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Working seriously together on early childhood education

Difference maker: Penny Saltus, of Union Square Productions (Photo supplied)

On March 16, I had the privilege to participate in what I consider a “Community of Practice” on early childhood education. The Early Childhood Symposium, spearheaded by Penny Saltus, of Union Square Productions in partnership with the Child Development Programme, provided a platform for a group of about 100 parents, professionals and policymakers to spend the day together learning, sharing, engaging and interacting about how to strengthen the childcare system in Bermuda.

There was intense synergy and passion in the room. It was an honour to spend time with community who care about the welfare of children and who are concerned about a path forward.

The keynote highlighted the role the collective community has on the developing child. We discussed how to build healthy brains in children from birth to age 3, the importance of quality childcare, the rights of children and the indicators of high-quality care.

We discussed how child development should inform parenting and provider practice in terms of expected skills in different ages and stages. Safety in childcare was a constant theme and was linked to the importance of compliance with regulations such as provider-to-child ratios. We reviewed quality assurance best practices in other jurisdictions and recommended steps to greater accountability. The keynote also covered advocacy tips for parents, providers, policymakers, policy enforcers and the public.

Presenters representing the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education (Child Development Programme) and private practice covered similar topics such as childcare reform — licensing and registration — play and explorations for infant and toddler development, positive behaviour support in daycare, literacy, social emotional development, and toxic stress and trauma in early childhood.

This “Community of Practice” raised questions about:

1, Increased monitoring of all daycare settings

2, Inspections that have an education component, not just health and safety

3, Creating policies with provider input

4, The affordability of operating as a childcare provider

5, Increasing childcare assistance rates

6, Taxes levied on daycare providers

7, Cross-ministry collaboration and reform related to childcare systems

8, Implementing a quality rating system for childcare providers

9, Support the Government will give to childcare providers to implement Child Care Standards [2018]

10, Pati requests for inspection reports

11, Where daycare providers can obtain training and continue professional development

It is clear that policy, legislation and regulation need to be enacted to transform the governance structure of Bermuda’s system of care and education of the young child. Practitioners are concerned about the nuts and bolts of implementing a new system.

An example is who would pay for the resources needed for training and changes needed to adopt new standards — particularly for a childcare provider with only three children. Another outstanding issue is quality assurance.

Providers want one or two dedicated professionals evaluating the quality in education childcare standards, which childcare professionals will be expected to provide in daycare centres and childcare settings. Providers want to know how they will monitored, what they will be monitored on and how the system as a whole can improve through the advancement of quality assurance practices.

As we move towards legislative change, I recommend the following to create a more unified system:

• Develop legislation that incorporates the Child Care Standards 2018

• Develop stand-alone legislation specific to childcare and education that establishes regulations for all settings that serve children in care who are not in elementary school

• Provide a training and technical-assistance component for providers/practitioners to learn and adopt new standards

• Include a grace period to adopt standards

• Review childcare assistance rates in relation to the cost of living

• Assess the delay in payment to providers related to childcare assistance and evaluate the penalty that providers are fined when paying taxes — even though the payments are delayed

• Consider replicating the Happy Valley Childcare Centre in the West End and East End of the island

• Dedicate a one-stop shop that manages all childcare issues

• Provide a clear option for reporting abuse, concerns and violations

• Invest in data collection so we have a better understanding of the landscape of childcare and education

• Establish an online site that is easily accessible and includes policy, provider information, standards, checklists, inspection details and an easy way to report violations

• Include a quality-assurance component that incorporates international best practice

It is my hope that these communities of practice continue in every sector of society. As a community, we must do all that we can to ensure the health, safety and learning of our children. Early childhood education must be a national priority and I am hopeful that we will continue to learn together, grow together, and generate solutions together in an unified effort to transform the system in the best interest of our children, our future citizens.

Terrylynn M. Tyrell, DEd is the Development Director at the Youth Empowered Society in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr Tyrell, who earned the degrees of Doctor of Education from Johns Hopkins University and Master of Education and Counselling from McGill University, is a former Bermuda educator, has been committed to education reform and social justice throughout her career, and has worked with children and families for 20 years. She can be contacted at dr.t.tyrell@gmail.com