Working hand in hand – how one service is using cross sector collaboration to improve outcomes for children
Pictured left to right are: Educational Leader, and 2IC, Nat, 3rd year OT student Sophie, OT Tennille, and Director, Dan Freeman.
Salamander Child Care Centre, a not-for-profit service on the New South Wales Port Stephens Peninsula has formed a partnership with the University of Newcastle and their Clinic of Occupational Therapy (OT) which is revolutionising the experience of children who are currently undergoing a diagnostic process for additional needs, or children who require some extra support to get the most out of early childhood education and care.
The partnership began in 2020, when four “centre champion” roles were allocated within the educator team. Each champion had a focus area – reconciliation, emotional intelligence and wellbeing, sustainability and inclusion.
The champions are given time away from working directly with children each week to focus on their topic, with their learnings then used to inform quality and consistency throughout the service, and to support best practice.
Once Danielle Burcher, the inclusion champion, dug deeper into their work, they found that “inclusion” was such a broad topic, it was difficult to know where to start.
While the service explored professional development and further support options which might allow Ms Burcher to feel more supported in her role, and to use her position to make a real difference, without concrete and consistent support, there was a danger that this crucial area could become tokenised and not deliver on the full benefits it promised.
The team initially planned to bring a local occupational therapist (OT) into the service for “a couple of hours a month”, until Salamander’s educational leader reached out to Newcastle University to get their advice.
University representatives came to meet with the Salamander team, and outlined a unique proposal, which would see a fully qualified OT on site for one day a week. The proposal came at a significant cost, however Salamander felt that such an investment had the potential to revolutionise the experience of the children and families in their care, and decided with the backing of their management committee, that the benefits would far outweigh the costs.
OT Tennille Johnson attends the centre one day a week, with one core focus “meet a need not met”.
Tennille works to better support the needs of children that are either currently going through the diagnostic process, and do not currently have access to NDIS funding, or children who educators feel “just need a little extra support”.
As part of the partnership, the service is also able to screen for any issues early, and work with children and families to ensure the best possible supports are put in place to support children on their educational journey.
In 2021, Tennille will also be working directly with Educators and looking at the way they program.
“We want to ensure that our program is inclusive,” Director Dan Freeman explained, “and that we are considering the varying needs of all children with the type of experiences that we provide.”
“We have been exploring the concept of a hidden curriculum and how who we are as professionals, our own experience and our own preferences and beliefs, can inadvertently disadvantage certain children or certain learning styles.”
A number of OT students will be conducting placements at the service in 2021, and each will have projects to complete that enhance the work taking place within the centre.
“The first project we have discussed is a review of our environments and how inclusive they are. We want to ensure that we are ready to accommodate any child that walks through our doors straight away, and very much focus on being proactive rather than reactive,” Mr Freeman said.