National Quality Standard 2 looks at how services provide children a healthy and safe environment to play, learn and grow in

Welcome to the second edition of Our Quality Standards newsletter. Our first newsletter was met with amazing response, with over 200 social media shares, hundreds of positive comments and engaging over 50,000 people, with many services seeking our expertise on how to improve their practices.

This tells us that what we are saying is worth sharing, so here we go again.

National Quality Standard 2 looks at how services provide children a healthy and safe environment to play, learn and grow in. Children’s health and safety sounds pretty important right? However, a recent ACECQA (2017) report showed that this area was the third lowest area for meeting overall, with 60% of all rated services meeting this area and 23% exceeding this area. The down side to this is that there are still 17% (or a total of 2,323) of services who did not meet this area for one reason or another. We are here to help. We want to break this standard down and provide some helpful tips for all services to think about.

Quality area 2 is made up of 3 standards 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3. Within each of these standards, there is a total of 10 elements, each addressing a certain topic of children’s health and safety, such as how the service promotes healthy eating, how the service promotes hygiene practices and how they address each child’s health and wellbeing. Looking at the data, it shows that the elements that are least likely to be met are element 2.3.3 and 2.3.2. So what are these elements?

2.3.3 looks at how services prepare, plan and practice incidents and emergencies within the service, as well as what consultation they have received from other stakeholders. According to the National regulations, there are two types of emergency procedures that need to be practised throughout the year: evacuation and lockdown. Now the reason to evacuate can be many, including fire, hazard material spill, neighbouring property on fire etc, and it is so important that you are prepared. In our experience, most services who do not practice evacuations have the idea that “it will not happen to us, we are very careful and make sure we turn everything off”. Great. Fantastic. However, accidents happen and we all know how busy a day in an Early Childhood Service can get, so unfortunately this is a lazy excuse.

Regulations state that evacuation drills should occur every three months, on alternate days, so that all children and staff get to practise. Personally, we recommend every 2 months, as we want children to be as prepared as possible for if the worst should happen. Other things to think about include:

Have you got an evacuation bag? If so, have you got the appropriate contents in case you need to leave the service?

  • Is it in area that is easy to grab, so staff don’t have to run back inside?
  • How do you cater for children with asthma puffers and anaphylaxis?
  • Do all new and relief staff know the evacuation points, routes and their duties?

This area can often be overlooked, as it is something most services don’t think about on a daily basis. However, it is defiantly an important item to put on the next staff meeting agenda.

What about lock downs. What is a lock down? Have you got the appropriate procedures in place to keep children safe from an irate parent, an abusive neighbour or a wild Alaskan Wolf that has found its way into the play-ground? A lock down is the opposite of an evacuation. It involves educators locking themselves and the children inside and out of view of any potential danger from outside. Often lockdowns are rarely practised, as services feel that they don’t want to scare the children. However, one of the most favourite past times for children from the last 2000 years involves a game where they hide and someone seeks them out. Could we transfer this to a lockdown procedure to help practice?

Do you use creative ways to practice these drills or do you trust children’s ability to understand why and when we need to do an evacuation or a lockdown? However it is done doesn’t matter, it is just important that it is done.

Moving on to element 2.3.2, which looks at how services take every reasonable precaution to keep children safe from hazards likely to cause injury. No educator wants any child in their care to get hurt and there are some very simple things that can be done to ensure that children are protected. Daily checks of the outside and inside environment help prevent children from coming into contact with anything that might have come into the play yard overnight, including bottles, alcohol cans, animal faeces etc. Putting in place a designated person on a roster helps everyone become aware of the process. Furthermore, we recommended including the children in this check where safe to do so. Teach them about safe and unsafe things they might find in their environment and what to do if they come across these things. Remember everything is a teachable moment.

Some more tips for keeping children safe include:

Have a clear cut policy and procedure on dealing with damaged or broken equipment and make sure all staff know this. Sometimes resources get broken or damaged and what was once a seemingly safe toy, has become a finger slicer from doom.

Encourage children to speak up if they break or find a broken resource, as there are often way more children then staff and that gives you more eyes in the environment.

Check resources before you or while you pack them away, don’t leave broken resources for someone else to find and deal with. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep the environment safe.

Know the difference between regulation and guidelines. Educators often confuse the two. One is enforced by law and one is just some helpful tips on how to keep children safe. Don’t get us wrong, the guidelines are great for a reference point, but too many experiences, especially risky and challenging ones, go undone because educators follow certain guidelines to a tee.

We all want to provide a safe environment with rich learning experiences to all children.

Finally, we thought we would add another element in here that is splitting educators across the nation. Element 2.1.2 looks at how services provide opportunities for children to rest, relax and sleep throughout their day. We have been bombarded with inquiries on what is the best option when it comes to rest time. Do all children need to sleep? Pat versus don’t pat? Waking children up?

It is too hard to say what is right, but here are our thoughts and suggestions with dealing with this situation in the service.

Have a united opinion throughout the service that is reflected in your policy. This is hard, we know as we each have a different opinion, but it doesn’t look very professional when parents are being told several different things from different educators. It may mean having a different policy for the different age groups, but something that all educators follow.

Talk to parents about their decisions. Too often parents are judged for their decisions they make for their child, but often they have more information then we educators do. Maybe they want their child to sleep, because they have a late night picking Grandma up from the airport. Maybe they don’t want them to sleep because night times are becoming really stressful in the family home. Whatever it is, we won’t know until we ask.

Provide information to families about sleep, making sure not to show too much bias to one specific side. Look to community health for pamphlets, download research articles, invite guest speakers to a parent night. Providing parents with a range of information can help them reach a conclusion that they are comfortable with.

Have the flexibility and areas to accommodate each child’s need. Some children may need an early sleep, while others may need none at all. Making all children do the same thing at the same time is not a highly recommended practice (as discussed in out last newsletter). Having the flexibility for children to continue to play can help reduce the stress of making 25 untired children lie on their bed for an hour.

There is no right or wrong way, as long as it comes from a place of respect for the children and families.

We hope you have enjoyed this edition of our Quality Standard Newsletter. We love your feedback, so if you have any questions or comments regarding our newsletters or the Early Childhood Sector in general, please let us know.