What does Element 6.1.3 mean at your service?
Is it the brochure rack in reception with pamphlets for nappy services, swimming classes, and the local medical centre?
Is it a link in your communication software to the Raising Children Network or Starting Blocks?
Is it, more generally, a one-way measure where you ensure ‘current information is available’?
Or is Element 6.1.3 evident as a two-way communication process where educators feel equipped and confident to discuss parenting and family wellbeing – at least to the level of referring families to more specialised services?
Scope in your QIP
ACECQA’s most recent snapshot shows that 97% of services are meeting Element 6.1.3, which is hardly surprising given that it can be achieved by keeping the service’s opening hours current on the website and installing the abovementioned brochure rack.
There’s scope in most Quality Improvement Plans for a fresh look at what it really means to say families are supported. After all, the whole of Quality Area 6 is built on the principle that supporting a child’s family (and community) is a powerful way to improve your support for the child.
Why bother, though, with 6.1.3 if there’s a 97% chance that you’re already meeting this element?
The answer is that communication is different to information.
You can meet the criteria of Element 6.1.3 by providing information which families may or may not choose or be able to read or act upon.
You can meet the intention of Element 6.1.3 by communicating the information in a way that they will receive, understand, feel supported by, and act upon.
Do you feel up to the task?
‘Talking about the science of parenting’
New research and tools from the Parenting Research Centre and the FrameWorks Institute, introduced in Amplify last week, might be just what you and your QIP need to step up from information to communication and genuine support for families.
Aimed at any professional who provides information to parents and other caregivers, the material is clearly written and highly practical: great for busy educators and directors who want to lift their knowledge and skills in this area.
One of the most exciting aspects of this research and messaging kit is that it confirms a position that is highly desirable among early childhood and OSHC professionals in any case: to communicate effectively, shift the ‘big idea’ from improving parenting to supporting child development.
This big idea is the broad Master Narrative recommended after the study concluded its work with 7600 Australian parents and caregivers.
What it means is that professionals in a position to help parents improve their skills – like educators, nurses, GPs and policy makers – should begin with the outcome we all want to see (optimum child development) before discussing how to get there (with more support or skills for parents).
Instead of talking about what ‘good’ parenting looks like, for instance, professionals should first build the caregivers’ understanding of childhood development and the ‘support all parents need to raise thriving children’.
The table below gives other practical ways you can shift your narrative from a possibly judgmental approach of ‘improving skills’ to a positive focus on child development.
Navigating Waters, Brain Architecture, Serve and Return
As you’ve read in the first article on this study, beneath the Master Narrative are some metaphors that were shown to work especially well for communication with a wide range of parents and caregivers.
You can read more about those metaphors here.
Or in the study’s Message Memo, here.
Annette Michaux (see bio, below) is a director of the Parenting Research Centre (PRC), a national organisation based in Sydney. PRC worked with the FrameWorks Institute and others to complete the research about what makes effective communication for Australian parents, and to create practical messaging tools.
She recently spoke with Amplify to help us place the study and tools in an educational context. Annette’s answers follow.
What lessons can early and middle years educators and directors take from this research?
The first lesson is to know that there are powerful new ways of communicating with parents who are looking for support. This also means that many of the ways professional people currently speak to parents are not effective and can be improved.
All of us have at some time inadvertently judged or blamed families who needed more support. These findings really help us to avoid that trap and be much more helpful as a result.
The next lesson is one that will be music to the ears of early childhood and OSHC educators! We found that there is a single ‘Master Narrative’ which works in all communication about parenting skills and support: how do we help children? We do it by supporting their parents.
It’s early days, but do you have any examples of educators applying the tools from this study?
It is early, but we were delighted to present at a recent Sydney children’s services conference and we hope to keep spreading the word through speaking engagements and sharing the toolkit and other messaging advice on our website and in social media.
Educators who are on Twitter might have noticed some of the messages coming through on accounts like the Raising Children Network and The Benevolent Society.
How might OSHC or early years educators use the metaphors of Navigating Waters, Brain Architecture or Serve and Return with parents needing help?
Our research found that Australians generally tend to fall into a ‘blame’ mode when we look at how parents could do better – and educators aren’t going to be immune from that, no matter how conscious you are of avoiding judgment.
So one way OSHC or early childhood educators might use those metaphors is as a bridge in their language. Instead of launching straight into an explanation of what ‘good’ parenting looks like, they could begin with one of the metaphors because we’ve found that they help make parents more receptive to the information that follows.
For example, the Navigating Waters metaphor is about saying ‘you’re not alone, everyone has trouble some time, everyone needs help on the days it’s not plain sailing’.
In terms of places educators might use these shifts in language, there are myriad ways. On their service facebook accounts, in their newsletters, on their websites and of course in person.
Annette Michaux is a Parenting Research Centre Director where she leads significant, evidence informed policy and practice initiatives that help PRC clients achieve their intended outcomes. Annette directs a number of government funded, national and multiyear initiatives including MyTime and the evaluation of the Queensland Government’s Intensive Family service and is responsible for leading a talented team of researchers and specialists in practice design, implementation, knowledge translation and communications. Annette drives a number of major practice design and implementation projects in NSW, including trials of the Quality Assurance Framework for children in out-of-home care and of SafeCare.
Annette has over 20 years of experience in child and family practice, policy and research management, including having served as General Manager of Social Policy and Research at The Benevolent Society, as CEO of the NSW Child Protection Council, and as a senior policy staffer at the NSW Commission for Children and Young People. She has also worked in frontline child welfare and community development in the UK and Australia.
She has served on numerous boards and committees over the last two decades and delivered many keynote addresses on topics such as knowledge translation and exchange, evidence informed child and family practice, organisational and social change and improving service delivery.
The resources below are yours to explore and could be an engaging and practical starting point to bring staff together and improve many aspects of your service’s program in QA6 – not just the element families are supported.