For more than a decade, the sustainability of ECEC services in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia has been challenging in a changing and complex environment.
In January 2015 a small-scale project commissioned by the Shire of Brookton identified a range of governance and management models that could be applicable for ECEC services in the Wheatbelt. That work was followed by the Wheatbelt Early Childhood Education and Care(ECEC)Sustainability Project with the goal to find a way to ensure that ECEC services:
- continue to be provided across the Wheatbelt Region for the benefit of children and their families, communities and the economy,
- are sustainable and deliver high quality programs which contribute to children’s development in their critical early years.
The project was inspired and driven by Wheatbelt people – Management Committees and Shires – who wished to save their services.
At meetings of not-for-profit Approved Providers of ECEC services in May 2015 and April 2016, there was strong support for the governance and management model in place at Lady Gowrie Tasmania(LGT).The core element of the LGT model is a single Incorporated Association with overall responsibility for governance and management, and local services organised in ‘clusters’.
There was agreement that a single transformed ECEC organisation should be established in the region, recognised for its professionalism, sound governance and financial management, together with the quality of the services it provides for children and underpinned by the following set of principles.
(1) Wheatbelt families have a right to access to quality Early Childhood Education and Care services that promote children’s development, enable parents to work, study or volunteer, and contribute to the social and economic wellbeing of communities and the region.
(2) The organisation should be not-for-profit and operate with the highest standards of governance and effective, skilled management.
(3) The organisation should deliver financially viable services which are sustainable into the future and are flexible, with the ability to adapt and manage change, including changing government policy and changing regional and local circumstances.
(4) The organisation must have an understanding of the local context and the importance of community engagement. There should be opportunity for parent participation through local level groups or committees which have an advisory but not a management or decision-making role.
(5) The organisation should be recognised as a good employer that provides a supportive, stimulating environment for staff and opportunity for professional development.
(6) The organisation should work in partnership with schools as colleagues in the provision of early childhood education and care as well as allied professionals as appropriate.
(7) The organisation should contribute to the community’s understanding of the importance of children’s early years and the importance and value of ECEC services to individual communities and the wider region.
The clear preference was for an existing Wheatbelt based ECEC provider to become a regional organisation as opposed to establishing a new entity. At the April 2016 meeting it was agreed that Narrogin Regional Child Care Services Inc.(NRCCS),as the only Approved Provider in the Wheatbelt Region managing multiple ECEC services in multiple locations, was the most appropriate existing organisation for transition to a regional organisation.
In November 2016 the NRCCS management committee agreed in principle to participate in a process for transition to a regional entity with governance and management responsibilities for the delivery of ECEC services in the Wheatbelt Region of Western Australia.
In the first stage of the project, factors contributing to the viability of ECEC services were identified from data provided by services and a theoretical model based on the LGT governance and management model developed. The next stage involved a rigorous assessment of the theoretical model for a cluster of services centred around Narrogin and ongoing engagement with NRCCS.
Over the following months, further comprehensive testing of the theoretical model was undertaken.
The project showed that the successful not-for-profit community based LGT model for the governance and management of small and medium sized services could be modified to meet the needs of smaller communities such as many in the Wheatbelt region. An independent Net Community Benefits Assessment of the Wheatbelt Regional Model of Governance concluded that there was a strong case for undertaking the required investment to support the aims of the model developed.
On 31st January 2018 the new Constitution and name change to Regional Early Education and Development Inc were endorsed at a Special General Meeting of NRCCS and on 14th February 2018, the name change Regional Early Education and Development Inc. was approved by the Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
A package of funding for the implementation of the regional governance and management model was approved by the Department of Communities and Lotterywest to support the transition of the governance and management of some 20 centres to REED over a two year timeframe.
An independent Nominations Committee recommended appointment of nine inaugural REED Board members.
In Narrogin, on 16th March 2018 Regional Early Education and Development Inc was officially launched by Hon Simone McGurk MLA, Minister for Child Protection; Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence; Community Services The REED Board held its first meeting in the Narrogin Shire’s Council Chambers immediately following the launch.
By the end of 2018, the first seven ECEC services will have commenced the process for transitioning to REED, with others to follow in 2019. As services transition, they’ll each establish a local Family Advisory Group.