Not too long ago when the resource trucks came past our service, or we had a special day coming up which may require a template craft, each room was given a budget based on the number of children they had in their care across the week.
This was before the regulations changed in 2012, and sadly we were still very much stuck in the era of age segregation, developmentally appropriate resourcing, quality checklists and other such nonsense.
Every single room spent their budget, and usually a few dollars more.
Around the time of the change in regulation, I decided not to bother about the room budget, and just asked people to order what they wanted. We spent LESS THAN HALF of the previous times.
We ordered less resources, and I guess you could say became more resourceful.
How did this happen? Some part of our human condition saw the figure and felt we had to meet that?
It still blows me away.
Ever since then, I have ensured each member of the team knows they can purchase what they need whenever they need it, and for larger purchases just come and ask.
Since the regulations changed in 2012 we have been on an amazing journey at Milford Lodge.
To consider that a few short years ago we were still under the old regulations, and then look at now.
We have 100 children per day, aged birth to Kindergarten who are free to explore around an acre of licensed premise, with the main home and 5 separate cottages / buildings. They can play with whoever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. They can share their day with their siblings or cousins. They can spend time with previous years' key educators. In fact, one might argue that is still the child's key educator, by their choice to continue to spend a large portion of their day, or share every meal time with them.
What we are utilising when we allow this freedom for children is what is currently referred to as "Across the Service Ratios." In services where age segregation is still occurring, it effectively allows one room to be over ratio, and one room to be under ratio, so long as the ratios across the service are correct. It is to be used to benefit the children.
A simple example of this is that a child has a sibling commence care. The child is distressed when their parent leaves, however is happy to play alongside their sibling. Both rooms are fine with this arrangement, as the child is happy and engaged when with their sibling (do I need to reference Laevers* again?).
Now, if regulation currently allows these children to be together for their day away from their primary carer, why would we not utilise that?
Sadly many services are using what is commonly referred to incorrectly as "Under the Roof" (Not sure how we would work that one, we have many rooves...) to save on money. And because of this there seems to be a general misconception regarding "Across the Service". There are regular outcries in public forums with educators calling 'worst thing ever', 'poor practise', 'stressful', 'wrong' and also 'illegal'. Fortunately for us, our local department host network sessions for free, one of which was all about Across the Service Ratios. They showed us exactly how it works, who it benefits (everyone!) and why it is best practise. So we have a large percentage of qualified Early Childhood Educators suggesting, no, really truly believing that Across the Service Ratios are terrible. But to be honest, it is the fact that the service they work in most probably uses everything they can to the financial gain.
What if we removed the minimum?
Now, I know this sounds crazy, but then, Milford Lodge comes from a time before too many minimums... maybe none actually. Children played freely outside with their friends, and the adults provided some pretty awesome experiences - cooking, gardening, pony rides, water play, community walks, singing and games.... oh, hang on, that's a bit like 2018 Milford!
Imagine if we created beautiful spaces for children to enjoy, and then provided appropriate adult supervision for those children. Not based on their age or size, but in fact based on experience and common sense. Imagine if we drew on the knowledge of our families and community to provide this - oh wait, this is all in the Early Years Learning Framework, Regulations, UN Rights of the child and many more current documents.
So why are we still so ridiculously intent on counting the EXACT number of 0-2s, 2-3s and 3yrs+ children in one space?
Why are there still siblings in Australia crying for each other through an outdated regulated fence?
And why is nobody actually thinking about what is best for the children?
Centre Based Ratio Requirements: Ratios are calculated across the service (not by individual rooms) and are based on the youngest child in care. This gives providers the flexibility to respond to the needs of children.
We *enjoyed* a spot check from our local department late last year, and they loved seeing Across the Service Ratios being put into practise correctly to benefit the children.
Kathy Walker suggests that if the children's needs come first all day every day like they should, then shouldn't services adapt their practices - I can guarantee that it is in every service philosophy in some way, shape or form. I have never read a philosophy that states "We aim to group children by their date of birth to provide quality care" or "It takes a Village to Raise a Child, but in this village thy siblings shall not meet..."
To all of those working with young children, we are now 7 years into the new regulations, regulations which were more favourable to the services who stuck through the "Trauma Years" (Thanks Michelle Scheu - my favourite line). We are in an era where services can now offer more freedom to children.
Milford Lodge is not usually one to promote trends, on account of usually 'walking to our own beat' - but if you are really passionate about quality care for children, and believe you advocate for their rights to play and to be happy - and for goodness sake, to spend their few short early years with their sibling then now is a good time to jump on that bandwagon.
Get on it before it's gone.