including their diverse backgrounds, structures and life experiences. It also highlighted the importance of getting to know and understand the strengths, aspirations and values of every family to promote a sense of ‘belonging’ and inclusion for all. This led to a discussion about the extent to which families currently using the service were reflective of the local community more broadly and what the service could do differently to ensure all families are engaged with and feel welcomed by the service. 

As part of this discussion, the team accessed information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to determine how data about the heritage and cultural diversity of their community compared with the profile of families using the service. Most educators felt that the children and families using the service were reflective of the diversity within the local community, which was consistent with ABS data. However, some educators noted that none of the families currently using the service identified as Aboriginal, despite Aboriginal children and families being reflected in ABS community data. While acknowledging that many Aboriginal families accessed the Aboriginal early childhood service in the town, educators were keen to examine the extent to which their service was welcoming and inclusive for all families within the local community, including Aboriginal families.

The service team reflected on the work they had undertaken in the past few years to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives within the curriculum. This work had been informed through the service’s strong ties with a local Aboriginal children’s service, which have evolved after they first connected through the local education and care networking group. Reciprocal visits, for small groups of children and educators, have been implemented between the two services for the past 12 months.

After returning from these visits, educators shared their observations and critical reflections with their colleagues. They discussed whether their own service demonstrated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and families are valued. Following these discussions, the director from the Aboriginal children’s service offered to walk through the service with leadership representatives and educators to assess whether the service looks and feels welcoming and promotes a sense of belonging for all children and families. The service team was also keen to learn how they might provide more easily accessible information about their service and other local services and resources that may be relevant to families.

Following this feedback and subsequent reflection, educators examined how they could better reflect their unique cultural and community context, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and knowledges. They aimed to ensure their efforts went beyond surface level and were embedded in their curriculum. Their intent was to raise children’s awareness of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and knowledges and challenge stereotypes and biases if and where they occurred.

The service team kept families informed and involved in their reconciliation actions – highlighting the link to their service philosophy, the NQF and the approved learning framework – by giving this greater emphasis at orientation and through other communication strategies such as the service newsletter and noticeboard, and through ongoing conversations. In doing so, the team was keen to strengthen ongoing, reciprocal and two-way communication with families to help them feel connected with their children’s experience in education and care, including their commitment to reconciliation, both within the local community and more broadly. 

The director was keen to build on, extend and formalise their reconciliation actions by developing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to strengthen respectful and collaborative relationships and partnerships with families and communities. They had some initial discussions with the director of the Aboriginal children’s service about how they might go about this. They were keen to have representation from local Aboriginal families on their RAP working group but recognised the importance of first developing a reciprocal relationship with local Aboriginal Elders and other Aboriginal organisations and community members.

The director had met some local Elders through connections with the Aboriginal service and other community members, however acknowledged that there was still work to be done in developing stronger ties with local Aboriginal families. In reflecting on this, the director wondered if their lack of action was due to a lack of confidence or fear of inadvertently offending or being disrespectful through limited knowledge of appropriate protocols for contacting and engaging with local Elders and how to then reach out to local Aboriginal families.

Building safe, trusting, sustainable relationships takes time and the service team recognised they would need to listen, be flexible and responsive to feedback to learn, grow and improve. They also understood the importance of learning about Aboriginal Elders’ aspirations, priorities and interests for Aboriginal children and families in their local community. The service team contacted their Local Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group to find out about local Aboriginal community events that local Aboriginal families attend and how to get involved. They also reached out to the local Aboriginal children’s service about organising an event for National Reconciliation Week together, to strengthen relationships between families and other community members.

After further discussion, the service team agreed that they would also benefit from undertaking further professional learning on cultural responsiveness. The training was eye-opening and extended their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship systems and knowledge systems, family values and aspirations. They were encouraged to critically examine their own beliefs, assumptions and biases that may be impacting their practice and what they might need to be thinking about and doing differently to create a culturally safe and responsive service that is genuinely inclusive, welcoming and supports all families’ engagement and involvement in the service. 

Reflecting on their learning, the team came to understand the extent to which they had privileged their Western knowledge. They also realised they were unfamiliar with Aboriginal worldviews within their community and how these impact on families’ child rearing and decision-making. For example, they learnt of the kinship systems and skin groups that exist within the cultural and linguistic region in which the service is situated, and how these groups provide an intricate social organisation that identifies who they belong to, their roles, obligations, responsibilities, relationships and connections to the people within these groups and how this can relate to the educators’ own views of the concept of a ‘family’.

The service team documented their critical reflections in staff meeting minutes to capture their thinking and decision-making processes and record agreed actions and outcomes. For example, the team modified their enrolment and orientation approaches to engaging with families to better reflect the social organisations that existed within their community. Following a suggestion from a local Aboriginal Elder, they began to look at how they might convert a storage room at the front of the service into a family and community space, as a place for families to meet with the team and other families, to build trust, strengthen relationships, and promote a sense of belonging for all families. They also extended their knowledge of resources and support services available within the local community to ensure they were better equipped to support all families in their parenting role.

Following ongoing engagement and shared dialogue, the service director and Aboriginal Elder agreed the timing was right to formalise their commitment to reconciliation to build on and extend their reconciliation actions by developing a RAP. The service director sought representation from educators and families as well as members of the local Aboriginal community, Aboriginal families and interested community members. Educators were also keen to create opportunities for children to share their ideas and perspectives with the group.

While committed to their vision of promoting a sense of ‘belonging’ for everyone, the team realises this is an ongoing journey and look forward to continued opportunities to think, learn and grow together.  

You may wish to use the indicators for Exceeding practice, the reflective questions for Exceeding practice at the Standard level, or the questions used by authorised officers to establish Exceeding practice to review and consider the examples of practice described above using the online Guide to the NQF. You may also wish to consider them as part of your self-assessment, and in the development of your Quality Improvement Plan.

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