Child care person in the spotlight: Jenni Hutchins

Published on Tuesday, 06 June 2017
Last updated on Wednesday, 08 December 2021

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What is your full name?

My name is Jenni Hutchins.

Which service do you work in? How many staff and children are in your service?

I am the CEO of Big Fat Smile. Big Fat Smile has 40 Early Learning and Care Centres (made up of Pre-school and Long Day Care) and Out of School Hours Centres.

In addition to our core business offering, we have a parent/child-friendly play café called The Green Bean Play Cafe, and an Artists and Musicians in residence program. We have a cultural program and a nature play specialist, we provide a STEM program for our children, we have supported playgroups, transition to school programs, and we are part of a consortia to deliver inclusion services through the IDFM Federal program.

What is your professional background and career experience?

I am a psychologist who has specialised in supporting families where there are complex needs. Child protection, out of home care, mental health, domestic violence and therapeutic services are all areas I have overseen and worked in.

My passion is for families to thrive and flourish by connecting them into formal and informal supports and scaffolding families for success by providing individual and family support services.

What attracted you to a career in the early childhood sector?

I am attracted to this sector because it enables families to operate to their optimum potential. Optimum potential and success look different for every family and, through the services we offer, families can develop their strengths, abilities and community relationships. Localised and connected supports such as early learning and care centres, counselling, tutoring, art classes, dancing and safe spaces to commune and talk are examples of these services and support functions.

A sector that gives families equal access to all of these support functions is an attractive one in my opinion. My goal is that we live in communities that enable families to feel safe and parent well.

What does a 'normal' day look like for you?

I'm an early riser, so I am up before the sun and heading to Wollongong to commence my day. I always start my day by planning what I need and want to achieve and complete, and by responding to any lag emails. I normally have a tight schedule of meetings that have their own outcomes and actions. I also get to do fun things like visit our centres and talk with our staff.

There is a great degree of forward planning and lots of communicating that I must do in my day-to-day role. In any one day, I can meet to discuss our finances, operations and/or services currently being built or developed. I can be involved in discussions related to our marketing and join in collective brainstorming and strategy sessions to establish innovative approaches to our work.

I am also in a role that requires me to respond to and make decisions about really difficult topics presently impacting our sector and consequently our work environment. This requires a great deal of time, consultation and consideration in order to get it right and make the best possible decision for our organisation and the families for whom we offer support, care or services. At the forefront of my mindset, always, is a deep consideration for the safety, welfare and wellbeing of our children, our families and our staff.

What makes your service unique?

Big Fat Smile has an irreverent name and is a bit irreverent by nature. The organisation likes to think outside the square and push the boundaries on quality. We have the highest quality rating in Australia. We like providing addendum support services to show that we add value in different ways to the educational experiences of the children who access our services.

We also have an amazing retention rate of staff in our services. Long-serving and dedicated staff make up a large proportion of the staff we retain. Their knowledge of the children, their needs and the relationships they have with our families is beyond inspiring. They are linked and connected within the community and our services are well known because of this.

What are some of the advantages of working in early childhood education and care?

It is a privilege to work in this sector as it affords us the opportunity to shape the experiences of children, engage with families and provide confidential support, guidance and assistance. We are able to watch children grow, learn, develop and flourish. We get to smile, wave and engage with children as we walk down the street when they recognise us from our roles. We are able to show, say and demonstrate we care through the 406,000 care experiences that our services deliver each year. Who wouldn't want to work in this sector?!

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the sector?

Financial viability is one of the most crucial challenges that the sector is facing right now. The cost of early learning and care as it relates to parental income, the cost of living, rental costs and mortgage costs are significant and this greatly impacts access to quality care in Australia.

The cost of regulatory compliance will always be there. Families need to know that their children are safe in our care, so having strong safety and compliance frameworks are critical to our success – but they come at a cost to families – so it is a balance for us to manage these costs and still provide the exceptional level of care that we offer.

Continuing to look for additional support, learning and care experiences we can offer children is a challenge – but a positive one. Keeping up with the changing face of community, understanding what families need and responding to the changing needs of families in an agile and supportive way is also a challenge.

How has your service changed to deal with these challenges?

We survey our families to understand what they need; we focus strongly on safety and education in our centres and services; we audit our centres for compliance; and we advocate for policy change which will positively impact on families, through peak bodies.

How does the early childhood industry need to change to adapt to these challenges?

We need the politicians working with the sector, as well as families, to continue to think about the changes required in order to continue to grow and develop as a sector. It is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country.

What advice would you offer someone thinking about a career or looking for a promotion in early childhood education and care?

Do it for love and because you are passionate. Don’t let money be your sole

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