My journey in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector began as an Educator in 2007. From this spurred a deep passion for early childhood development but, sadly, what I soon learned was that I was never going to be able to provide the kind of environment that all the research was telling me I should.
Why? Because the unfortunate reality in Australia is we have a system that is tragically flawed, leaving children, parents, and educators open to vulnerabilities that have a real-world impact.
The impact is reflected in the burnout we see in Educators who are underpaid, overworked, under-resourced, and underappreciated. The impact is felt by children who are expected to share a single stressed-out Educator with a minimum of four other children in learning environments that are often under-resourced, and the sad levels of staff turnover that make it impossible to form secure attachments to be maintained, which are vital for their best outcomes. The impact is felt by parents who struggle to secure positions in high quality services, and the cost burden it places on their family budget.
On my very first day working directly with children I arrived for work bursting with excitement at the idea of helping young children by making their time away from their parents as happy and comfortable as possible. Naïve to the reality of what to expect, I was greeted coldly by the Director and led to the babies room: a single sterile room that catered for up to 30 children aged 6 weeks - 24 months and had four staff aged 18 to 24. To say it was a shock would be an understatement.
I soon realised that the job requirements were exhaustive. With zero previous training other than on the job, I was responsible for speaking with parents about their child’s development, managing social and behavioural challenges, changing roughly seventeen thousand nappies, providing three safe meal times, the set up and pack away of beds, getting sixteen two year old’s to sleep, providing the emotional security for children to feel safe, clean the bathrooms, clean the room, do multiple loads of washing, and planning, programming, implementing, and evaluating the educational program that included three structured group times and a music and movement group every day, at a pay rate of $16.62 an hour. It was a lot. In one centre, renovations increased the service from a 58-place centre with three rooms to a 92-place centre with five rooms. The centre remained open for the duration of the dodgy renovation.
In another centre, I experienced what I had heard so many mothers working in a corporate environment lament over. Despite a promise that I could work with a degree of flexibility so as to achieve a work life balance and remain present in my two young children’s lives, this promise was reneged, and I was forced to be on site five days a week without exception.
I am now exceptionally lucky to work at a new centre, not far from home. It is a stunning physical environment with a Director who shares my passion and is an experienced and knowledgeable professional. My daughters also attend this centre.
I have realised the enormous advantage I have as a parent seeking care because of my years of experience in the sector. I know what to look for and the right questions to ask to determine the quality of the service I am seeking to entrust with the education and care of one of the things most precious to me, my child. I feel for parents who don’t share these insights and who don’t see through the smokes and mirrors approach to clever marketing.
This current service and the people within it have restored my faith and reignited my passion. Every child, parent, and Educator deserves an early learning and care environment like the one I’ve been so lucky to find. An environment where children are the focus, secure attachments and proven best practices are central to decision making, Educators are treated with respect and are valued, and rewarded for hard work. This results in retention of quality Educators, ensuring continuity of care for the children. At the end of the day, without quality Educators, universal quality Early Childhood Education and Care will remain a dream.
I want Australia to be a country that places the highest value on the early years of a persons’ life and that acknowledges that Early Childhood Education and Care is an investment that will ultimately, if done right, benefit every Australian.
Universal quality early education and care can be done. Australia can do so much better.
If you would like to share your story please email Maddy at [email protected]