Keeping children safe with tips to tackle policy review

Published on Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Last updated on Monday, 24 February 2020

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The safety of children in early childhood settings is an operational priority and recent media coverage on accidents and oversights is a timely reminder to review health and safety obligations.

Recent articles in The Ministry of Education’s Early Learning Regional News  highlight the need to ensure proper procedures are followed in relation to health and safety in early childhood settings. Both stories were in response to received complaints and incident notifications, one covered ‘accident and incident reporting’ and the second story was prompted by the ‘incorrect administration of medicine’.

"It's important that parents and whānau can have confidence that their children are learning in a safe, well-run early childhood service," ministry spokesperson Katrina Casey said in an interview on health and safety in the NZ Herald.

While it shouldn’t take an incident or high-profile issue to motivate an analysis of whether policies and procedures are up to date it can be the impetus for review to ensure best practice processes are in effect. 

The Education Review Office undertook an investigation titled, Meeting requirements for children’s safety and wellbeing in ECE, that found ‘17 per cent of services were not up-to-date with their responsibilities or were not managing them well.’  

The report also stated that, ‘Some of these services had minimal or insufficient safety and wellbeing policies. Some policies existed, but they were not comprehensive or robust. They did not cover the scope of service operations and therefore lacked clear guidance for staff and leaders.’

The report listed their recommendations for services as:

  • Ensure that a person is appointed to be responsible for staying up to date with health and safety regulations and meeting their compliance obligations
  • Implement systems to regularly review their health and safety polices and ensure that agreed practices are understood by all staff, and are implemented in practice
  • Regularly use resources … to find out about new health and safety legislation and responsibilities.

Early childhood centres meet different community and parental needs, and have different structures, beliefs, values and expectations. Your centre policies should reflect and be relevant to your service.

Ensuring you’re up to date with policies and that all regulatory responsibilities are met is vital. Services need considered and documented processes so staff and educators can respond to issues competently and calmly and in a way that ensures children are kept safe and risks are reduced.

Here’s why the review process is key

What is significant in the review process is being mindful that policies and procedures are living documents that should grow and adapt with your workplace.

Out-dated or poorly considered policies can create real risk and if not reviewed may fail to comply with new laws and regulations. New online systems and technology may need to be included to ensure better practice and effectiveness. As a general rule reviewing your health and safety policies should be done every year.

Regularly reviewing policies and procedures will keep your service up to date with regulations, technology, and best practices. Policy review checks effectiveness and that the stated strategies are still efficient and applicable.

Remember, the motivation for review is not always to change a policy and it is not necessary to add to the written policy every time it is reviewed. 

When reviewing a policy consider the following points:

  • Whether the statutory requirements are still the same?
  • Whether the interpretation is still appropriate?
  • What are the current trends, beliefs, issues, research and information from within the sector? Will any of these trends impact on the practices within your service? 
  • Are the policy strategies effective in achieving the objectives?
  • How effective is the current practice of your service? Is there anything you could or should improve? 
  • What is the thinking behind the way we do that?
  • How does the practice affect children, families and other stakeholders?
  • Is the practice described in the procedures relevant to the service as a whole and to individual staff members, families and management?
  • Does it reflect our service approach (our vision, mission, and principles)?
  • Is the practice consistent with our beliefs, values and philosophy?
  • Have we always done it that way?
  • Does the practice meet the needs of all the children and families?
  • What happens in other services? Why do they do that?
  • Review records and notes from previous meetings, parent feedback forms and incident/accident forms. Are there any issues or ideas from these that require you to make changes to current practice?
  • If we change our policy, when and how should we review and evaluate the change?

Opportunities need to be provided for parents and carers to give feedback on their opinion about the quality and safety of your service.

Tips for making the process work

Here are some simple tips to make the process less daunting and to provide additional guidance: 

  • Identify a ‘champion’ of policy who is enthusiastic about a practice or has the skills and knowledge to mentor peers. This may include providing them with training so that they can share their knowledge with others.
  • Have policy dialogues as a regular agenda item at staff meetings so that the whole team can raise concerns and be involved in policy review. This may be done as a practical exercise. For example, one team member may perform a practice such as hand washing while another reads the procedure out loud. This can build an understanding of the link between what is written and practical implementation. It can also identify where inconsistencies exist between the policy and actual practice.
  • Encourage all staff and parents or carers to comment both formally and informally on the service’s policies. Encourage them to comment on how policies and procedures work and allow them to share in the decision process about making changes to policies and procedures.
  • Invite professionals such as paediatricians and maternity nurses to the service to demonstrate and inform educators and staff about best practice.
  • Encourage educators and staff to monitor each other’s practice, ask questions and seek clarification.
  • Team new or inexperienced staff with experienced and skilled educators who can monitor their understanding of policy and practice and role model appropriate practice.
  • Plan professional development opportunities for staff and educators to learn about current best practice and to share the information with their colleagues.
  • Provide professional resources about recommended practice in a specific area.  

References and further reading

Licensing Criteria for Early Childhood Education and Care Centres 2008, and the Early Childhood Education Curriculum Framework
Health & Safety System
Using Service Policies and Procedures in Everyday Practice 

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