Standard 6.1 Supportive relationships with families – Case study 1
Respectful relationships with families are developed and maintained and families are supported in their parenting role.
Respectful relationships with children, families and communities are at the core of the philosophy of this regionally located before and after school care and vacation care service. This philosophy acknowledges families as children’s first and most influential teachers. It is also informed by and consistent with the principles and practices of My Time Our Place. This includes the value of collaborative partnerships with families to contribute to decision-making processes. It also includes appreciation and respect for diversity and difference.
The service’s enrolment and orientation policies and processes have been developed to align with the service philosophy, following ongoing reflective conversations between educators and the leadership team. Facilitated by the coordinator over a series of staff meetings, educators were challenged to articulate what genuine partnerships with families, as described in My Time Our Place, looks, feels and sounds like in the service.
Educators found it difficult initially to describe what values such as respect, trust and collaboration look like in practice rather than as abstract concepts. Through ongoing conversations, individually and with each other, this became easier with practice. These conversations were documented in the staff meeting minutes so they could be referred back to over time. The described behaviours were then applied across all aspects of their relationships with families, including those important initial contacts. For example, in demonstrating what respect looked like, educators aspired to be polite, interested and courteous by greeting families with a smile and by name. They asked open-ended questions to get families’ input and feedback and showed appreciation and thanks for their ideas and contributions. They were timely in their responses to families’ questions and concerns, and always followed through with their agreed actions.
Extending on these conversations, the educational leader shared with the team research from a recently released OECD working paper, titled ‘Why parenting matters for children in the 21st century’. In reflecting on their approach to developing and maintaining relationships with families, educators looked at the section on implications for policy and practice. In particular they were drawn to one specific recommendation: ‘Remaining open to diversity and considering cultural differences in family support’. This prompted the service to examine current practice, including their enrolment and orientation processes. It also caused them to look at how they might take actions beyond translating documents into families’ home languages to further enhance their relationships.
The service’s enrolment processes gather pertinent information from families and children. This includes information about children’s strengths, interests and abilities, families’ expertise, beliefs, traditions, and their expectations of the service and aspirations for their child. Educators consistently update and use this information to develop their understanding of each individual child. The service asks the question: What do we need to know in order to effectively engage, care for and meet the needs of your child? This question reassures parents that the service is concerned with meeting their child’s needs through developing a deep understanding of them. This enables the service to be both proactive and responsive in meeting these needs. It also communicates to families that their parenting role is respected.
The service recognises that some families may feel uncomfortable about providing this kind of information on an enrolment form. This realisation came after reflecting on times that families seemed hesitant to return the form or returned it with some sections not completed. They understood that sharing information with someone they don’t know might be intimidating for some families. They also noted that finding the right words to express themselves adequately can be difficult. These families are contacted by the service coordinator who invites them to share this information in a manner that is more comfortable for them. For example, some families prefer to complete the enrolment form at the service at an enrolment meeting. In some instances, families like their child to be included and give input. At other times families have requested an interpreter is present so they can communicate with the coordinator in their home language. The family is also offered an opportunity to meet with the coordinator to be orientated to the service and the program.
This offer was recently taken up by a family that observes particular religious beliefs and practices. The family was concerned about how the service would accommodate their practices, such as not celebrating events including birthdays, Christmas and Easter. The family also shared their apprehension about their child participating in competitive sports and games.
The coordinator talked through these concerns with the family. Together they came up with how they would address them in the program. This ensured the family was involved in shared decision making about their child’s learning and wellbeing and that their values and beliefs were respected. For example, the service discussed how they promote respect, acceptance and belonging for all children, recognising that not all children celebrate the same events in the same way, if at all. Regarding competitive games, the service talked about how they provide a range of experiences and activities for children to choose from. This includes games that focus on collaboration and cooperation rather than competition.
As part of their orientation processes, the coordinator provides families with a welcoming, informative, yet relaxed tour of the service. This opportunity allows for relationships with families to be established. Additionally, an information package has been developed. This is given to families and explains details of all aspects of the service operations. This includes communication with families, as well as information about local community resources and services.
At this initial welcoming, the coordinator explains how information is shared between families and educators. The coordinator also asks families about their preferred methods of communication with the service to ensure they can request information, provide feedback, and participate in shared decision-making in an ongoing way.
Informed by past discussions about being open to diversity and difference, the services draws on a range of strategies for giving and receiving feedback. This ensures families can share ideas and information in different ways according to their priorities, time considerations and personal preferences. These strategies have evolved over time, drawing on feedback from families as well as ongoing discussions between educators about what works well and where improvements can be made. For example, some families have expressed a preference to communicate via email, others like informal catch ups in person with educators at drop off and pick up times, and some choose to schedule a more formal meeting with the coordinator.
With vacation care approaching, families and children are offered opportunities to contribute ideas and suggestions for the program as well as possible excursions within the local community. One family was affected by the recent bushfires. They suggested holding a fundraising day during vacation care to raise money for the local rural fire service that assisted their family to save their home.
The service reached out to this family to offer information about local community services, including counselling services. Using available resources such as the Beyond Blue Be You resource pack, they also offered the family practical ideas for talking to and supporting their children who were distressed by bush fires. Educators spoke to the family about specific play and leisure-based activities their children enjoyed so they could include these in the program. They also included a range of play-based and art experiences in the program so the children could express their feelings and emotions in different ways.
The fundraising day was a huge success, raising over $300 for the local rural fire service, which also took part in the event. The service received positive feedback from children and families as well as local schools, businesses and community services. The family affected by the bushfire were so impressed by the service’s interest and support that they offered to write an article for the OSHC newsletter about their experience, and share some of the strategies and resources they had found most helpful.
News of the fundraising day also reached other OSHC services that participated in a networking group facilitated through the local council. This group meets each term to exchange ideas and success stories and support each other in coming up with solutions to shared issues and challenges. Educators from these services were eager to hear about the fundraising day as well as the Beyond Blue resources the service had found useful. They were also keen to increase their knowledge, skills and confidence supporting children through trauma, as well as supporting families to do the same.
This aspiration was realised by pooling their professional learning funds to engage an appropriately trained facilitator. This training gave educators a space to share their fears about how to support children and families through experiences such as the recent bushfires. While it affirmed that they were already doing a lot of great things, it also gave them new information and practical strategies that increased their confidence about what they could do in the future. Families were kept informed about the training via newsletters, the service notice board and informal conversations at drop off and pick up times. As another outcome of this shared learning experience, the OSHC services shared the Beyond Blue resources with local schools. They also agreed to set aside time in future networking meetings to share strategies and resources specific to promoting family well-being.
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