Parent partnerships—does compliance influence your practice?

Not all families are seeking advice, support or education from early childhood educators. What happens to partnership with families when we view early childhood relationships through different lenses? As early childhood students graduate and early career educators review their first year in the sector, Fay Hadley and Elizabeth Rouse explore this timely question and the implications for relationships and practice.

Many of us frame parent partnerships as an opportunity and see the potential of what it can bring. Partnerships is one of the key principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009) where families are positioned as the child’s most important and influential first teacher. The language used to describe partnership in the EYLF includes: ‘value’, ‘trust’, ‘share’, ‘engage’ and ‘respectfully’. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies seven quality areas against which all early childhood education and care centres are rated. Quality Area 6 focuses specifically on collaborative partnerships with families and communities and includes Standard 6.1: Respectful relationships with families are developed and maintained and families are supported in their parenting role. Whilst supporting families in their parenting role is one aspect of partnership, we need to recognise that not all families are seeking advice, support and education about parenting. Imperative in this approach is the need to acknowledge diverse ways of parenting, and of being engaged, and for us as educators not to default to ‘our’ lens for viewing the nature of the relationship.

The discourse on learning and development has become a key driver of parent partnerships, where educators are encouraged to ‘inform’ parents to ensure optimum educational outcomes for children (Berthelsen & Walker, 2008; Emerson, Fear, Fox & Sanders, 2012; Toper et al, 2010). Again, the NQS also includes a focus on this and includes Standard 6.2 Collaborative partnerships enhance children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing. The danger of linking learning to parent partnerships makes the assumption that parental involvement in children’s early childhood education will prevent school failure (Fan & Chen, 2001; Epstein, 1995; Epstein & Salinas, 2004; Barnard, 2004; Carter, 2002).  The rhetoric (often driven by policy) then becomes one about reducing vulnerability and/or disadvantage and the family not the system is then blamed for their child not meeting their educational outcomes.  This focus has led to educators seeing parent partnership positioned as one to educate parents on what is best for their child. When we approach partnerships from this lens we often default to a view of parents being difficult and that parents are not listening to our advice if they engage in ways that are in opposition to what we see as important. In this scenario neither the parent or the educator feels valued.

Rather than seeing partnerships from a compliance perspective we argue partnerships are an opportunity. Building partnerships with families can lead to other ways of seeing the world, deeper reflection on current practices and beliefs, opening the setting up to diversity and recognising who is ‘invisible’. Approaching partnerships from this perspective provides social justice learning opportunities for all stakeholders.

The authors have undertaken a number of studies which found that educators and families are not on the same page. For instance:

  • Families and educators valued different experiences
  • Families were not as focused on qualifications and/or expertise, but valued educators who knew and loved their children
  • Educators rarely mentioned the words love or happiness, but focussed on child development and learning
  • Families identified less communication about experiences compared to educators

So do we really know what families value? Do we really question our own practices? How can we ensure our parent partnerships embrace opportunities and as we do with children how can we ensure we approach each family as an individual? We encourage you to question your practices and think of one family that you have found harder to engage. Try a different strategy and see if it changes the relationship.

Co authors

Dr Elizabeth Rouse is a senior lecturer in early childhood at Deakin University, Australia, working with pre-service teachers gaining initial teacher education qualifications. Her main areas of teaching focus on developing professional practice of teachers, especially those working in early years classrooms. Elizabeth has over thirty years experience as a teacher, having spent many years working in early childhood settings, as a teacher in the early years of school as well as working with children and families who have additional learning needs. For the past ten years she has been working to build the next generation of early years teachers at both Deakin and prior starting there, a number of universities and polytechnics in Victoria, Australia. Elizabeth’s research focus has been centred on partnerships between families, children and educators, bringing a view of partnerships that encompasses reciprocal relationships leading to shared decision making based on mutual trust and respect, and in 2015 graduated with a Doctor of Education where her dissertation explored the relationships between families and educators in an early childhood education and care setting through a lens of family centred practice. Within the context of her research, a strong belief in rights-based pedagogies where both parents and children are valued decision makers has informed her work with preservice teachers. Elizabeth has published a number of professional texts as well as scholarly papers focusing on parent educator partnerships, professional practice of early years teachers and leading pedagogical change in early years settings.
Elizabeth Rouse, Deakin University @Liz_Rouse_56

Fay Hadley

Dr Fay Hadley is a Senior Lecturer who specialises in partnerships with families and leadership in early childhood education. She is the Director for Initial Teacher Education in the Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University. Prior to academia her roles included an early childhood teacher, director, and project manager for larger early childhood organisations. Fay’s main research area is partnerships with diverse families in educational settings. She has been researching in this area for the past fifteen years and in 2008 she was the recipient of the Early Childhood Australia Doctoral Thesis award for her doctoral thesis. The award was established by Early Childhood Australia in 1995 to encourage Australian early childhood research and to recognise the excellence of early childhood research undertaken by doctoral students in Australia. Fay’s thesis examined the role of the early childhood services (from the families’ perspectives) and argued that these spaces needed to be reconceptualised including the role of the early childhood leader. Fay has published widely in journals, book chapters and textbooks. Fay is currently the chair of Early Childhood Australia Publications Committee. She is on the editorial board for Australasian Journal of Early Childhood and was previously the Deputy Editor of the journal.

8 thoughts on “Parent partnerships—does compliance influence your practice?”

    Karen Evans says:

    Thank you your insight and recommendations to challenge our practices regarding parent relationships. We are in an extremely privledged postion to be working every day with the most important people in our parent’s world. Totally agree that parents are not that concerned about qualifications of educators, rather that their child is nurtured, known and loved by educators in the service.
    Not all parents are easy to work with or engage so developing a respectful and positive relationship with them is indeed a challenge but one that we should all adopt.

    Gael Nash says:

    Partnership is meant to accommodate the different roles that parents and educators have in the way children are cared for and educated in early childhood services. I don’t necessarily think an educator is required to “love” children as parents love their children. This seems to me to be an unrealistic expectation to have. Naturally, there are quite different values a parent has compared to an educator in ECEC. Compliance does not negate partnerships. Compliance provides clarity to the role educators have as professionals. Sometimes when parents (and often educators) are unaware of complex regulatory requirements or NQS/EYLF that educators are expected to impliment into various aspects of service operation and programme of learning then “opportunity to inform” presents itself. This is why the sector really needs leaders who have good knowledge of all three documents comprising the NQF and know how to interpret and link them. Sometimes both parents and educators have to be educated whether they “think” they need to be or not. Otherwise, social justice issues like discrimination, equity etc. would be subjugated to individual bias. “Opportunities to inform” is a soft way of saying a person has to be educated about something. Within the health, care and education sectors there can be serious consequences if compliance is not met. I think the authors of this article are looking at the relationship of compliance and partnerships through a lens that is limited. Inform or educate -it means the same. Whether people accept or reject being informed/educated just does not take precedence over compliance – particularly when assessing and rating a service. The relationship a parent has to a child and the relationship an educator has to a child are quite different. Partnership though is essential for best outcomes for children.

    Fay Hadley says:

    Thank you Karen, I am glad you found our blog insightful. I agree we are in a privileged position and it is our job to ensure we engage with all of our families respectfully and that this is not always easy. I also agree key to this is demonstrating to our families that we know each and every child we care for and educate in our setting.

    Fay Hadley says:

    Dear Gail
    Thank you for your response and while we don’t agree with all of your response we appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. We agree that the “professional love” we have for the children we care and educate for in our settings is different to a parent’s love. You might be interested in reading further on this concept: see‘professional-love’-in-early-years-settings/. We are not arguing for less regulations but we do want educators to consider whether compliance is having detrimental effects on partnerships with their families, especially if the focus remains on the need to inform or educate parents.

    Beradette says:

    I think both parents and educators learn from each other.first and foremost our relationships with the children and their families are what matters the can be frustrating though that our qualifications are not as respected by some families and that’s not to say families don’t respect the love and guidance we show their children in the early childhood setting.i feel that overall as a society “Education” in reference to early childhood is often not seen as “Education”but rather as me education at any stage of life is about learning and so it should be much more respected in early childhood as educators and families are sharing and learning from each other.

    Roz says:

    It comes down to building a ‘Circle of Security’ for each stakeholder – child, parent, carer (I refuse to use the word educator as an educator is only a small component of what is required of someone who cares for another), the other children and their families within that setting and also inclusive of the wider community and professional stakeholders.
    Yes we need to be compliant but we are also very over regulated and the system is punitive rather than a process of learning, developing improving and extending our skills.

    Elizabeth Rouse says:

    Hi Bernadette,
    We totally agree with you about the importance of educators and families learning from each other as only then can we get the full picture. In recognising the knowledge and expertise that families have about their children and connecting that with what we know about the child in the ECEC setting and our expertise in child development and learning then together we can build powerful understanding that will take us down that path of positive and respectful relationships where we recognise we are working to the same goal.

    Joyce says:

    Thank you for sharing is it possible to access your dissetation online so that can read more about the partnerships with families

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