Although out of school care providers may be quite separate to the school, it is in the school’s interest to take all practicable steps to ensure that the service is of good quality.
In New Zealand, children under the age of 14 can’t be left alone without “reasonable care and supervision”. This means that parents can’t drop children off at school before it officially opens, usually at 8:30am, or leave them there after school. It also means that schools need to provide supervision for a short time before and after school hours. According to the Ministry of Education, this means 30 minutes before school and approximately 15 minutes after school.
However, many parents require childcare from early in the morning until well into the evening, making out of school care services a vital link between home and school.
Some services operate out of council premises or marae, but the great majority are run within the school grounds. So, although the service provider may be quite separate to the school, it is in the school’s interest to take all practicable steps to ensure that the service is of good quality.
What does a quality service look like?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 31, states: “Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child …”
In accordance with this, all out of school care providers, no matter whether they are private businesses, community groups or ECE services, are expected to have a focus on play and recreation rather than schooling. Beyond this, look for shared values, advises Rangi Esson from Fun Zone. “Are the values and philosophies of potential providers in line with the school’s own values and philosophies?”
Mr Esson is CEO at Fun Zone which runs five out of school care services on the Kapiti Coast. Fun Zone services open as early as 7am and run as late as 7pm – or until parents can pick them up. In addition, they offer full time holiday programmes and even childcare on teacher only days.
“We have been operating in this industry for ten years and the demand is now stronger than ever. People keep having kids and families are having to work harder, and longer hours, than ever before. The OSCAR industry is following the same growth of the ECE (Early Childcare Education) industry 25 years ago.
“Here in the Kapiti Coast, population is rocketing, and the number of working families with kids aged between five and 13 continues to grow.”
This means that many thousands of children spend up to six hours each day in group care programmes in addition to the six hours they spend in school. It is imperative, therefore, that the care programmes are of high quality and providing genuine home away from home-type services.
Checks to make
Checks can be made with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) as to whether the programme has been certified as safe.
Mr Esson also advises finding out what checks have been undertaken on staff employed at the programme and on any other adults working on site, volunteers for example.
The OSCAR Network advises that all staff, paid and unpaid, must have been screened and police vetted for their suitability to work with children. The supervisor should be trained to work with school-age children, and should be experienced. At least one member of staff onsite should be trained in first aid.
The network also advises checking the service’s facilities.
These should include inside and outside areas for playing. Inside areas should include spaces for both quiet and active games. Toilets should be readily accessible and clean. There should be a well-stocked first aid kid kept on site but locked out of reach of children.
Schools should also consider the direct and indirect benefits to the school for having the service operating within its grounds. “Does the potential provider have insurance cover to reduce impact on school property?” says Mr Esson.
Children should be supervised at all times, advises the OSCAR Network, and there should always be at least two staff members present. The adult:child ratio should be no more than 1:10 on site and 1:8 during outings.
Discipline should be positive and rules brief but fair. Punishment should be kept to a minimum and not be physical or humiliating. All rules should be clearly displayed and understood by the children.
Children’s activities should be planned, and a variety of activities available so children have choice no matter what their ages, energy levels or interests.
Other questions to consider
Is the service providing an environment that kids want to be at? Are parents pleased their children are at the service, and do the staff appear happy?
What training do the staff have? Are they welcoming, relatable and interactive?
Does the service demonstrate respect for parents and caregivers, and are communication processes clear?
Does the service demonstrate a sincere desire for children’s positive development and not just their entertainment?
Does the provider differentiate its programme according to demand, for example, is there support for homework if parents so request? Do young children receive the level of care and attention they need, and older children the opportunities to be more independent?
Is the service able to support families to complete childcare subsidy applications as quickly as possible?
And finally, schools need to be aware of the service routines around drop off and pick up so as not to compromise the security of children or property.