Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
This month ACECQA's National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone looks at genuine partnerships with families and communities that foster respect for diversity and contribute to positive learning outcomes for children.
There is a traditional African proverb that suggests “It takes a village to raise a child”. Modern research supports that what children need is for families, educators and communities to collectively support their healthy development and well being. Recognising this, the approved learning frameworks identify as a learning outcome that children should have opportunities to connect with and contribute to their world. Children’s sense of identity develops through connections in their family, community, culture and environment.
The National Quality Standard (NQS) goes beyond simply requiring parent involvement, instead encouraging respectful, supportive, collaborative relationships with families and communities. Quality Area 6 – Collaborative Partnerships with families and communities focuses on educators, families and communities uniting around a shared vision for children and working together to achieve goals. This Quality Area promotes respectful supportive relationships with families (NQS Standard 6.1), support for families in their parenting role and their values and beliefs about child rearing (NQS Standard 6.2) and collaboration with other organisations and service providers to enhance children’s learning and wellbeing (NQS Standard 6.3).
Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships
When educators establish respectful and caring relationships with children and families, they are able to work together to construct curriculum and learning experiences relevant to children in their local context. These experiences gradually expand children’s knowledge and understanding of the world. Collaborative relationships are built in an environment of mutual respect, trust and honesty, established through effective communication and strengthening each other to feel capable and empowered. The Connections resource developed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health offers practical strategies for communication with families including dealing with sensitive issues.
The approved learning frameworks identify that learning outcomes are most likely to be achieved when educators work in partnership with families and communities. In genuine partnerships, families and early childhood educators:
- value each other’s knowledge of each child
- value each other’s contributions to and roles in each child’s life
- trust each other
- communicate freely and respectfully with each other
- share insights and perspectives about each child
- engage in shared decision-making. 
In respectful partnerships, educators also support parents in their parenting role. They may for example source and share information from reputable sources with parents. For example, in response to a parent enquiry, educators and parents may discuss safe sleeping at home, drawing on and referring to reputable sources of information such as the SIDS and Kids resources.
High expectations and equity
The learning frameworks note that educators who are committed to equity believe in all children’s capacities to succeed, regardless of diverse circumstances and abilities. Collaborative relationships and the use of critical reflection allow educators to implement programs that provide equal opportunities for all children to achieve learning outcomes. As part of Quality Area 1 – Educational program and practice each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program. The NQS requires educators to adapt their curriculum to support each individual child including cultural factors which contribute to who they are, how they learn and how they respond. The experiences, interactions and routines each child engages in need to be relevant to them, respectful of their background and recognise and build on their current interests and abilities.
Respect for diversity
The approved learning frameworks stress the value of demonstrating respect for diversity and promoting cultural competence within education and care services. To support individual children, educators need to learn about each child’s background and respect and honour family histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices and lifestyle choices. While feedback from families is important educators also need to be mindful and respectful of individual contexts and diversity. We need to reflect and consider a range of ways to appropriately, respectfully and realistically involve families, many of whom are balancing family, work and other responsibilities. Community involvement, such as drawing on the expertise of those belonging to a cultural group or inviting culturally relevant guests to the service may also build a respect for diversity and cultural competence.
Ongoing learning and reflective practice
The development of genuine, respectful partnership relationships requires educators to seek information or strategies from families or professionals to enhance their pedagogy and curriculum. Thinking that there is only one right way and not reflecting on practice can mean that opportunities are lost for children’s learning or that they can be disadvantaged by it. Critical reflection involves thinking about all aspects of experiences and considering different perspectives. For example it is important for educators to seek to understand the perspective of the parent as well as reflect on their own pedagogy, feelings, values and beliefs when addressing parental concerns to ensure fair, equitable and respectful outcomes. The Connections resource shares further insight into considering different perspectives. With end of year approaching, it’s a good time for educators to consider how end-of-year and new-year celebrations offer opportunities to engage in genuine partnership relationships with families and communities that foster respect for diversity and contribute to positive learning outcomes for children.
Offers practical advice for collaboration with culturally and linguistically diverse families. Community Child Care. Self-Guided Learning Package, Discussing Sensitive Issues- A Proactive Approach to Communicating with Families. This resource is a practical learning guide to assist educators in communicating effectively with parents.
Starting Blocks: Tips for parents. Starting Blocks provides a range of free, downloadable resources for families and services to help them support children’s learning, development and wellbeing, including translated resources and links to other beneficial websites.
NSW Department of Education: Supporting Aboriginal children. Resources for services which provide education and care to Aboriginal children developed in partnership with SNAICC.
ACECQA – Information sheet: Be part of reconciliation NAPCAN Brochures. Brochures to support parents in their role and prevent child abuse. Raising Children Network. This website is a useful to share with parents to support them in their parenting role. Red Nose website. This website provides useful information on safe sleeping.
Case Study: Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care
ACECQA spoke with Service Support Manger, Judy Collins at the Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care Service about the programs and activities in place to engage families and include them in children’s learning.
“We help parents to take an active role in their children’s education, development and overall wellbeing,” Judy said.
“The Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY), funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, is just one example of how we empower parents to participate in their children’s learning. Tutors from our service, (HIPPY Bundaberg) visit families in their home environment and role-play learning activities that the parents then deliver to their children.
“It’s about developing a love of learning and prepares the children for their smooth transition to school. It also acknowledges that the parent is the child’s first teacher. The program has been really successful and we’re looking forward to continuing on in 2015,” Judy said.
Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care Service also unites with other organisations in the community to support families and enhance children’s wellbeing, especially in the lead up to Christmas. “With Christmas around the corner we’re working with the local newspaper and Bundaberg Baptist Church for the provision of Christmas hampers for those families who have experienced a difficult year. We are fortunate to have the support of the local newspaper, who organise the ‘Adopt-A-Family Christmas Appeal,” said Judy. K
ids in Cars is another program that helps families at this time of year. “Short term, free loans of baby capsules, car seats and boosters are available as part of our service; including safety demonstrations and information sessions. Lots of families need assistance with car restraints and in the lead up to Christmas we’re experiencing an increase in the number of families using this service,” Judy believes a child’s sense of identity develops through connections in the family, community, culture and environment. “We support the broader community and empower families because we know this leads to better outcomes for children,” she said.
 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’ and My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’  Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Early childhood Pedagogy, pp. 11.
 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Principles, pp. 12 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2011) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Principles, pp. 10.  Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Principles, pp. 12 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2011) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Principles, pp. 11.