Flexibility – What do parents want?

When a parent enrols their child in early childhood education and care for the first time orientation interviews are often conducted. These may include information about the parents work hours, and preferred pick up and drop of times, as well as other enrollment information.

Ideally the flow of information continues beyond that first day.  Regular interactions and conversations with parents help services to understand parents’ and children’s ongoing needs. These interactions enable services to gauge parent’s satisfaction about the service and respond to any concerns.

These informal discussions are important, however a more formal feedback system ensures that comments and concerns from all parents are addressed and incorporated into the work of the service. This feedback can also be used to improve the business of delivering early childhood education and care and improve flexibility to better meet families’ needs.

Under the NQS families should ‘have opportunities to be involved in the service and contribute to service decisions’ (Element 6.1.2), yet just 29.4% of services surveyed parents on flexibility, according to ECA’s Long Day Care Flexibility Survey Report.

Why not survey parents to help make your service more flexible?

Short online surveys are an easy way of gathering information from all parents. These can be sent out on an annual basis or more regularly so that the service can assess the changing needs of parents accessing the service.

New communication technologies offer powerful ways to engage others. There is a huge array of online tools such as  Doodle, Survey Monkey etc that can do quick, paperless surveys, making it easy to get feedback from parents, produce reports and analyse the results. For more information on how to connect with families see Module 4 of ECA’s Digital Business Kit.

Survey results can be the catalyst to test new ideas about how to make your service/s more flexible for families.  You can use further surveys to test support and demand.

Services must be aware of the risks of relying on this information, particularly if survey respondents indicate that they support greater flexibility, but actually would not use or pay for additional services in practice.

Perhaps the greater risk is not having regular information about from families to inform service delivery.

Four tips on surveying parents

  1. Survey parents about aspects of your service, with closed and open ended questions such as current opening times, session times, policies on enrollment and other services you offer.
  2. If you have an idea about improving flexibility why not ask parents if they would support it? Don’t forget to follow up by asking if they would actually use the flexible service regularly and over an extended period of time.
  3. If you are floating ideas, be specific e.g. ‘Would you use extending closing times from 6:00pm to 6:30pm everyday if it cost $10 extra per day?’
  4. If you are ready to take the next step, you may wish to ask parents if they are willing to commit to a short trial. A trial may indicate whether the service is viable in the short term. (Though in some cases families may not want to disrupt existing care arrangements).

To view other resources please visit ECA’s Early Childhood Flexibility Practices and Patterns page.

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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Australian Government or officers of the Department of Education.
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Chris Steel

csteel@earlychildhood.org.au'
Chris Steel BA, LLB (ANU) is Policy and Research Manager at Early Childhood Australia. Before coming to ECA, Chris worked as a policy adviser on early childhood and youth to the Australian Government and ACT Government covering the implementation of the National Quality Agenda and Government Child Care Assistance. Chris is currently a Director on the Board of YMCA Canberra.

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