Cradles to Crayons Early Learning Centre’s Managing Director, Belle Spillman, attended our recent ECE Industry Consultation and discussed her Centre’s approach during the child protection session. Given the positive and curious response during the Consultation, we got in touch with Belle to chat further.
What does child protection mean, to you and your centre?
Child protection is so much more than having children removed from risk of harm. Cradles to Crayons’ ideas of child protection stems from early identification of vulnerable families. We put in place referrals to ensure families feel supported, not judged. We believe in empowering parents with knowledge to ensure that children receive the best possible start to life.
Can you provide a brief overview of how your centres approaches issues of child protection?
Not all families can afford the services of an Early Learning Centre. In response, we developed our Community Childcare Fee (CFF), which we offer to families we feel are at risk of extreme financial hardship, social disadvantage, seeking the services of Child First or Child Protection, experiencing family and domestic violence as well as other times of hardships.
Access to CFF is based on Child Care Benefit entitlements, and we don’t apply gap fees which means the family has zero out of pocket costs for child care.
In return for CFF, we require families to engage with external support services such as children’s specialist services, Child Protection, Child First, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and maternal child health nurses.
The results have been recognised from families, children and external services. We are proud of CFF and the positive impact it’s having.
How is your centre doing it differently to “traditional” approaches to child protection?
Families can claim a 13 week government child care benefit for financial hardship or children at risk. In my experience as a centre director, centres can become frustrated with families who claim this benefit, and then when the 13 weeks were up they would move to another centre to re-claim. Centres would put lots of effort into these families – only for them to leave.
Amongst our leadership team at Cradles to Crayons, we asked: How can we support these children to ensure they have positive outcomes? What are the needs of the family? What is best practice? We decided best practice was not about making money, but about ensuring children are safe, secure and supported in the early years.
What have been some challenges in establishing your centre’s approach?
The biggest issue we’ve had is families collecting children late from care. We found ourselves back in the original situation of becoming frustrated with these families. We asked ourselves what we can do in this situation, given the families are already on our CFF.
And how did you respond to this?
We ask ourselves what can we do when the families are already not paying for care? We once again considered the children.
We decided to revise our late collection policy to included letters, referrals to Child First and lastly a letter to Children Protection advising our concerns about the children’s overall health and wellbeing. Thus far, this has been really effective in re-engaging families.
What advice would you have to other centres who are looking for new ways to approach child protection?
We would recommend centres look at their learning community, ask the hard questions and support families early on.
We began with baby steps: when a current family advised us of changes at home (separation/divorce) we invited them in for a cuppa and advised them of Child First and other support avenues. We found this really opened up the communication channels and meant we could be there every step of the way.
I’d also advocate early intervention by centres to minimize the engagement of Child Protection. Should Child Protection be engaged, it is so important to ensure all parties are aware that the goal is not to remove children; everyone wants to support the family and ensure an emotionally and financially secure home for children.
We keep the children front of mind in everything we do.
Cradles to Crayons Early Learning Centre is in Kealba, in Melbourne’s West.
If you are a centre who would like talk more about their initiative, contact Cradles to Crayons. You can also like them on Facebook.