Majority of QLD ECEC services not following baby safe sleep guidelines: UQ
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Majority of QLD ECEC services not following baby safe sleep guidelines: UQ

by Jason Roberts

October 17, 2018

Over two thirds of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in Queensland do not comply with all safe sleeping guidelines for babies below 12 months of age, a study by the University of Queensland has found.


The risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), including SIDS, necessitates compliance with current Safe Sleeping Guidelines. The study found that key areas in which differences between current guidelines and practice was observed included not placing babies on their backs to sleep, and the use of loose bedding, quilts, sheepskins or soft toys.


The study, commissioned by the Queensland Department of Education, involved the first large-scale observational study of sleep practices in ECEC in the world. The studies observed sleep, rest and relaxation practices in over 180 ECEC settings in Queensland, including kindergarten, long day care and family day care programs. Observations examined the practices used and how children responded to these practices. Approximately 3,000 Queensland children, aged from birth to five years, have been included in the studies, which included perspectives from more than 900 parents, 300 educators and 60 children.


The study also shows that 86 per cent of ECEC programs provide for sleep, rest and relaxation via a single standard sleep or rest period in the middle of the day. A small number of services provided responsive sleep practices including enabling children to sleep at varying times responsive to individual need, and giving children voice in decisions about sleep, rest and relaxation activities.


Provision of a standard sleep time was very common amongst toddler (100 per cent) and preschool (91 per cent) age groups, and over two-thirds of preschool (3-5 year) aged programs had mandatory sleep-rest times there alternative activities, such as reading books or playing, were not permitted. These mandatory sleep-rest periods lasted for one hour on average, but ranged from between 15 minutes to more than two hours. Only a third of preschool aged children slept during sleep-rest times.


The study found that mandatory sleep-rest times impacted negatively on the quality of interactions observed between educators and children, and were reported by parents as being associated with reduced and disrupted nighttime sleep. National Quality Standard 2.1.2 requires educators and nominated supervisors to consider that children have different sleep, rest, and relaxation needs, and that each child’s comfort must be provided for, and there must be appropriate opportunities to meet each child’s sleep, rest and relaxation needs.


Sleep practices for babies were typically described by educators as being more flexible and responsive to the infant’s sleep cues than they were in older age groups. In practice, however, approximately half of the ECEC services provided babies with a single, standard sleep-time. A small number of ECEC services did provide flexible sleep practices and greater child choice. These services identified and responded to individual sleep cues, provided spaces for sleep and rest opportunities throughout the day and included children and families in decision making.


The importance of responding to individual child needs

The University of Queensland said that supporting healthy sleep development in early childhood is vital for ensuring that children can flourish and meet their individual potential. “As with other areas of child development, such as walking or talking, there is considerable individual variation in children’s sleep needs across the early childhood period,” said the institution.


The importance of supporting early sleep development is reflected in the National Quality Standard, which specifies that “each child’s wellbeing and comfort is provided for, including appropriate opportunities to meet each child’s need for sleep, rest and relaxation” (Quality Area 2, Element 2.1.1)


The University said that the research findings have been central in informing the content of research-based professional development resources to support sleep health within the ECEC sector. Face-to-face workshops and online resources to improve knowledge, process and delivery of sleep practices in childcare for children aged birth to five years are now available through the Queensland Government website. The program is being rolled out to over 250 leaders from peak childcare organisations and regulatory officers responsible for assessment and ratings in childcare services.


Where to find more information

The University has designed a policy brief based on their research to empower ECEC providers with best practices for meeting children’s individual sleep, rest and relaxation needs; safety in the sleep environment; the advantages and challenges of different approaches to sleep, rest and relaxation in ECEC settings; and, including children and families in decision making.


To access the full study results, click here.

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