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Quality care for kids: before and after school

While companies in Sweden trial six-hour work day, Australians parents are spending more time working and commuting and out of school hours care needs to bridge the gap.

A 2011 National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) report registered an overall increase in the average hour amount that constitutes full-time work between 1985 and 2011. In 1985, men working full-time averaged around 39.5 hours – today it’s 42.3 hours, and for women, an increase from 36.4 in 1985 to 38.6 in 2011. The school day still runs from around 9 am to three in the afternoon, but Australian parents chew up a further 53 minutes a day on commuting, in addition to a full-time workload.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) released data in 2013, indicating “considerable growth in maternal employment.” The data shows the proportion of mothers who were employed increased from 55 percent in 1991, 63 percent in 2006 and 65 percent in 2011, with a further increase expect from the 2016 census results.

Consequently, a significant supervision gap exists between school hours and work hours, not to mention school holidays.
Meanwhile, more stringent supervision trends are apparent with examples such as the recent charges against parents by Queensland Police, for allowing a child to walk to school alone. Combine that with an economic climate frequently warranting a double income, and families have a problem.

Schools often extend the day with staff supervision before and after school, and government funded Active After-School Communities have created incidental care for an hour a week, but a reliable solution is needed. Fortunately, services can partner with schools to provide seamless care for their students. Inviting an approved provider to operate programs before and after school hours can alleviate pressure for parents, and reduce stress for your students. While many schools are simply too small to support an after school care arrangement, small school partnerships can be a great way to share resources.

A ‘homework club’ atmosphere for children can provide supported revision, which allows the family to relax and just re-connect after a long day. Schools would be advised to ask potential providers what sort of healthy snack they will serve, and how they can facilitate a space for students to relax and unwind.

Concentration and social skills are important learning outcomes
Concentration and social skills are important learning outcomes

Holiday programs are also available, and usually include supervised local outings, and activities, such as art and crafts, sports, swimming, roller-skating, and activity-rich picnic days. Recreational programs can be focussed on a single activity, for example, basketball, music or drama ‘camp’, while others will be more general, and operate an array of activities reminiscent of an American summer camp movie from the 80s. In Australia, holiday programs are usually just ‘day camp’, but some specific camps are residential.

National Quality Framework (NQF)
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) states, “the NQF was the result of an agreement between all Australian governments to work together to provide better educational and developmental outcomes for children”.
In 2012, the NQF introduced “a new quality standard to improve education and care”. The National Quality Standard (NQS) must be met by all approved care providers. The NQF includes the national law and national regulations, and comprises the Education and Care Services National Law, as well as the National Regulations. All approved services are also required to base their educational programs on an approved learning framework.

For all approved care providers, National Quality Standard benchmarks must be reached in the areas of, educational program and practice; children’s health and safety; the physical environment in which care occurs, staffing ratios and training; guidelines for relationships with children; collaborative partnerships with families and communities, and leadership and service management requirements. Further information is available at www.acecqa.gov.au.

Schools and parents can appraise their potential provider by searching within the national registers available at www.acecqa.gov.au/national-registers.

While these regulations have meant increased work and training for care providers, the outcomes for children in care are expected to be greatly improved. Busy parents often select schools based on the quality and convenience of their out of school hours care programs. Engaging quality care not only provides a soft and supported day’s end, for children with busy parents, it can be crucial to maintaining thriving enrolment numbers.

Camp Australia making kids smile

Camp Australia activities
Learning frameworks include development of coordination and gross motor skills

For more than 28 years, Camp Australia has delivered high quality and affordable out of school hours care, with programs that both nurture, and support children’s development. With time for homework, relaxation, educational activities, and a healthy snack for primary-aged children after school, care is aligned with the values of the school. Camp Australia said, “the difference is that our educators’ primary focus is on the children in their care. This is because we are the only after school care provider that has designed their organisation around this single principle”. The national provider reports having “invested in dedicated support systems and teams to make sure that children get all the attention they need, because we know that this is the best way to make them smile”. Educators are not tasked with administrative tasks or difficult conversations with parents, and Camp Australia said, “this all aids in retaining great team members”. The approach, according to Camp Australia, enables the recruitment, training and development of people whose career focus is working with children. “These are exactly the people you want caring for the children at your school”.

Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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