Schools doing great things – WCCC

Windsor Community Children’s Centre Co-op Ltd (WCCC)
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Windsor Community Children’s Centre Co-op Ltd (WCCC) started life 40 years ago as Swinburne Prahran Community Children’s Centre Co-op – a centre for children of staff and mature-aged students at Prahran TAFE in Melbourne. Across those four decades, they’ve weathered many storms in a turbulent Australian childcare sector but remained community-focused as a parent-managed, not-for-profit service.

Director Rose Kelly took ParentPaperwork on a tour and answered some questions about early childhood education and care, both now and into the future, while Assistant Director of WCCC Deanne Andoniou tells how ParentPaperwork fits into the picture.

ParentPaperwork: As someone fully involved in the childcare sector, what are the biggest changes you believe have occurred in childcare in Australia since the establishment of WCCC 40 years ago?

Rose Kelly: “The most significant change from then until now is probably that the whole landscape of early childhood education and care (ECEC) has evolved from a service that provided a place where parents could leave their children so they could work and/or study to now being recognised for the positive impacts on young children’s lives in terms of brain development, socialisation and learning. The reforms around the sector have also changed a lot for the better as well, especially in terms of educator training and quality services.”

WCCC is viewed as a leader in your sector. What do you think are the strongest issues facing the childcare?

“The strongest issue would be affordability for families, especially our most vulnerable.”

Childcare work is still not compensated commensurate with the work involved and the impact on young lives at their earliest point. Do you see a way to make that change meaningfully?

“I believe the only way is for the federal government to subsidise childcare. There is so much national and international research around about the benefits of ECEC. When we improve programs and services that help all children to be healthy, to get a good education and to contribute to our collective prosperity, we all benefit.”

WCCC has a student to childcare worker ratio that is way more favourable for children than government requirements. Why?

“To provide high quality care for children. Research also indicates that smaller numbers of groupings of children is better for them in terms of learning and stress. It also creates a much more enjoyable working environment for the educators.”

It’s impressive how your children get an on-premises cooked lunch everyday and you have a cook who is clearly very much part of the team. How does eating a meal together, or the same meal together, influence the culture at the centre?

“Food is often the cornerstone of many cultures and it creates a very rich community social experience. We get to enjoy good company and eat delicious food.”

What are the key learning values of the centre? What is your teaching approach?

“We want each child to be able to learn and develop in their own way. We want them to be inquisitive and wonder. We want them to engage with others and be inclusive. We do not subscribe to any particular teaching approach. Where we provide play-based learning, it is rich in intention and content.”

What is the highlight of running Windsor CCC?

“The educators. I admire them for their constant dedication and willingness to strive for better outcomes for children, and forever growing their own professional and personal development. Also, the community involvement of our families for running the service – it is a partnership that I really value.”

In celebrating 40 years in the childcare space, what do you think lies ahead?

“That’s an interesting question. I think we will see changes in the sector again, about what society will value in terms of ECEC. I am hoping that stricter reforms will come into play around ECEC being viewed as a profitable business.”

It’s great how you ask children for permission to use their photo, not just parental permission. Maybe you can elaborate a bit on how you help children learn about rights?

“We aspire to Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics, and we talk a lot to children about their rights and the rights of others. We try to, in all circumstances, give the children their own voice to be heard and respected.”

What’s the best thing about WCCC being around for 40 years?

“That we are serving the community by helping local families and, through all the years, it has maintained a not-for-profit parent-managed service. With demands on people’s times, I am hopeful that we can still be around for another 40 years.”

And speaking to Deanne Andoniou:

What do you specifically use ParentPaperwork for at Windsor CCC?

Deanne Andoniou:To maximise efficiency and responses from families and to offer families a quick and easy method to communicate back with the centre. ParentPaperwork sits in-line with our strong philosophy of sustainability and being conscious of our environmental footprint. We are able to view which families have not opened up an email or responded to an email sent. It means we can touch base with those families individually and offer a friendly reminder / support.”

What do parents think about using it?

“Our parent survey had the highest level of participation (65.9% response rate) in comparison to using a survey software last year. ParentPaperwork was their preferred method of communication from the centre. They find it easy to respond immediately with a click of a button on their smart phones or computers.”

How much time and/or energy would you guess you reclaim by using ParentPaperwork?

“I would say, on average, ParentPaperwork has saved me two hours per broadcast/parent-slip/school-form sent. This is inclusive of follow-up emails and so on.”

Why would a childcare centre want to go down the path of using technologies such as ParentPaperwork?

“To be sustainable and environmentally-conscious. Also, the response time and level of participation from families is significantly greater.”

windsorccc.org.au

ParentPaperwork Case Study – I CAN Network, its mission and its activities

150_james-ong_20160527James Ong is the Director (Central) of the I CAN Network, Australia’s first social enterprise founded by people with Autism, and a ParentPaperwork customer. James recently spoke to ParentPaperwork’s Fiona Boyd and explained the origins of I CAN, its mission and its activities.

What was the reason, genesis story, for the I CAN network?

I met Chris Varney (the Founder of I CAN network) in 2012 while I was in a leadership program in university. Chris disclosed that he was on the Autism Spectrum and I also disclosed privately to him that I was also on the spectrum. Chris had an idea about helping people like ourselves that we kept talking about throughout 2013. We finally opened I CAN Network in September 2013.

We established I CAN Network because in Australia it is difficult to be a person on the Autism Spectrum. Compared with the typical population, people on the Autism Spectrum are less likely to go into tertiary education (81% who finished school do not complete a TAFE certificate or university degree) and to be employed (36% people on the Autism Spectrum are employed).

Often we find life difficult due to negative perceptions surrounding the condition in our society. This not only drags people on the Autism Spectrum down but their needs as people are also not catered for (86% students on the Autism Spectrum find school difficult).

I CAN Network was established to not only encourage optimism and skills development in young people on the Autism Spectrum but also to change the perceptions of society to view Autism through a strengths-based lens rather than a deficits-based lens.

What does I CAN do, what is its purpose?

I CAN Network runs mentoring programs in six primary schools, nine secondary schools, two communities and one workplace. Our mentoring programs are aimed to have mentees see their Autism in a more positive light and to develop skills that will allow them to function better in school and society.

We also run a Speakers Agency where people on the Autism Spectrum talk about the strengths and insights of Autism to schools, workplaces, clubs and governments. These presentations are aimed at shifting the perceptions of the public and moving them towards a more positive view of Autism. We also run camps for teens and young adults to give them a positive camp experience as well as to make new friends.

I CAN network has been with ParentPaperwork for a while, how does using the ParentPaperwork platform benefit the work you’re able to do?

We have been using Parent Paperwork to create and send forms for the camps we run. Previously we received paper forms from parents whose children were attending camp.

This was tedious and took ages to compile as I had to physically check that all the fields had been completed and to chase parents to properly fill out the forms.

It was also inconvenient for parents as they had to scan and re-scan paper forms to send to us. We also had to chase up parents who didn’t send the forms back.

With Parent Paperwork, it is way easier for us to create a form online and send it through to parents to complete. As well as that we can track to see who has not completed a form and send out a reminder email in a timely way. It is also so much easier to gather information from Parent Paperwork in an electronic format.

As a new-ish social enterprise, what are the goals you’ve set?

Our vision is “a world that benefits from embracing Autism” and our purpose is “to prove what people with Autism can do”. We aim to change the mindsets of people on the Autism Spectrum and to see their strengths rather than focus too much on their deficits through our school and camp programs. Through our Speakers Agency, we also aim to change the perception of people on the Autism Spectrum in the public mind more generally. And in terms of working in the I CAN Network, we aim to have 50% of people on the Autism Spectrum working on our team .

What do you think are the most noteworthy achievements of I CAN so far?

From the evaluations collected recently, satisfaction towards the mentoring programs has been very strong. 95% of 41 primary school mentees and 81% of 59 secondary school mentees were really happy to be part of an I CAN Network mentoring program.

Interestingly we also found  that there was a strong sense of belonging in both the primary and secondary school mentoring programs, where those on the program were able to be themselves and to talk freely about their interests and problems without being intimidated or ostracised.

What are the things that make your job harder? What are the things that make it easier?

I am currently the Evaluations and Social Impact Manager of the I CAN Network, in addition I am also a PhD student who works in a lab. It is a challenge balancing the two roles but there are also benefits to working this way.  I get the unique advantage of being able to develop skills and knowledge from both areas that I can transfer between my roles.

Fortunately, I have a lot of friends who look out for me and help with the effort required in the I CAN Network, hence lifting a load off my shoulders when needed which helps keep me focussed on my PhD at the key times I need to be.

‘I Can’t’ used to be such a common default phrase in Australian culture when I was growing up (and I’m 50!). I used to really get annoyed at it and at people telling me what I could or could not do. How important do you think it is for young people with ASD (is that the right terminology?) that the words we choose to use, and phrases etc are empowering and not instantly limiting?

I use “young people on the Autism Spectrum” when describing the people we work with. For young people on the Autism Spectrum, it is very important that we empower them and put aside any prejudices of what people on the Autism Spectrum can and cannot do. Young people on the Autism Spectrum can be weighed down by negative comments from the public to the point where it can affect their belief systems and actions.

However, if they receive encouragement and empowered language from people close to them, they start to believe in themselves and defy the stereotypes that they usually have to deal with. Here at the I CAN Network, we give young people on the Autism Spectrum the belief that they can do whatever it is they’re seeking to do and we can then see the positive results that come from the change in their beliefs about themselves.

What can we look forward to from I CAN over the next 12 months?

We aim to expand our mentoring programs to more schools and communities in metropolitan and rural Victoria. We’re also taking up speaking opportunities in other states and we’re also looking at establishing mentoring programs in the other states. You can find more information on how we are progressing at the I CAN Network at ican.network.