Q&A with CatholicCare OOSH - Good Samaritan Fairy Meadow
Based in Wollongong, this outside school hours care service, discusses their inclusive practices and culture which recognise and celebrate the unique characteristics of every child.
What strategies have you pursued to create a rich, inclusive environment for children with disability and/or developmental delay in your service?
There are a range of ways in which our service has integrated a sense of inclusion for students including:
- Tuning into ALL student's interests and needs – This primarily comes from the relationships that we create with the students at the service. By actively listening to them, taking an interest into their world and spending time with them then we can start to gauge what activities the student may enjoy but also what activities may be of use to them to help develop their skills.
- Routine - This also follows into the way in which the student would be integrated in the services routine. (i.e. If a student cannot stay still for long periods of time, we consider adding in a number of "brain breaks" or redirecting the student to a new activity and come back to original topic / activity if needed). It's important to discuss with your team, what adjustments can be made to the daily routine so that the student can be at their best as much as possible.
- Physical Environment - We provide a variety of sensory resources/strategies to all students throughout our service so that it is a unified approach and does not isolate the student with diverse learning needs from their peers. All resources and strategies used are likely to assist other students at our service so by providing an open space with all of the resources, students will naturally gravitate to what interests them or will meet their sensory needs, whether it be resources that cater for the under stimulated student or overly stimulated student (i.e. Relaxation area/ stimulating area). Our aim is to recognize the unique characteristics of each student by providing a unified holistic and child centred approach. This also sends a subliminal and societal message to the students that all students are welcome, are included, and valued at the service. Our service has come up with the motto – "We are unique but united."
- Resources – We provide a variety of resources that not only cater for the needs of the students, but that also question their thoughts about disability and how to treat others in our community. Some of these resources include: Sensory toys, dolls / figurines with special needs, books that encourage diversity, Auslan teachable cards and posters. We believe that students are shaped by what they are exposed to and by experiencing inclusive practices they are more likely to imitate them and build on them as they grow older.
- Listening to ALL voices, in a variety of different forms – Each student is respected as they are and have the right to voice their thoughts, feelings and opinions, and we as staff consider that each student may share their voice differently. These thoughts, feelings and opinions may come in the form of a drawing, a piece of writing, a conversation, a discussion/brainstorm with the student, a set of visual cards or through their body language. For some students it may be beneficial to have their own book that includes all their works and other relevant information. Always keeping the line of communication open with a student is an integral part of gaining insight to them and their individual needs.
- Culture – Inclusion is seen as a pillar of our service and it is embedded into everything that we do, it is in the language that we use, the way the activities are presented to the student and the way that we problem solve. We as a service, can recognise and differentiate the different traits of each student and yet provide an inclusive environment for all student to thrive. We link the themes of diversity and inclusion into our resources and activities.
How has your service worked with families, the community and other organizations to support genuine participation and inclusion for children with disability and/or developmental delay?
We are fortunate to be part of a social services arm of the diocese of Wollongong. We are able to work in partnership with other CatholicCare programs and the service incorporates the ideas and suggestions from the families, specialised professionals and local community groups that work alongside each individual to be the best person they can be.
Having regular communication (i.e. meetings in person, on the phone or online) with these various people/groups helps the service to understand the student's needs and interests, what the student's triggers are, and what strategies can be added to their 'tool box of strategies'. This allows for all members of the student's support network to be on the same page and to know what strategies are in place and being used in the other settings. Having clear and consistent communication with all members of the student's support network is in the best interest of the student as it aids their specific needs and encourages and empowers them to be independent individuals.
Through the use of collaborative efforts with relevant groups (i.e. schools), services may be able to put in the building blocks for certain projects such as:
- Physical supports / Physical Areas - ramps, accessible tables and chairs, railings, specialised areas in the room and other disabled toilet supports.
- Funding for student with additional needs – Working with inclusion agencies to gain an additional worker or find relevant strategies.
- Resources – Using the same visuals, toys etc. in all settings and using them for the same reasons (i.e. If a toy is used as a settling toy in one setting and then is used as a reward/ stimulus in another setting, it may confuse the student). Communication and consistency are key.
- Routines – Keeping the same type of routine and expectations across all settings, using the same language and visuals etc. so that it lessens the confusion for the student so then therefore the student is more calm, happy and at their best.
- Training – Finding out about any new and upcoming training, courses, or resources are available.
How have you worked with the school to support children with disability?
When it comes to the needs of the child with the disability, it is imperative that there is a strong partnership and communication between the School and the OOSH service. By creating this partnership, all professionals have the ability to be aware of the child's goals, strengths/limitations, behaviours, and triggers.
The reason and purpose for this cohesive approach is so all can work in a unified manner and collectively cater to the needs/wants of the child. Through this approach, the child can feel safe and nurtured in these environments, whilst thriving, playing, growing and developing their skills so they can become resilient and empowered.
It is necessary that before collaborating with the school that there is written consent given by the parent for both parties (School and OOSH Service) to exchange the child's personal information.
Our aim at CatholicCare OOSH Fairy Meadow is to recognize the unique characteristics of each child but by providing it in a unified way. This also sends a subliminal and societal message to the students that all children are welcome, are included, and valued at the service.
CatholicCare OOSHs work alongside the schools that we are attached to and through collaborative efforts with the school, such as regular meetings and sharing of information we can support the needs of the child.
What steps have you taken to ensure effective collaboration amongst your team in supporting children with disability and/or developmental delay in your service?
The most effective ways to collaborate with your team when assisting a student with special needs is by:
- ALL staff getting to know the student AND those in the support network – It is important for all staff to be aware of each student's diverse needs, understand what their needs are and what strategies are in place at home/ school etc. It's ideal to have a planned meeting with the student's families/carers and the support network before starting at the service, to enable all members of the student's support system to have clarity of their needs. This assists the transition period to be much smoother and reduces the risk of confusion, frustration and anxiety for the student.
- Keeping your staff up to date with new information and regularly recording the student's day – New information from health professionals or changes in the classroom or routine may affect the student's mood and behaviour whilst they are at the service so this type of information can be documented or written out in;
- A staff communication book
- A separate exercise book assigned for the student
- As a part of staff meetings
- In the staff member's diary (e.g. if a particular staff member is working with a specific student).
- Keeping your team knowledgeable – Through various online training courses, internal training opportunities, webinars, TedX talks, websites etc, staff can gain a foundational level of understanding on disabilities impairments. We are members of the Network of Community Activities and all CatholicCare services sign up to the ACECQA newsletters. Through this newfound knowledge, staff can then create the building blocks for the student and then tailor it to the needs of the student who is in their care. There is no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to diverse needs and therefore each staff member needs to give extra time and attention to make sure that they are aware of the student's strengths, emerging needs and triggers so they can give the student their best level of care and support.
- Keeping your support network updated – Regular communication is critical. Having regular meetings with the student's support network is an effective way of making sure that we are first and foremost, communicating on a regular basis and secondly following the same strategies as other members. It is here that the student (and their needs) are leading the meeting.
Can you tell us about the ways you embed and reflect on the rights and dignity of children with disability and/or developmental delay in your service?
We abide and adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which is comprised of 42 necessary rights and obligations that all students possess. At CatholicCare OOSH, we look at the area of need that the student has and treat them with the utmost dignity and respect as we would with any of the other student at the service, whilst complying with the relevant policies and procedures put in place by our governing bodies.
Student's rights and responsibilities are embedded in service programming through the use of the various activities. At our service we provide activities that help student develop their skills, enhance their knowledge and respect their beliefs/cultures.
We embrace the student's interests and deliver activities based on these interests through educational means. We then follow up on the interested based activities by expanding on their ideas in the daily/weekly/ monthly programming process to show the ever-evolving nature of learning.
On a daily basis, we critically reflect on the activities that are provided to the student and assess if the activities are meeting the needs of their student and the rights of the student are being met.
We create a safe and nurturing environment whilst encouraging the student to build their resilience, nurture wellbeing and enhance the student's self-development which therefore promotes the student to become a more independent and empowered individual.