Building meaningful relationships within ECEC services

Parks Occasional Care run by Community First Step (CFS), recognises that developing a sense of belonging begins at home.

A person standing, smiling and talking to another person. A person standing, smiling and talking to another person.
Image: Community First Steps connects families with support in their local communities.

It is vital children feel connected, with research showing that it can protect them against mental health issues and improve their learning and development. Creating equal opportunities for children and their families to thrive is at the heart of what CFS does. A not-for-profit place-based organisation in Southwest Sydney that was established by residents for residents 50 years ago, CFS runs several early childhood education and care (ECEC) services, along with disability services and broader community capacity-building work.

CFS has a strong history of working with disadvantaged, multilingual and immigrant families. The service now has a Children’s Services Development and Educational Leader, Shareen Nair, who helps CFS’ educators support parents to overcome personal, social and economic barriers by connecting ECEC with community services, so that their early learners are empowered with the skills they need to be active community members.

“There is nothing too little or too big we can’t support them with.” shared Shareen Nair, CFS' Children's Services Development and Educations Leader. “It's about engaging families and children and strengthening that relationship between them and letting them understand a different style of parenting.”

Many of the programs CFS cater for are targeting community members from various locations in the Fairfield local government area. Fairfield is known to have many families from refugee or migrant backgrounds and an area that needs support. The team spend time going out to schools and community locations to boost networking in the area.

Empowering parents and children - it’s a community effort

Shareen has spent 14 years in the ECEC sector before beginning her career at CFS. In her transition, she discovered there was a gap in families connecting to local services and information available and encouraged the leadership team to introduce a role that could help implement these connections into our services. This then allowed CFS the opportunity to introduce the Children’s Services Development and Educational Leader.

Along with being a Family Coach for CFS, Shareen helps families access this support, which prepares both parents and children in transitioning to school and helps them socially connect to their community.

Shareen acknowledges that the ECEC industry is time poor and has a shortage of educators, so having additional support for families, someone who can offer advice or suggestions to navigate what support is required and how CFS can help, is important.

The Next Step Project is funded by Communities for Children in Fairfield. The focus is primarily around parent and school readiness support. A key part of the Parent Support Hub is where families can book in some time to talk through their concerns or questions in regard to their parenting needs and the team are able to support with referrals to various support agencies, internally and externally.

Developing warm relationships

Research has found when educators encourage positive behaviour and strong relationships, they ultimately empower children to regulate their emotions and develop the skills needed to interact and negotiate effectively with others.

At The Parks Occasional Care and various outside school hours care (OSHC) within CFS Children’s Services, educators practice this by following a ‘child led curriculum’ where programming is based on the interests of the children.

“When you look at our curriculum… it's implementing their (children’s) voices, their parents’ voices, what we want to do as educators and what our goals are for that week,” Shareen explained.

“This helps with strengthening our relationship between children and their educators. Once these children engage in activities that were created from their interest, parents are communicating that their children are going back and telling their families about all the things that they’re doing while attending our service. Parent’s enjoy seeing educators help support these different milestones with their children, this then helps contribute to our service building that strong relationship between the services and families.”

Families in need can also be referred to other CFS support programs, such as emergency relief and food hampers, form filling, service referrals, English classes, the Parent Hub Support and Mums Club.

“There’s a lot of families that don’t have much family here in Australia and throughout COVID they didn’t have anyone. So now that everything is back up and running it is important to have that confidence to get out and about,” Shareen expressed.

“When I’ve worked with children, it has always been about building that safe environment using a holistic approach…it’s not just about children that you want to help strengthen in that holistic space, but it’s also their parents.”

Practical support

Meanwhile, some support programs are tailor-made as needs arise, such as the Kids Focus Program, which was developed to support frontline workers with young children needing care, during the COVID lockdowns.

“Throughout COVID we saw there was a big gap between essential workers that still needed to go to work and children needing to be home schooled. So, we pulled out all the computers from the head office and took them to one of our sites and had a kids focus group. This allowed parents to be reassured that they were still bringing their children to a safe space to be supported as they continued to get through their school work," Shareen explained.

“Some of them didn’t have an iPad or computers at home, so they had the opportunity to join Zoom classes and still interact with their peers as well as their teachers. It was heartwarming… I think a lot of parents didn’t realise how much support they needed when it came to parenting during this time.”

Building trust and self-esteem

“We found there were more parents and families coming from refugee or migrant backgrounds and it was recognised that support was needed,” she explained.

Shareen works with families at The Parks Occasional Care, connecting them to CFS’ parenting workshops and evidence-based programs through The Next Step service, such as 1-2-3 Magic and Emotion Coaching, Abecedarian Approaches Australia, Tuning into Kids/Teens and the Big School, Big Minds school readiness program. “It’s a little bit of a ripple effect, because they’ve learnt these skills and strategies, they go home and put what they’ve learnt into place,” she shared.

Through our Big School, Big Minds school readiness program, children aged 4 – 6 years old are given the opportunity to learn and experience play based learning before they transition into Kindergarten through fun and engaging sessions of English and literacy skills, mathematics, science, creative arts, personal developmental health and physical education.

Empowering families

Shareen’s goal for the children and families at The Parks Occasional Care along with our other OSHC services is to help them feel secure, confident, and included by sharing her professional knowledge and experience with parents, when attending our services.

“I’ve been with some of the families since they first came to this country and enrolled their children into our care – children who were often shy, they wouldn’t know the language or even put a sentence together. But, now they are confident, in a safe space and they’re excited to see each other, the kids have built a connection.” It’s beautiful seeing them build that connection with the community and one another.”

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