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A Research Informed Advocacy Plan into Addressing the Issue of High Turnover Rates in the Australian Early Childhood Sector

Introduction

Childcare services are indispensable for young children's development and working parents' support in Victoria, Australia. However, a significant threat faces this domain due to increasing employee turnover caused mainly by stress and burnout (Rogers et al., 2023). This advocacy plan is designed to comprehensively address this concern by employing research-informed strategies closely aligned with the standards set by esteemed organizations such as the Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Early Childhood Australia, the National Quality Framework (NQF), and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). Alarming statistics in Victoria, Australia, reveal that high staff turnover is a pressing issue, with research indicating that a significant percentage of childcare educators experience stress and burnout, affecting not only the workforce's well-being but also the quality of care provided to young children (Rogers et al., 2023). This plan seeks to mitigate these challenges, ensuring a more stable and nurturing childcare environment in Victoria.

Understanding Stress and Burnout in Childcare

Stress in childcare can be defined as the emotional and physical strain experienced by educators, while burnout results from prolonged, unrelenting stress, manifesting as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished personal accomplishment (Agyapong et al., 2022). These definitions are consistent with the broader understanding of stress and burnout within the early childhood education sector. For instance, research by Carroll et al. (2022) underscores the prevalence of stress and burnout among childcare educators. This research aligns with the standards established by frameworks such as EYLF and NQF. Notably, a systematic review has identified numerous contributing factors to the stress experienced by childcare educators, including excessive workloads, low remuneration, challenging child behaviour, and a lack of sufficient support systems (Ng et al., 2023). For instance, an article by Victoria University (2021) reported a high staff turnover of up to 30% among childhood educators due to the demands of their roles.

The Consequences of High Staff Turnover

High staff turnover in childcare services in Victoria, Australia, has multifaceted consequences, impacting children and childcare facilities. The ACECQA- Quality Area 5 places great importance on maintaining attachment and stability for children in childcare (ACECQA, 2023). High staff turnover disrupts the stability crucial for children's emotional and cognitive development. It can hinder the formation of secure attachments, ultimately affecting children's overall well-being (Fernandez, 2019). The EYLF also emphasises the need for consistent and positive relationships between educators and children (ECA, n.d). However, frequent staff turnover can hamper the establishment of these relationships, making it challenging for children to build trust and enduring connections with their caregivers. This instability can lead to emotional stress and anxiety among children, potentially affecting their learning and development (McDonald et al., 2018).

On the side of childcare services, the financial implications are significant. Constant recruitment and training processes are resource-intensive and divert resources that could be more effectively allocated to improving the overall quality of childcare services (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), 2023). The NQF emphasizes investment in educators' professional development to provide high-quality care, and reducing staff turnover enables better resource allocation, potentially enhancing overall quality (ACECQA, 2023). Furthermore, the quality of care is closely related to staff quality (AHRC, n.d). The NQF Quality Area 4 underscores the need for skilled and knowledgeable educators (StartingBlocks, n.d). However, inexperienced educators are more likely to take critical roles when staff turnover is high, undermining children's learning and development experiences in childcare (Heffernan, 2020). 

Proposed Advocacy Plan

Research-Informed Strategies

One of the primary strategies within the advocacy plan focuses on reducing workload, aligning with the workplace health and safety standards advocated by AHRC. Research consistently highlights the detrimental impact of high workloads on childcare educators, indicating that excessive workloads are a significant source of stress (Agyaping, 2022). For example, a study revealed that workload issues significantly increased educators' stress levels in Australia (Billett et al., 2023). In response to these challenges, the plan advocates for reasonable caseloads and work hours, aiming to alleviate stress among educators.

Furthermore, the plan highlights the importance of fair compensation for early childhood educators, a principle in line with the values of ECA. Extensive evidence supports this strategy, with a report from the ACECQA that consistently reports low wages as a significant concern for educators in the sector (ACECQA, 2019). The plan addresses this concern by advocating for improved wages and benefits. This action ultimately enhances the quality of education and care for young children.

In addition, the advocacy strategy closely adheres to the NQF Quality Area 1 by strongly emphasizing training and support. For instance, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2019) indicated that continued training was linked to educators' increased job satisfaction and decreased stress levels. Supporting these programs aligns with the NQF's objective of encouraging ongoing development in the early childhood education and care sector. It seeks to improve teachers' well-being by improving the care given to kids (Raising Children Network, 2023). Lastly, the advocacy plan complies with the EYLF's guiding principle 5 by encouraging the adoption of holistic and integrated child behavior management interventions (Aussie Childcare Network, 2022). This approach aims to improve the environment for educators and children by emphasizing positive outcomes for children's learning and development.

Collaboration and Awareness

In addition to addressing the urgent problem of stress and burnout among childcare instructors, the comprehensive advocacy plan has been designed to advance the caliber of early childhood education and care services. The standards and values of significant Australian childcare organizations align with this approach. The first approach of the plan is a partnership with the government, acknowledging the importance of the NQF in regulating and improving the quality of early childhood education and care (ACECQA, n.d). In line with the broad objectives of the NQF, the plan seeks to collaborate with government organizations to create and execute policies that specifically address the problem of stress and burnout in childcare.

Moreover, the plan will use public awareness campaigns that ECA supports to educate parents, caregivers, and the broader public on the significance of childcare services. In keeping with the dedication to advocacy and public education in early childhood education and care, these campaigns will be critical to gaining public support for the childcare workforce (ECA, 2023). In line with the AHRC's core idea of promoting community involvement and support, the strategy will incentivize nearby communities to participate in fundraising and volunteer work at their childcare centers. This approach to community engagement is essential to building a more nurturing and long-lasting childcare environment, and it is consistent with the AHRC's values of advancing human rights and well-being (AHRC, 2022).

Evaluating Progress

Firstly, monitoring staff retention rates will be crucial as it highlights the impact of workforce quality (Thorpe et al., 2020). Research by Herman et al. (2023) highlights the adverse effects of high staff turnover on care quality and children's development. This KPI tracks the percentage of long-term educators, offering insights into retaining skilled childcare professionals. The second parameter will evaluate childcare quality through staff-child ratios and qualified educators. Research by Manning et al. (2017) reveals the direct link between educator qualifications and ratios on care quality and child development. This KPI measures the plan's influence on education and care quality.

Thirdly, in line with NQF principles, parental satisfaction surveys are supported by studies linking satisfaction to child well-being. This KPI gauges the plan's impact on family perceptions of services (Schmitz, 2020). Assessing childcare centers' financial stability aligns with ACECQA's financial sustainability principles. The 2019-2020 annual report acknowledges the cost of high turnover rates in centers (ACECQA, 2020). This KPI offers a comprehensive view of the plan's economic impact on providers, aiding sustainability. Lastly, measuring educator mental health through surveys and mental health data is supported by research, including forthcoming studies in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, showing the link between stress, burnout, and educator mental health issues (Agyapong et al., 2022). This KPI directly assesses the plan's impact on childcare professionals' well-being.

Conclusion

Stress and burnout in the childcare sector represent significant challenges in Victoria, Australia. These issues have resulted in alarmingly high staff turnover rates, destabilizing the workforce and disrupting the crucial early childhood education and care provided to children. To combat these problems, a comprehensive advocacy plan has been formulated, guided by the standards and principles set forth by key Australian organizations. This multifaceted plan seeks to establish a more sustainable and supportive childcare workforce, ultimately leading to a brighter future for childcare professionals and the children under their care. By addressing the pervasive stress and burnout issues, this initiative aims to improve the quality of early childhood education and care across Victoria. Through collaboration, policy advocacy, and the implementation of supportive measures, this plan is designed to strengthen the resilience and well-being of childcare professionals, ultimately fostering a nurturing and high-quality early childhood education environment. In doing so, it aims to reduce staff turnover rates and ensure a stable and effective early childhood education and care system for all stakeholders, resulting in a comprehensive and holistic development of childcare professionals

References

Agyapong, B., Obuobi-Donkor, G., Burback, L., & Wei, Y. (2022). Stress, Burnout, Anxiety and Depression among Teachers: A Scoping Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health19(17). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph191710706

Aussie Childcare Network. (2022). EYLF principles and strategies to implement them. https://aussiechildcarenetwork.com.au/articles/childcare-programming/eylf-principles-and-strategies-to-implement-them

Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2019). Progressing a national approach to the children’s education and care workforce: Workforce report November 2019 https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-10/ChildrensEducationandCareNationalWorkforceStrategy_0.pdf

Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2020). Annual Report 2019–2020. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-01/ACECQA-Annual-Report-2020-A4_0.PDF

Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2023). Quality Area 5 – Relationships with children. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/national-quality-standard/quality-area-5-relationships-with-children

Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2023). What is the NQF? https://www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/about
 

Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (n.d). National Quality Framework. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-09/Guide%20to%20the%20NQF-1-Introduction.pdf

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). (2023). Review of childcare policy to better meet the needs of families. https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/review-of-childcare-policy-to-better-meet-the-needs-of-families

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2022). Annual report 2021-2022. https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/ahrc_annual_report_2021_22_0.pdf

Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). (n.d). Furthermore, the quality of care provided is closely related to staff stability. https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/legal/submission/inquiry-childcare-and-early-childhood-learning

Billett, P., Turner, K., & Li, X. (2023). Australian teacher stress, well-being, self-efficacy, and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychology in the Schools60(5), 1394-1414. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.22713

Carroll, A., Forrest, K., Flynn, L., Bower, J. M., Fynes-Clinton, S., York, A., & Ziaei, M. (2022). Teacher stress and burnout in Australia: Examining the role of intrapersonal and environmental factors. Social Psychology of Education25(2-3), 441-469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-022-09686-7

Early Childhood Australia (ECA). (2023). Early Childhood Australia’s advocacy. https://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/our-work/early-childhood-australias-advocacy/

Early Childhood Australia (ECA). (n.d). Foundations for learning: Relationships between the Early Years Learning Framework and the Australian Curriculum. https://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/ECA_ACARA_Foundations_Paper_FINAL-web.pdf

Fernandez, E. (2019). Working towards better education for children in care: Longitudinal analysis of the educational outcomes of a cohort of children in care in Australia. Oxford Review of Education45(4), 481-501. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2019.1612345

Heffernan, A. (2020). Retaining Australia’s school leaders in ‘challenging’ contexts: The importance of personal relationships in principal turnover decisions. International Journal of Educational Research105, 101716. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101716

Herman, A. N., Dearth-Wesley, T., & Whitaker, R. C. (2023). The Association Between Work as a Calling and Turnover Among Early Childhood Education Professionals. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-023-01450-6

Manning, M., Garvis, S., Fleming, C., & Wong, T. W. (2017). The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood education and care environment. Campbell Systematic Reviews13(1), 1-82. https://doi.org/10.4073/csr.2017.1

McDonald, P., Thorpe, K., & Irvine, S. (2018). Low pay but still we stay Retention in early childhood education and care. Journal of Industrial Relations. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022185618800351

Ng, J., Rogers, M., & McNamara, C. (2023). Early childhood educator's burnout: A systematic review of the determinants and effectiveness of interventions. Issues in Educational Research. https://www.iier.org.au/iier33/ng.pdf

Raising Children Network. (2023). The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care. https://raisingchildren.net.au/grown-ups/work-child-care/understanding-child-care/national-quality-framework

Rogers, M., Boyd, W., & Sims, M. (2023). " Burnout central": Australian early childhood educational leaders’ experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Issues in Educational Research33(1), 284-306. https://www.iier.org.au/iier33/rogers.pdf

Schmitz, S. (2020). The Impact of Publicly Funded Childcare on Parental Well-Being: Evidence from Cut-Off Rules. European Journal of Population = Revue EuropéEnne de DéMographie36(2), 171-196. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-019-09526-z

StartingBlocks. (n.d). Understanding the National Quality Standard. https://www.startingblocks.gov.au/other-resources/factsheets/understanding-the-national-quality-standard

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2019). Australia - OECD. https://www.oecd.org/education/talis/TALIS2018_CN_AUS.pdf

Thorpe, K., Jansen, E., Sullivan, V., Irvine, S., McDonald, P., & Early Years Workforce Study team Karen Thorpe Sue Irvine Paula McDonald Joanne Lunn Jennifer Sumsion Angela Ferguson Mary Lincoln Kate Liley Pam Spall. (2020). Identifying predictors of retention and professional well-being of the early childhood education workforce in a time of change. Journal of Educational Change21, 623-647.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-020-09382-3

Victoria University. (2021). Early childhood educators are leaving in droves. Here are 3 ways to keep them & attract more. https://www.vu.edu.au/mitchell-institute/early-learning/early-childhood-educators-are-leaving-in-droves-here-are-3-ways-to-keep-them-attract-more

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