Child care professionals share a commitment to improving society by creating dynamic and nurturing care environments for Australia's youngest learners.

Read this month's Child Care Person in the spotlight Nesha O'Neil is Director of the Norwest Child Care Centre in Baulkham Hills and the Top Ryde Early Learning Centre in Top Ryde, NSW.

The Norwest Child Care Centre just won a national Work-Life Balance Award.
Nesha O'Neil - Director
National Work-Life Balance Award Winner:
Norwest Child Care Centre &
Top Ryde Early Learning Centre (NSW)

C4K: What is your professional background and career experience?

NO'N: I'm a qualified Psychologist, with a degree in Psychology and English, a post graduate degree in counselling, a Diploma in Children's Services and I'm currently studying a post grad Special Education course in Early Intervention.

C4K: What attracted you to a career in child care?

NO'N: My family has been in child care since it’s inception in Australia. My Grandmother had one of the first child care centres in Sydney in the 1960s, and my aunt and mother were both in child care – then my parents – and now me and my sister! I spent some time out in the world of organisational psychology and recruiting, before deciding that this was a really important role in society, and a fulfilling and crucial profession, and this is where I was meant to be.

C4K: What does a 'normal' day look like for you?

NO'N: I own and operate two centres, and as well as studying, have two young children of my own, and a number of projects on the go. Nothing about my days are normal! I am generally at a centre at around 7.30 or 8 in the morning, catch up on what's been going on, have management and planning meetings with staff, have meetings with other people who visit our centres for various reasons (consulting, implementing best practice, special ed work, etc) I review our accounts and financial situation and chat to recruiters or builders.

I'm also available for parents, so I spend at least half an hour each day chatting to our families. If I'm at a centre, my children are normally there, so I have to wrap up the day by around 4pm to get them home – (and fed and bathed, and the dog fed, and the possums I'm rehabbing for WIRES sorted out…) then several nights a week I am back at the centres for staff meetings, or information nights, or team building meetings etc.

It's very hectic, so two technology tools are essential for me – one is my mobile phone and car kit (so I can catch up on calls when I'm driving) – and the other is my ipod – which I download my lectures onto and listen to if I'm caught in the car (though, sadly my children aren't that excited by my lectures, so we play I-spy, or listen to Jackson 5 or (as rarely as I can manage) The Wiggles).

I attempt to work from home or have a study day for one day each week – recently that has been taken up doing prac days at special ed schools, which has been fantastic!

C4K: What are some of the advantages of working in the child care sector?

NO'N: This is an amazing profession – on your very worst day, you can always head on out to the yard with some bottles of bubbles and get a thousand hugs and kisses and giggles and that's what you're paid for!

We can watch children and families grow and can make an incredible difference in their lives sometimes it's a really obvious impact, sometimes more subtle. I can work where my children are, so I can have a career and not miss out on the 'mummy' bits. Having worked in industries where the 'product' was nothing special, we sometimes lose sight of what a wonderful product we are producing (that being happy, healthy, curious children!).

C4K: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the child care sector?

NO'N: Recruiting and retaining motivated and enthusiastic staff; there are really poor statistics relating to staff tenure (av 18 months) and turnover (40%+) in this industry. This is partly because we don’t look after our staff, and partly because it's not a 'high status' job so many people don't seek it out, but view it as a 'fall back'. There are so many incredibly wonderful child care professionals out there and they’re exhausted! As a sector we really need to focus on how we recruit great staff and then how we keep them and help them to enjoy their jobs.

C4K: How has your place of work changed to deal with these challenges?

NO'N: We're still struggling! (we're recruiting now if you're looking! See our ads on We have put a number of things in place to address these challenges and we were recently awarded the National Work Life Balance Award in recognition of our commitment to maintaining a healthy and happy work/life balance for our team.

There are heaps of things we do to support our team from flexible working hours (part time, full time, etc), study leave, mental health days, RDOs, lots of support for professional development, flexible maternity leave, subsidised child care fees, promoting healthy relaxation each week (through yoga classes, belly dance lessons, rock climbing etc) and free medical treatments such as flu shots and quit smoking programs.

We've also got a large staff retreat that allows our team some respite throughout the day. We also work above the current legal ratios, (similar to what's coming in soon) which means that our team don't get burnt out and overstressed each day.

C4K: How does the industry need to change to adapt to these challenges

NO'N: We need to look beyond what we've done in the past, there's the old saying 'if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've already got'. We need to invest in our future leaders and help develop them (I know of one organisation developing a leadership mentoring program!). We should look to other industries where turnover is low, and see what they are doing to support their team and see how we can be more flexible to support our teams. Above all, treating your team with respect.

C4K: What advice would you offer someone thinking about a career or looking for a promotion in child care?

NO'N: If you're looking to enter the field: this is a vitally important profession, where you can make an immediate difference to the life of a child. If you think it's going to be a cruisy job, like full time babysitting, you're wrong it's exhausting and tough! And it's definitely the most fantastic profession out there!

If you're looking for a promotion: spend some time talking to your boss about where you want to be in a few years time, and ask them (honestly) where they think you need to improve in that time. Don't take on too much too soon, leadership jobs are tougher than they seem and you might find yourself drowning. Get involved in other aspects of the centre, for example could you help organise a parent night or do OHS audits? Taking on tasks like these gives your boss the opportunity to see you shine, and to see all of your skills and talents.

C4K: Final thoughts

NO'N: It's often worth stopping and thinking about how your day is going. Are you able to take time to stop and enjoy your job, to giggle with the children and play with them? This is what attracted us to the industry in the first place, and we often lose sight of that when we get caught up in the challenges of the day-to-day. Creating a wonderful environment that is relaxing as well as stimulating and challenging is the first step towards this. Don't settle for second best, for yourself, your colleagues, or your children strive for international best practice every day – it works!

Nesha O'Neil
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