Policy and Procedures are an integral part of the documentation that is required to meet legislative requirements. They prevent uncertainty about how particular situations are handled and support Educators to understand their roles and responsibilities. The following article provides information on What Should Policies Include, Testing Your Policy (Case Scenario), Successful Policies, Policy Pitfalls, Policies In The National Regulations and more.
What is a Policy?
A policy describes the guideline or rule to be followed. A policy states your agreed beliefs on a range of topics relating to the service provided, gives a framework for decision making and ensures consistent practice.
What is a Procedure?
A policy detail the action to be taken to address the policy and outlines the implementation process. It facilitates decision-making, provides consistency and independence and enhances effective management and teamwork.
Why are Policies and Procedures Important?
Policies and procedures are important in Education and Care settings because they:
- are a legal requirement under the National Quality Framework.
- identify and minimise risks.
- establish the service as a professional and effective organisation.
- enable the consistent practice to support staff, families and children.
- provide information for families to prevent uncertainty about how particular situations are handled in the Service. For example, if behaviour guidance differs between home and the Service, families understand the Service’s practices.
- Support staff to understand their role and responsibilities in the Service. This can be particularly useful for new and recently qualified staff members and leads to more efficient and effective service delivery.
- Provide ongoing working documents to guide high-quality practice across all aspects of service provision.
What Should Policies Include?
- Policy title – also known as document title; titles do not have to be exactly worded as in the National Regulations.
A clear policy statement or statement of intent. This is to show how the policy relates to the service philosophy and why it exists. This could also include a policy objective or policy aim to demonstrate what the service is hoping to achieve.
- Policy – the body or the ‘meat’ of the policy which details the procedures, expectations and how the policy will be implemented. Procedures can be written by using dot-point or numbered lists, flow charts and checklists; most importantly they should be written in clear and concise language, avoiding jargon as much as possible.
- Links to regulations – the policy should clearly indicate which part of the National Quality Framework it is related to. For example, a policy about water safety might state that ‘every reasonable precaution will be taken when children are engaging in, or are near, water-based experiences. But when writing your policy, the service will need to break down what is required under each regulation and how your service will meet these requirements.
- Content headings – the policy should include appropriate content headings like ‘Rationale’, ‘Objective/Aim’, ‘Preamble’, ‘Purpose’, ‘Definitions’, ‘Guidelines’, ‘Appendices’ as well as other topic-related headings and supporting documents. Appropriate content headings not only help with better organization but also facilitate comprehension. For example, the content heading Definitions could reduce ambiguity about the meaning of infant by specifying that it refers to a child under the age of one year.
- Sources – this part includes citations of all reliable websites, books, journal articles and agencies that were used as references when developing the policy, or which may be useful for further reading. In case a service provider is unsure of what qualifies for reliable sources, further guidance is available at www.childaustralia.org.au - Policy Tips Sheet and/or Policies To Go By Resource.
- Version control – A policy should clearly indicate the date endorsed or the date it was approved as well as the date for review. While an endorsed policy can be labelled Version 1 (v1) and those with minor changes as (v1.2), if a policy has undergone full revisions with lots of changes, it results in a new version (v.2).
Testing Your Policy: Case Study - Behaviour Guidance (Biting)
Developing or updating a service policy can be a time-consuming process and it can be tempting to agree on the final draft and file it away. However unless the new or updated policy is tested, its efficacy remains unknown. One of the ways to test a newly made or changed policy is to implement it in a real-life scenario and check how it meets regulatory guidelines and service philosophy. Here is a case study where policies and procedures related to behaviour guidance (biting) can be evaluated.
At Cootehill Early Learning Centre, there are ten children between the ages of eighteen months and three years. There are two educators to teach and supervise the children. Two boys, twenty-month-old Hayden and thirty-month-old Sam seem to be playing. But for no apparent reason, Hayden bites Sam on the face. Even though Sam cries loudly, Hayden appears unconcerned. This is the first time that Hayden has bitten another child at the service.
Need For Policy
At this juncture, the response of different members of the service staff needs to be guided by its policy on behaviour guidance (biting). The policy for example will determine how the director and educators should respond to the incident of biting as well as how the educators should respond to both children – like perhaps to soothe Sam or guide Hayden appropriately. The other major area that the policy will offer guidance on is interaction with families, for example how the centre will communicate the incident of biting to the families of Sam and Hayden. In this case, the policy is the best resource for educators in choosing words to convey the incident to Sam’s and Hayden’s parents when they come to collect their children. This is because the role of each boy in the incident is different and thus it has to be communicated differently along with paperwork, like incident form.
Test The Policy and Procedures
Once the incident of biting takes place, put in action the procedures outlined in the relevant policy. These will most likely include:
- Educators responding to Sam and Hayden in appropriate ways
- Directors/Coordinators noting and responding to the incident
- Undertaking a review of the learning environment and curriculum to minimise such incidents
- Sharing information with families
- Managing risks
- Completing paperwork like an incident form
- Prioritising the confidentiality and privacy of children’s information
- Working in partnership with families and joint planning to minimise the recurrence of such incidents.
By implementing the relevant procedures, a service can check if its policy is effective. A successful policy, in such a case study, should not only be able to manage one-off incidents of biting but consistently respond to biting episodes and work in partnership with parents to reduce the incidence of biting.
The importance of a well-developed policy cannot be overstated in the effective operation of a service. It not only states a centre’s shared beliefs on a range of topics relating to the services provided but gives staff a framework for decision making and ensures consistent practice. Here are some basic characteristics of successful policies.
- They meet regulatory requirements – successful policies meet the visions, principles and practices outlined in the National Quality Framework, including the seven Quality Areas of the National Quality Standard, the Early Years Learning Framework (Belonging, Being and Becoming) and the Framework for School Age Care (My Time, Our Place).
- They have been developed collaboratively – if policies and procedures are to fulfil their purpose, it is critical they be developed not only by taking inputs from educators and staff who will primarily be responsible for implementing the same but also by the needs and values of the families. A collaborative approach will also identify areas of difference between families and services related to child rearing or learning ideas and practices. The families then can either be supported to understand the service philosophy or decide whether the service is the right fit for them. Partnerships and collaboration also promote a sense of worth for all parties as their input are valued and respected.
- They reflect staff agreement – A policy is successful only when it is agreed upon by the service staff or at least those staff members directly responsible for implementing it. At the same time, such a policy would clearly outline roles and responsibilities of educators and other staff members.
- They ensure consistency of approach and service operations – The whole point of developing a policy is to ensure that staff are consistent in their teaching or childcare practices as well as the service responds uniformly to situations like planning excursions or water-based activities for children.
- They are accessible – even if policies are developed with a lot of care and attention, if they are put away in folders and remain forgotten, they cannot be considered successful. They should be visible and easily available to educators, staff members, families and authorized officers for supervision or assessment. Some ways of making policies accessible to families are to display hard copies on clearly visible noticeboards, foyers or visitors lounge areas, emailing them as PDFs or online newsletters as well as in Parent Handbook. The staff too should know where to look up policies, in both paper and digital versions, like in the Staff Handbook.
- They reflect the cultural diversity of children, families and staff attending the service – Supporting children’s sense of being and belonging is vital for positive life outcomes and successful policies support these.
Despite best intentions, poorly developed policies can adversely impact practices in service. Here are some common pitfalls in the process of developing or updating policies as well as some solutions to address them.
Lack Of Staff Agreement
Conflicting approaches to educating and caring for children make up the foremost cause of ineffectual policies. If any of your staff disagrees with the policies, implementing relevant procedures in actual situations can be hampered, maybe even posing threat to the well-being and safety of children. Thus before finalizing the policy, a service should ensure it reflects an agreed vision and that all staff have signed off on the document.
Differences Between Home And Service Approaches
Children come into service from varying cultural and social backgrounds so it is only expected that there will be differences in child-rearing values and practices. If such differences are not identified and discussed at the time of drawing up the policy, it can lead to unpleasant experiences for families later on. So it is essential that the staff reach out to parents so that families understand the service’s approaches to learning and behaviour guidance. Such approaches should be clearly stated in policies and made accessible so that parents can assess whether the service is the right one for them.
Lack Of Understanding On The Families’ Part
It is possible that through your service has made every possible effort to collaborate with families during the making or updating of a policy, they may still not have read or understood the final draft and what its philosophy, policies and or procedures entail. This gap in communication is particularly likely in multicultural contexts or those with many non-English-speaking families. In order to close this gap, a service can:
- Ensure increasing accessibility to policies like mailing them as PDFs, as attachments with online newsletters or displaying them on noticeboards
- Reach out to families to foster open and regular communication
- Invite parents to comment on policies on specific occasions like Open Days or Parent Forum meetings
- Critically review the family enrolment/orientation process and Parent Handbook
Lack Of Relevance
The other reason why policies fail to be effective is that they do not keep up with the evolving needs of the service, families and communities. It is not enough to update policies just to meet review dates or new legal regulations. Services must also use the policy writing process to check if they are catering to the needs and priorities of children, families and the wider community. For example, children who are presently part of a service may be more interested in using digital devices than a few years back or recent constructions in the neighbourhood may require a service to update its road safety policy.
Lack Of Implementation
If policies and procedures are not tested in real-life scenarios, it is quite likely serious flaws in policies and procedures will remain unidentified and unaddressed. So ensure your educators and staff to regularly look up policies and procedures and use them in actual situations. Also encourage them to reflect on how adequate the procedures are, how they did or did not help them respond to a particular situation. Such a cycle of critical reflection and continuous improvement would go a long way in driving quality practice in your service.
Policies in the Educations and Care Service National Regulations
At its simplest, the policy describes the guideline or rule to be followed by a service. Apart from stating a centre’s shared beliefs on a range of topics relating to the service provided, the policy is important to meet legal requirements as outlined in the National Quality Framework. Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing policies to meet NQF requirements.
The purpose of the Education and Care Services National Law Act (2010) is to set a national standard for children’s education and care across Australia. In effect, it means the same law is applied in each state and territory, but with some varied provisions as applicable to the needs of each state or territory. Service providers must check different parts of the Act – particularly Part 5 which deals with Assessments and Ratings as well as Part 6 which relates to all aspects of operating an Education and Care Service – to see that their policies meet legal requirements.
The Education and Care Services National Regulations (2011) support the National Law by providing detail on a range of operational requirements for an education and care service. Providers should pay particular attention to Regulations 168 – 172 when drawing policies and procedures as:
- Regulation 168 outlines that Education and care services must have policies and procedures
- Regulation 169 outlines Additional policies and procedures – family daycare service
- Regulation 170 outlines Policies and procedures to be followed
- Regulation 171 outlines Policies and procedures to be kept available
- Regulation 172 outlines Notification of change to policies or procedures
Approved providers of centre-based services and family day care services must ensure that the service follows the policies and procedures required under the regulations 168 and regulations 169 - 170.
Required policies and procedures for all service types:
Health and Safety, including matters relating to:
- nutrition, food and beverages, dietary requirements; and
- sun protection
- water safety, including safety during any water-based activities; and
- the administration of first aid; and
- sleep and rest for children;
Incident, Injury, Trauma and Illness Procedures, including:
- dealing with infectious diseases
- dealing with medical conditions in children
- emergency and evacuation
- delivery of children to, and collection of children from, education and care service premises
- a code of conduct for staff members; and
- determining the responsible person present at the service; and
- the participation of volunteers and students on practicum placements
Policies and Procedures, relating to:
- excursions, including procedures
- providing a child-safe environment
- interactions with children
- enrolment and orientation
- governance and management of the service, including confidentiality of records
- the acceptance and refusal of authorisations
- payment of fees and provision of a statement of fees charged by the education and care service;
- dealing with complaints
Additional Policies and Procedures—Family Daycare Services
In addition to the policies and procedures set out in regulation 168, the approved provider of a family day care service must ensure that the family day care service has in place policies and procedures in relation to the matters set out in the following:
- assessment of proposed family day care venues and proposed family day care residences and reassessment of approved family day care venues and family day care residences,
- engagement or registration of family day care educators;
- keeping of a register of family day care educators, family day care co-ordinators and family day care educator assistants
- monitoring, support and supervision of family day care educators, including how the service will manage educators at remote locations;
- assessment of family day care educators, family day care educator assistants and persons residing at family day care residences,
- visitors to family day care residences and venues while education and care is being provided to children as part of a family day care service;
- the provision of information, assistance and training to family daycare educators;
- the engagement or registration of family day care educator assistants.
Policies and Procedures To Be Followed
- The approved provider of a centre-based service must take reasonable steps to ensure that nominated supervisors and staff members and volunteers at, the service follow the policies and procedures required.
- The approved provider of a family day care service must take reasonable steps to ensure that nominated supervisors and staff members of, and family day care educators engaged by or registered with, the service follow the policies and procedures required.
Policies and procedures To Be Kept Available
- The approved provider of an education and care service must ensure that copies of the current policies and procedures required under regulation 168 and, in the case of a family day care service are readily accessible to nominated supervisors and staff members of, volunteers at, and family day care educators engaged by or registered with, the service.
- The approved provider of an education and care service must ensure that copies of the current policies and procedures required under regulation 168 and, in the case of a family day care service, are available for inspection at the education and care service premises at all times that the service is educating and caring for children or otherwise on request.
Notification Of Change To Policies or Procedures
The approved provider of an education and care service must ensure that parents of children enrolled at the service are notified at least 14 days before making any change to a policy or procedure that may have a significant impact on—
- the service’s provision of education and care to any child enrolled at the service; or
- the family’s ability to utilise the service
The approved provider of an education and care service must ensure that parents of children enrolled at the service are notified at least 14 days before making any change that will affect the fees charged or the way in which fees are collected.
If the approved provider considers that the notice period would pose a risk to the safety, health or wellbeing of any child enrolled at the service, the approved provider must ensure that parents of children enrolled at the service are notified as soon as practicable after making a change.
It is important that all Educators know and understand your policies and procedures, put them into practice and can describe them effectively for families. Ensuring that the whole staff team understand your policy framework underpins the provision of high-quality inclusive early education and care.
Note: This is to be used as a general guideline only, please refer to the Educational and Service National Regulations, Chapter 4 Part 4.7 Division 2 for more detailed information.
Policy Development In Early Childhood Settings - The following article provides information on Meeting Legal Requirements, Developing Policies, Implementing Effective Policies and more.
Education and Care Services National Regulations, Division 2 Policies and procedures, NSW Government, NSW Legislation, Current Version 1 July 2018.
Developing and Updating Policies Successfully, PSC National Alliance