Carla NorthamQ&A - Carla Northam
CEO - Family Day Care Australia

As a part of our monthly newsletter for child care providers we are running a series of profiles designed to further educate our readers about Australia's most important government departments, community and industry organisations and how they work to support the child care industry, and also to put a face to the names of these organisations.

This month we feature a Q and A with Family Day Care Australia's Chief Executive Officer Carla Northam.

What is your role within FDCA, what does this entail and what is your professional background?
Family Day Care Australia is the national peak body for the family day care sector. Our role is to promote and advocate on behalf of the family day care sector. I am so passionate about early childhood education and care and to be able to work for an organisation where all that we do is directed towards providing excellent outcomes for children is both an honour and a privilege.

Prior to joining Family Day Care Australia, I was Chief Operating Officer of the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute. I have more than 20 years experience working in roles across management and human resources and hold a Bachelor of Arts (Majoring in Industrial Relations), a Diploma in Business Management, a Certificate IV in Assessment and Workplace Training and a Diploma in Professional Counselling.

Please tell me a little about FDCA's background and history. What was FDCA formed to do?
Family Day Care Australia was established in 1988 in a small beachside cottage on the Central Coast of NSW. Since then it has grown into a thriving not for profit organisation with more than 13,500 members across Australia. FDCA was established to promote, advocate and support the family day care sector to ensure its continued growth and sustainability. A particular focus has always been to provide a single and united voice to the federal government and this is an area in which we have made significant headway of late. 

What are FDCA's primary objectives/goals within Australia's child care sector?
Family Day Care Australia's primary objectives are to ensure excellent outcomes for children in family day care and to ensure the continued growth and sustainability of the family day care sector.

How is FDCA working to achieve those goals?
As custodians of the Five Year Plan for the family day care sector, we are engaging the sector in a process of shared leadership and continual improvement and are helping to guide the sector through a period of unprecedented change brought about by the introduction of the new National Quality Framework.

The plan addresses operational best practice, a changing workforce, sustainability, partnerships and of course, the image and profile of the sector. Our work as the national peak body aligns directly with the broader objectives of the sector. Through strategic marketing and public relations, close ties with government and key industry stakeholders, lobbying on behalf of the sector, researching operational best practice and in providing tools and resources we will achieve our goals and support the sector in achieving its goals. 

Together we are part of the ongoing evolution of the sector from what was a small cottage industry of ‘family day care mums' to a sector that is characterised by a level of professionalism, determinants of which include operating under the same regulatory systems as other ECEC settings, adherence to the National Quality Standards and the approved learning frameworks and the new quality assessment and ratings systems.

The latest government figures indicate 112,720* children are enrolled in family day care services across the country, which accounts for 12 per cent* of the entire early childhood education and care sector. (*Source: DEEWR Child Care Update February 2012). We are proud of the role FDCA has played in the growth and evolution of the sector.

What are FDCA's biggest challenges now?
Leading the sector through the transition to the NQF is a significant challenge. It is also important to build strong relationships within the sector and with key stakeholders outside of the family day care sector. We represent a very diverse and wide spread member base and there are no ‘one size fits all' solutions.

Indentifying the key issues and opportunities that are consistent to the whole sector while promoting flexibility to meet specific community and/or cultural needs does represent some challenges in moving the sector forward in a consistent and united way.

What do you anticipate those challenges will be in the future?
The ever present challenge for the future is to ensure that family day care continues to grow and prosper and that it continues to service the needs of children and parents in an ever changing social, political and financial environment.

What is your vision for FDCA?
FDCA serves the needs of our members and the sector; as such our vision is that family day care will be the option of choice in early childhood education... And will be supported by a visible, viable and valued national peak body

Why has child care become such a hot topic in Australia over the last few years?
Early childhood education and care will always be a hot topic in the media, as it is an issue that is increasingly affecting more and more Australians. Rising living costs mean that most families can no longer survive on one income and having greater access to child care is essential for these working parents.

The changing nature of the workforce and the changing child care needs of parents have heightened discussions around how the sector will look going forward. Thankfully, family day care is well placed to service this changing workforce.

Because it affects so many families, the topics of child care costs, availability and flexibility will remain key topics for politicians, the media and colleagues at the water cooler. 

What in your opinion are the biggest challenges facing the Australian child care sector now?
The transition to the NQF is the most immediate challenge, albeit one that the sector is more than capable of managing. Going forward, adapting to the changing workforce and needs of parents will present its challenges. There is a growing need for the broader ECEC sector to work more closely together and with the government to ensure that childcare is flexible and affordable and where cost becomes an issue, avoiding a shift towards unregulated childcare options which ultimately may ultimately pose a risk to the early childhood education of Australia's children. 

How is Australia's child care sector changing?
The past 12 months have been an exciting period of unprecedented change for the early childhood education and care sector. The implementation of the National Quality Framework will drive the ongoing professionalisation of the sector and improve the consistency of early childhood education across the country which ultimately supports better outcomes for children.

As discussed, the needs of parents are changing - not every family is going to be well served by traditional 8am-6pm child care. Family day care is the largest regulated provider of early childhood education and care, delivering flexible and affordable care outside of traditional hours. Family day care provides a wonderful alternative to centre based care options and offers many working parents flexible, reliable and affordable care in a small, nurturing group setting.

What do you think about the changes and how they are being managed?
FDCA supports the National Quality Framework: through its qualification requirements, national quality standards and approved learning frameworks, the NQF supports the ongoing professional development of the sector and ultimately improved learning and developmental outcomes for children.

How will these changes impact child care professionals?
The NQF is the most significant change in the early childhood sector in decades; it no doubt impacts the entire sector with varying degrees of significance.

Through our relationship with government we are proud to have been able to have the voice of the sector heard through providing input on the development and review of the legislation. A number of aspects of legislation were amended that would have made the impact on the family day care sector far more significant.

There remain some challenges throughout the transition, many of which are unique to family day care. It has been reported in the media and touted by some segments of government and the broader sector that the NQF is threatening the demise of family day care, but this could not be further from the truth.

In particular the impact of the qualification requirements and changes to educator and child ratios have been significantly over-stated. Upwards of 70 per cent of all family day care educators already have or are working towards an early childhood qualification ranging from Certificate III in Children's Services to university degrees. In addition five of the eight states and territories already operate under the 1:4 ratio.

How can child care professionals adapt to these changes? 
As discussed the impact of the changes may, to a degree, have been overstated. Nevertheless, there are challenges that come with change and an element of the unknown that itself creates concerns. There are new reporting and administrative requirements under the NQF that will require innovative approaches so as not to overburden already busy educators, especially in the case of family day care.

The sector is united in sourcing and sharing new and innovative approaches to address these challenges and we expect that technology will be a key driver for change.

What, in your opinion, are the most important factors to ensure Australia has a world class early childhood education system?
The implementation of the National Quality Framework has ensured Australia has a world class early childhood education and care system. The sector is regulated to ensure an extremely high quality service and excellent outcomes for children in care. Research suggests that significant government investment into ‘supply side' support is a strong contributor to quality outcomes. The Scandinavian child care sector is proof of this where a significant investment by the Nordic countries commits more funding per capita to both service delivery and the development of the Early Childhood Education and Care workforce *(Bretherton: 2010:14) If the Government continues to financially support and invest in the early childhood education and care sector it will ensure a world class early childhood education and care system for Australia's children.

Final word
FDCA is committed to raising the profile of family day care and to positioning the sector as the option of choice in early childhood education and care.

We recently attended the Pregnancy, Babies and Children's Expo and spoke with thousands of new and/or expecting parents about their child care needs. As expected, child care costs and availability are ‘top of mind' issues among this demographic. The time invested at the expo paid dividends in raising the profile of the sector and we were delighted in the overwhelming interest in family day care both as a quality early childhood education and care option but also as a wonderfully rewarding and viable career for early childhood professionals.

As part of our work in profile building we recently launched the inaugural Family Day Care Australia Educator of the Year Awards. With local and state winners being announced across the country we expect this celebration of the sector to generate significant grass roots exposure about the wonderful work of family day care educators. Our national winner will be announced as part of our Gala Dinner at the 2012 FDCA International Conference in July.

We are delighted to have received 2500 parent nominations for the awards from right across the country, testament to the significance of the role of family day care educators in the lives of the children, families and communities they serve.

If you'd like to nominate a key child care organisation or someone you'd like to see profiled please drop us a line at®
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