Overweight, obesity and mental health concerns are key health and developmental issues affecting children and their families, underpinned by sub-optimal nutrition, low physical activity levels, sedentary behaviours, and poor social and emotional development. Family Daycare (FDC) provides education/care for 12,350 WA children in unique home environments where optimal health can be promoted using a whole setting approach.
FDC Educators play a pivotal role supporting child health and wellbeing and are mandated to do so: “Healthy eating/physical activity are promoted and appropriate for each child” (ACECQA, 2018). Research demonstrates FDCE work in isolation (Goldsborough, 2016; Martynuik, 2016), and a recent FDC Association report reveals that many feel they lack support. An Australian study of FDC highlighted the disparity between nutrition knowledge and confidence to provide nutrition advice (Wallace & Mills, 2019), although the state of play regarding physical activity is not known.
FDC is valued by parents because of the flexibility this form of childcare provides for those who live and work in rural and remote areas, or who work irregular hours. Wallace and Mills (2018) identified FDCE as a pivotal source of support for Australian families, and although FDCE are not comfortable having sensitive conversations with parents about their children, others report that parents are more comfortable approaching their FDCE than any other healthcare professional they deal with, highlighting the opportunity to upskill FDCE for this valuable conversations.
A recent report by FDCA (n=1200+ FDCE), the key industry body, describes the demographics of the FDC workforce as entirely female, aged between 30-50 years, with the majority holding the minimum Certificate III qualification or diploma. Most FDCE have specifically chosen the industry for various reasons. Many have worked in a different ECEC setting previously, and prefer the more intimate nature of a FDC service compared to a centre-based service, whilst providing the opportunity to work at home and care for their own children. This report highlighted the need to recruit more FDCE as numbers are diminishing and there is a danger that families may not be able to tap into this valuable resource. Increasing levels of compliance to policy and increasing amounts of paperwork is adding to the burden of running a FDC service. FDCE work in isolation and are comparatively low-paid. They encounter difficulties such as a lack of leave and entitlements, a lack of recognition for their important work, a lack of support from their coordinator or service, and no support if they are sick or want to take leave. This may result in FDCE continuing to work whilst they are sick, or need a break, which could result in increased levels of stress and anxiety, and a myriad of associated health problems.
These factors may be forcing FDCE out of the industry or may be reflected in the quality of the care and education provided. FDCE already feel undervalued, and are often perceived as mere ‘babysitters’, and may result in a lack of perceived role adequacy and legitimacy. Again this may contribute to reduced physical and mental health, which is not conducive to providing a healthful environment in which young children can thrive. Although the FDCA report highlighted the barriers to becoming or remaining a FDCE, it did not present FDCE perceptions of their own physical and mental health, or the impact on the quality of the education/care provided.
The main goal of this project is to understand the health of the FDC environment, with the view of developing supporting strategies and/or resources. There are three stages:
- Gathering information and making connections
- Conducting an audit of the FDC environment
- Developing strategies/resources to support health and wellbeing in FDC
Desired Skills: Public health; health promotion; nutrition
Project Area: Public Health and Nutrition/Health Promotion
Supervisor(s): Dr Ruth Wallace; Dr Karen Lombardi; Dr Leesa Costello; Dr Lesley Andrew; Prof Amanda Devine; Ros Sambell
Project level: Masters, PhD
Funding: Applicant should apply for ECUHDR or RTP Scholarship
Start date: Ongoing