Policy formulation and development are critical in ensuring the proper functioning of an early childhood education and care setting. Polices provide a legal framework for administrators, and a framework for families and other stakeholders to understand how situations will be handled.
All policies should be formulated in accordance with the National Quality Framework and should consider such factors as:
● the legal framework
● The philosophy of the service
● stakeholders and their involvement. (stakeholders would include educators, families, directors, committee members, children and community members)
● Important concepts such as inclusion and equity
● The current research and best practices in the area.
A policy document will include key elements such as
● A policy title
● A policy statement that could include the aims and objectives of the policy
● Procedures and/or guidelines on how the policy will be implemented.
● Any relevant links to regulations
● Reference sources such as journals websites and books that were used in helping to develop the policy
● The policy version stating the date that the policy was approved and potentially the review date.
To assist you in policy development it is essential that you have a thorough understanding of the National Quality Framework. It is also helpful to keep up with best practices by attending professional development workshops and keeping up with the latest industry developments.
The Australian Children Education & Care Quality Authority has set a minimum number of policies that early childhood services must meet to meet the requirements of the National Quality Framework.
Depending upon the centre’s circumstances, there may be scope to combine policies into one policy. There may also be scenarios where it is necessary to have more policies than the guidelines dictate. A summary of these requirements is as follows:
● That education and care services have policies and procedures
● Policies and procedures must be in place for nutrition, food, beverages, dietary requirements, sun protection, water safety and first aid
● Injuries, illness and trauma policies and procedures must be in place
● Infectious diseases policies and procedures
● Medical conditions of children
● Emergency evacuation procedures
● Child Safe Environment
To ensure that you are fully compliant it may be necessary to visit the ACECQA website where there are a host of improvement templates that can be married to the NQF.
In order to implement workable effective policies you need to have a complete development strategy. These strategies would include:
● Form a policy review writing team drawing from your pool of key stakeholders. Create a plan for the writing and reviewing process.
● Organise policy documents with a listing of all policies. House policy documents in hard and soft copies in secure folders. Create a policy template to create uniformity and consistency. Group policies in a logical table of contents. Create a policy issues log to keep track of issues that need to be updated in future policy reviews. Create a policy review schedule to keep everything updated.
● Ensure that you have access to essential resources including relevant government acts, policy documents and frameworks.
● Encourage input from stakeholders. Be sure to invite contributions from family members through a variety of mediums including everyday interaction, information sessions, emails, newsletters and the tried and true suggestion box. Welcome new ideas and innovative suggestions.
● Keep all policies up to date. Create a review process to update policies. Be aware of issues that could impact upon policies and will create a need for urgent review. Such events could include legislation changes or a major incident that impacts the centre.
● Ensure that all policies are accessible to all stakeholders. This may require translation of policies into languages other than English to ensure that everyone can gain access. A parent handbook should contain a listing of all relevant policies and where they can be found online as should a staff handbook.
● Once the new policy is signed off inform all staff and stakeholders including parents of any changes. Ensure that the communication is clear, concise and unambiguous.
Nothing is perfect and the only way you can actually see how things work is to put it into practice. The best way to see how these policies will work is to trial them in a real life scenario. Once you’ve viewed the policy in operation, take time to reflect upon how it works and whether it is useful. Look for the rough edges that can be knocked off or smoothed out while also identifying the strong points of the policy.
When testing the policy, keep an eye on potential risk management issues and look to put risk management protocols in place if necessary.
Be sure to test the understanding of those who will be involved in implementing the policy. Ultimately, the effective implementation of the policy will stand or fall upon the acceptance and understanding of those responsible for putting it into practice.
Besides being well written, effective policies will have the following characteristics:
● Have been written in consultation with stakeholders
● Have a consistency of approach
● Actively promote family collaboration and participation
● Value and respect all parties to promote a sense of worth
● Reflect cultural diversity
● Assist educators and all staff to understand their roles and responsibilities
● Supports the visions and principles of the Early Years Learning Framework
● Supports the visions and principles of the Framework for School Age Care
● Be workable policies that staff and stakeholders agree with and can implement fairly.
Policies should always be readily available and directions to access relevant policies should be included in staff and parent handbooks.