It’s not hard to see why Blue Mountains City Council’s Family Day Care service was named the NSW Family Day Care Service of the Year in 2016. When I walked into Kathryn Tang’s exquisite cottage in Blackheath, it was like entering childhood heaven.
Berry muffins were baking and filling the air with a most delicious aroma, every bit of décor looked as though it had been created to delight a little person, and two young children were so engrossed in play that they barely noticed my arrival.
In the short time I was there, they were rolling around on large balls, dressing up, setting a table and creating centrepieces to decorate it, eating a morning tea they’d also helped make, and curling up on the couch to have Kathryn read to them. Through all of this they chatted happily and affectionately to Kathryn and to Vicki Roy, the Childcare Services Officer who regularly pops in to provide support. Tellingly, Vicki would much rather be called a “Play Worker” than an Officer!
Had I not known better, I’d have sworn Kathryn was the mother of these two young girls … and a mother whose skills I’d have envied when I was trying to manage my own twin toddlers. The children were at ease, everyone looked relaxed, and the activities merged seamlessly from one thing to another as the children chose what to do next. Kathryn is a former kindergarten teacher, who still works part time in a pre-school, but she describes these as her “happy days.”
Perhaps the biggest difference from any other childcare setting I’ve ever encountered was how incredibly quiet and peaceful it all was!
Council’s Family Day Care service has been running for around 37 years and the relationships that develop as young children receive personalised education and care in someone’s home, often last a lifetime. There are stories of educators attending the weddings of young people they looked after 20 years earlier; and then caring for their children a generation later. It truly does become a family affair, and supporting parents and families in their roles is another main function of Family Day Care. According to Vicki, “So many parents don’t have family connections or support networks, so educators can become that support network.” Educators keep diaries of the day to share with parents, and pick-up time is a great opportunity for parents to connect, as they might with another trusted friend or relative.
Over those 37 years, Family Day Care has become increasingly professionalised, subject to all the same regulations and laws facing every other childcare service. It’s monitored, supervised and educators go through a stringent interview process. They need to have, as a minimum, a Certificate 3 qualification in Children’s Services or be actively studying to achieve this.
What strikes me most in speaking to Kathryn and Vicki is that they are absolutely passionate about what they do. “It’s also important that people applying to be educators match our philosophy,” said Vicki. “We want to turn out beautiful, well rounded human beings.”
“Our philosophy is to celebrate childhood with play, time, space, freedom and a close bond with the adult that spends time with children each day.”
Each educator is able to receive free training in the internationally recognised Marte Meo method, which helps children develop their social and emotional skills.
Marte Meo is Latin for “on one’s own strength”, and this method is very much a strengths-based approach. From the educator’s perspective, for example, this means reading the developmental message behind a child’s behaviour.
When children are aggressive, this may mean that they haven’t had enough respect models or haven’t learnt to empathise. No one is seen as being wrong, it’s just that a child hasn’t yet had an opportunity to develop the skill or strength they need. As a result, educators focus on helping to develop those areas. They help children play cooperatively, deal with their emotions, develop empathy for others, learn to cope with anxiety issues and increase their self confidence.
The quality of Blue Mountains Family Day Care has been rated as “Exceeding the National Quality Standard” and, as a result, the service was one of six services across Australia, invited by Family Day Care Australia, to participate in University of NSW research looking at what constitutes high quality service in Family Day Care.
From Council’s perspective, Family Day Care provides important additional services to the Blue Mountains community. It enables local employment creation and supports flexible working hours and arrangements. There are currently 54 educators working in Family Day Care in the Mountains. The more people that use Family Day Care, the more opportunities there are for new educators to receive free business set-up training from the coordination unit staff … potentially opening up new and meaningful career paths for those keen to work from home.
As an added bonus, Family Day Care is often more affordable than other forms of daycare because it attracts a higher rate of childcare benefit (CCB) due to its flexibility. Long Day Care charges for 11 hours, whether you use it or not, whereas Family Day Care can offer a lower minimum number of hours to parents and carers.
Kathryn welcomes prospective parents to visit and get a feel of whether it’s right for them. “It’s about relationships and being a part of each other’s lives,” she adds.
As I force myself to leave, I only wish I was still school age so I could stay all day and play too.
To contact Family Day Care ring 4780 5280 or email firstname.lastname@example.org