A whole-child perspective assessment guide for early years settings.
Abstract: This paper describes the development of a national assessment guide to assist the Irish Pre-School Inspectorate in evaluating support for child development in early childhood care and education settings. The development arose as a direct result of changes to the regulations governing pre-school childcare provision in Ireland. Revised regulations, published in 2006, built on previous regulations and made explicit the whole-child perspective within them. This places an important and overt focus on support for children's development within the inspection process, and is based on a socio-ecological understanding of children's lives. Using a collaborative approach with the Pre-School Inspectorate, an assessment guide was developed to enhance practitioners' understanding of the whole-child perspective element of the revised regulations, and to ensure consistency in the inspection process.

Key words

Child care, pre-school, assessment, Ireland, assessment guide development
Article Type: Report
Subject: Child care (Laws, regulations and rules)
Child care (Management)
Child care (Standards)
Child welfare (Management)
Child welfare (Standards)
Child welfare (Laws, regulations and rules)
Child development (Health aspects)
Child care services (Evaluation)
Child care services (Management)
Authors: Hanafin, Sinead
Brooks, Ann-Marie
McDonnell, Fiona
Rouine, Helen
Coyne, Imelda
Pub Date: 10/01/2009
Publication: Name: Community Practitioner Publisher: Ten Alps Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Ten Alps Publishing ISSN: 1462-2815
Issue: Date: Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 82 Source Issue: 10
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 350 Product standards, safety, & recalls; 930 Government regulation; 940 Government regulation (cont); 980 Legal issues & crime Advertising Code: 94 Legal/Government Regulation Computer Subject: Government regulation; Company business management
Product: Product Code: 9105260 Family Planning & Child Care NAICS Code: 92312 Administration of Public Health Programs SIC Code: 8322 Individual and family services; 8351 Child day care services
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Ireland Geographic Code: 4EUIR Ireland
Accession Number: 209163254
Full Text: Introduction

While Ireland has been a relative latecomer to the provision of out-of-home care for children, (1) there has been substantial investment in this area in recent years. Some-1 billion [euro] has been spent on capital, staff and quality enhancement since 2000, (2) and substantial policy development has taken place at a national level. (3) Early childhood is a time of rapid growth and development, and the positive and/or negative consequences of care and education during this time can last well into adulthood. (4) Research based on the findings of longitudinal studies shows that, although parenting is a stronger and more consistent predictor of children's development than early childcare experience, good quality child care results in improved children's outcomes across a range of areas. (5)

In Ireland, the legal requirements for preschool provision are set out in Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991. (6) In accordance with this Act, pre-school regulations were published in 1996 (7) and amended in 1997, (8) and a Pre-School Inspectorate was established by the Health Services Executive (HSE) to carry out inspections. Inspection of areas relating to children's development are carried out by pre-school inspectors with professional expertise and experience in this area, and at this time these professionals are drawn mainly from the public health nursing service. Regulations were accompanied by an explanatory guide that prescribed the measures that had to be in place to fulfill the requirements of the Act relating to:

* Promotion of the health, welfare and development of children

* Notifications to be given to a health board

* Keeping of records

* Standard of premises and facilities

* General administration.

However, the 1996 regulations attracted some criticism for focusing overly on the health and safety of pre-school settings rather than on support for child development and quality of care. (9) To address this, a revised set of regulations was published in 2006.10 These were drawn up by a review group led by the Department of Health and Children, and included representatives of other relevant government departments, the HSE, national voluntary childcare organisations and Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education. One of the main changes was the inclusion of Regulation 5, which refers to health, welfare and development: 'A person [providing] a pre-school service shall ensure that each child's learning, development and wellbeing is facilitated within the daily life of the service through the provision of the appropriate opportunities, experiences, activities, interaction, materials and equipment, having regard to the age and stage of development of the child and the child's cultural context' (p9). (10)

The explanatory guide published at the same time as the regulations encouraged service providers to take a whole-child perspective in the planning and delivery of pre-school services.

Given the challenge that this regulatory change presented to pre-school inspectors, specific guidance on how the multidimensional nature of the whole-child perspective could be evaluated in practice was required. The purpose of this paper is to report on the development of an assessment guide based on the whole-child perspective, for use by pre-school inspectors.

Whole-child perspective

The whole child perspective, first set out in the National Children's Strategy, (11) provides a framework through which child development can be understood in both a holistic and child-centred way. The perspective-which is informed and underpinned, by the work of Bronfenbrenner, Ward and others (12-16) and in keeping with the spirit and principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (17)-recognises the child as an active participant in their own development, as well as the importance of the ecology in which the child is embedded. There are three broad domains within this:

* Children's innate capacity

* Formal and informal supports

* Children's relationships.

Children's innate capacity This domain deals with the extent of

children's capacities that can be measured by outcomes across nine different dimensions:

* Physical and mental wellbeing

* Emotional and behavioural wellbeing

* Intellectual capacity

* Spiritual and moral wellbeing

* Identity

* Self-care

* Family relationships

* Social and peer relationships

* Social presentation.

Formal and informal supports

This domain deals with essential supports and services that children need and benefit from. These include the primary, social networks of family, extended family and community--known as the informal supports--and the formal supports provided by the voluntary sector, commercial sector and the state and its agencies.

Children's relationships

This domain deals with the complex set of dynamic relationships that are essential to a satisfying and successful childhood. These relationships range from the family--the primary source of care and protection for children--to the state, which acts as the ultimate guarantor of their rights.

Assessment guide development

The purpose of the assessment guide is to ensure that the Pre-School Inspectorate takes an explicit and consistent approach to the evaluation of Regulation 5. The guide was developed by an expert working group that comprised the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and 10 preschool inspectors who were geographically representative and had a number of years experience in the area.

The expert working group provided direction in identifying appropriate items for inclusion in the assessment guide, offered commentary on its drafting, took part in its pre- and pilot testing in practice, and provided post pilot-test observations on the revised guide. Their work was informed by a review of literature on quality in early childcare and education settings, a review of other validated and widely used assessment guides18-21 and the work of the Irish Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, in particular Siolta, the national quality framework for early childhood care and education. (22)

Considered discussion took place around the potential use of a previously validated assessment guide. There was a general agreement that the assessment guide should be consistent with other developments taking place in the Irish context--particularly Siolta--and no previously validated tool met this criterion. Consequently, while the guide took account of previous national and international developments, it was also explicitly linked to other Irish developments. This included underpinning the guide with the six principles incorporated into the National Children's Strategy of being child-centred, family-oriented, equitable, inclusive, action-oriented and integrated. (11) Each item of the assessment guide was 'proofed' against these principles, and this was helpful in prioritising the most relevant items for the assessment of Regulation 5.

When an item for inclusion was identified, Siolta was examined for examples of reflective questions. Where available, these were used to provide examples within the assessment guide. This facilitated coherence between the assessment guide and Siolta. Where examples were not available, these were provided by the expert working group.

Pilot assessment guide

The pilot assessment guide comprised four domains with 32 dimensions (see Table 1). A seven-point rating scale used elsewhere that ranged from 'inadequate' to 'excellent' (20) was selected to assess each of the dimensions, producing three separate ratings for infants, toddlers, and pre-school or older children.

Sample

The pilot assessment guide was tested in the field by 13 pre-school inspectors in 37 preschool settings--eight childminder (22%), 16 full daycare (43%) and 13 sessional (35%) settings. Approximately 60% of the settings included infants, 70% toddlers and almost all (92%) pre-school or older children.

On completion of each assessment, inspectors also completed a short questionnaire about the assessment guide. This examined ease of use, time needed to complete it, appropriateness of dimensions, usefulness of examples given for each dimension, appropriateness of the rating scale, usefulness to make a judgement, recommendation and/or write a report, and overall satisfaction.

Data analysis

The end-of-assessment questionnaire provided both quantitative and qualitative information. Quantitative data were analysed using SPSS statistical analysis software, while a thematic analysis was undertaken on the qualitative information. The reliability of dimensions included in each domain on the assessment tool was examined using Cronbach's alpha. Generally, the higher the Cronbach alpha value, the more reliable the domain is considered to be. A Cronbach alpha value of less than 0.7 would be deemed unacceptable. (23)

Results

Overall, there was a high level of satisfaction with the assessment guide (91%) and the guide was generally considered suitable for use in pre-school settings, provided some changes were made (94%). For example, in a number of cases the assessment guide took too long to complete (32%), and the rating scale was difficult to apply (31%) or inappropriate (13%)--particularly in sessional and childminding settings. In these, the requirement for separate ratings for infants, toddlers and pre-school or older children was challenged as being unnecessary and unduly complex, and one overall rating was proposed instead. Some preschool inspectors made positive comments about the assessment guide, such as: The overall tool is very good and achieves more than I expected. It is straightforward and achieves a very good balance between tick box and professional judgment.

In addition to post pilot-test observations from the pre-school inspectors, the Cronbach alpha values (see Table 2) demonstrate a high level of reliability for each domain, though some caution should be exercised in interpreting these values given the small number of assessments that were carried out as part of the pilot test.

Overall, the results of the pilot test suggested that, with some changes, an appropriate assessment guide for Regulation 5 was in place.

Next steps

Based on the pilot test results and following further workshops with the expert group, a number of changes to the assessment guide have been agreed. These relate specifically to the rating scale and the type and number of items used. The revised guide now comprises only 23 dimensions (see Table 3).

Each dimension is now assessed using a three-point rating scale:

* 'Inadequate'--not compliant

* 'Minimal'--compliant

* 'Good'--exceeds minimum requirements. The three separate ratings for infants, toddlers and other pre-school children were replaced by one overall rating. These changes not only addressed concerns raised by the pre-school inspectors during the pilot test, but also harmonise the assessment guide with the overall aim of inspections (to identify where a pre-school setting is compliant or not with the regulations).

Training in using the revised assessment guide has been completed with all preschool inspectors. Following a trial period, it is anticipated that inter-rater reliability testing and an evaluation will take place to identify if further changes are necessary. The assessment guide will be available via the HSE website.

Discussion and conclusion

The assessment guide was developed to assist pre-school inspectors in evaluating the extent to which individual pre-school settings support children in a holistic way. The intention is to support rather than replace professional decision-making in respect of Regulation 5 of the pre-school regulations, and by doing so to improve consistency and harmonisation across preschool inspections. It can also help inspectors to be more explicit about the areas that are working well and those that are not. The assessment guide can benefit providers by making overt the areas of practice and provision being assessed in inspections. This can provide them with opportunities to make appropriate changes if required.

The assessment guide is based on a socio-ecological understanding of children's lives and incorporates the breadth of children's lives. The guide built on Irish and international initiatives, including the on-going implementation of the national quality framework Siolta across Ireland. The guide is coherent with this framework, so can support good quality practice across the area. As other developments take place, it is likely that the guide will need to be reviewed to ensure that these are incorporated.

The involvement of professionally trained pre-school inspectors with considerable experience in the area of child development ensured construct validity of the guide, and enabled the development to bridge a policy-theory-practice gap in this area. Regulatory change has placed a whole-child perspective centrally within early childcare and education settings in Ireland. There is substantial national and international evidence on the impact of early years on children's wellbeing and well-becoming. The impact of childcare and education settings cannot be underestimated and good quality services are crucial. Regulation and its inspection have a key role in ensuring service quality, and the assessment guide can help inspectors, providers and especially children and their families, by making best practice in this area explicit.

References

(1) National Economic and Social Forum. Early childhood care and education (report number 31). Dublin: National Economic and Social Forum, 2005.

(2) Department of the Taoiseach. Towards 2016: 10-year framework social partnership agreement 2006 to 2015. Dublin: Stationery Office, 2006.

(3) Office of the Minister for Children. National childcare strategy: 2006 to 2010. Dublin: Stationery Office, 2006.

(4) Belsky J. Parental and non-parental child care and children's socio-emotional development: a decade in review. J Marriage and the Family, 1990; 52: 885-903.

(5) Sylva K, Melhuish E, Sammons P, Siraj-Blatchford I, Taggart B, Elliot K. The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: findings from the pre-school period. London: University of London, 2003.

(6) Government of Ireland. Child Care Act. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1991.

(7) Government of Ireland. Child care (pre-school services) regulations. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1996.

(8) Government of Ireland. Child care (pre-school services) (amendment) regulation. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1997.

(9) Duignan M, Walsh T. Insights on quality: a national review of policy, practice and research relating to quality in early childhood care and education In Ireland 1990 to 2004. Dublin: Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, 2004.

(10) Government of Ireland. Child care (pre-school services) (No.2) regulations. Dublin: Stationery Office, 2006.

(11) Government of Ireland. The national children's strategy: our children: their lives. Dublin: Stationery Office, 2000.

(12) Bronfenbrenner U. The ecology of human development: experiment by nature and design. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University, 1979.

(13) Bronfenbrenner U, Ceci SJ. Heredity, environment and the question how. In: Plomin R, McClearn G (Eds.). Nature, nurture and psychology. Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 1993.

(14) Bronfenbrenner U, Ceci SJ. Nature-nurture in developmental perspective: a bio-ecological theory. Psychological Review, 1994; 101: 568-86.

(15) Bronfenbrenner U, Morris P. The bio-ecological model of human development. In: Lerner RMV, Damon W, Lerner RMS (Eds.). Handbook of child psychology (volume one): theoretical models of human development. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2006.

(16) Ward H (Ed.). Looking after children: research into practice. London: Stationery Office, 1995.

(17) United Nations. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Geneva: United Nations, 1989.

(18) Border Counties Childcare Network. Quality development and accreditation programme: service evaluation system. Monaghan: Border Counties Childcare Network, 2005.

(19) Canadian Child Care Federation. Partners in quality: tools for practitioners in child care settings. Ottawa: Canadian Child Care Federation, 2000.

(20) Harms T, Cryer D, Clifford RM. Early childhood environment rating scale: revised (ECERS-R). Lewisville, North Carolina: Pact House, 2006.

(21) Jurkiewicz T. Preschool program quality assessment (second edition). Ypsilanti, Michigan: HighScope, 2003.

(22) Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education. Siolta: the national quality framework for early childhood education. Dublin: Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, 2006.

(23) Nunnaly J. Psychometric theory. New York: McGrawHill, 1978.

Key points

* Pre-school childcare regulations in Ireland incorporate a whole-child perspective

* Pre-school inspectors have professional training and experience in the area of child development, and almost all have a public health nursing background

* An assessment guide was developed to support professional decision-making in the inspection of the services provided for pre-school children, guided by a socio-ecological theory and national and international best practice, and assisted by an expert group

* The guide can assist inspectors, providers, and children and their families, by highlighting areas that are working well and those that need improvement

Sinead Hanafin PhD

Head of research, Department of Health and Children, Ireland

Anne-Marie Brooks MSc, DPHN

Research officer, Department of Health and Children, Ireland

Fiona McDonnell

National pre-school resource officer, Health Service Executive, Ireland

Helen Rouine BSc, DPHN

Pre-school officer (assistant director of public health nursing), Health Service Executive, Ireland

Imelda Coyne PhD

Associate professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
Table 1. Domains and dimensions (version one)

Domain              Dimension

Extent to which     1  Indoor environment is comfortable
the physical           and pleasant and is laid out to
or material            accommodate the needs of all
environment            children and adults in the setting
supports            2  Indoor environment provides a range
development            of developmentally appropriate,
                       challenging, diverse, creative and
                       enriching experiences for all
                       children
                    3  Materials are freely available and
                       easily accessible to all children
                       when needed
                    4  Outdoor environment is comfortable
                       and pleasant, and is laid out to
                       accommodate the needs of all
                       children and adults in the setting
                    5  Outdoor environment provides a
                       range of developmentally
                       appropriate, challenging, diverse,
                       creative and enriching experiences
                       for all children

Extent to which     6  Facility staff operate in
relationships          partnerships with parents and are
around are             responsive and sensitive in
supported              provision of information and
                       support of parents in their key
                       role in the child's learning and
                       development
                    7  Transitions are made as smooth as
                       possible for children
                    8  Opportunities are provided for
                       parents to be involved in
                       activities within the setting,
                       taking into account the range of
                       parents' interests and time
                       constraints
                    9  Provision is made that ensures
                       children can form and sustain secure
                       relationships with adults, siblings,
                       peers and other children and each child
                       receives appropriate support to enable
                       them to interact positively with other
                       children
                    10 Adults demonstrate sensitivity, warmth
                       and positive regard for children and
                       their families
                    11 A strong ethos of teamwork is evident in
                       the setting
                    12 Setting is integrated with local,
                       regional and national community

Extent to which     13 Eating and drinking
the personal care   14 Nappy changing or toileting
provided meets      15 Personal cleanliness
basic needs         16 Sleeping, quiet time or privacy
                    17 Mobility
                    18 Behaviour

Delivery of         19 Activities encourage and support
programmes of          stimulation of senses
care and            20 Activities encourage and support
activities             language development
                    21 Activities encourage and support
                       rhythm and movement activities
                    22 Activities encourage and support
                       dramatic play
                    23 Activities encourage and support
                       reasoning activities
                    24 Activities encourage and support
                       sand and water play
                    25 Activities encourage and support
                       construction activities
                    26 Activities encourage and support
                       art and music
                    27 Activities encourage and support
                       other activities (please specify)
                    28 Each child is enabled to participate
                       actively in the daily routine, in
                       activities, in conversations and in
                       all other appropriate situations, and
                       is considered as a partner by the adult
                    29 Each child has opportunities to make
                       choices, is enabled to make decisions,
                       and has their choices and decisions
                       respected
                    30 Each child has opportunities and is
                       enabled to take the lead, initiate
                       activity, be appropriately independent
                       and is supported to solve problems
                    31 The opportunities for play or
                       exploration provided for the child
                       mirror their stage of development,
                       give the child the freedom to achieve
                       mastery and success, and challenge the
                       child to make the transition to new
                       learning and development
                    32 Planning for curriculum or programme
                       implementation is based on the child's
                       individual profile, which is established
                       through systematic observation and
                       assessment for learning

Table 2. Cronbach alpha values for domain scales in the pilot
assessment guide

Domain                                   Alpha value
                          Infants        Toddlers       Children

Extent to which the       0.928 (n=15)   0.912 (n=17)   0.893 (n=22)
physical or material
environment
supports development

Extent to which           0.955 (n=13)   0.956 (n=15)   0.944 (n=21)
relationships around
are supported

Extent to which the       0.879 (n=15)   0.927 (n=17)   0.930 (n=22)
personal care
provided meets basic
needs

Delivery of               0.987 (n=9)    0.985 (n=13)   0.979 (n=18)
programmes of care
and activities

Table 3. Domains and dimensions (version two)

Domain                 Dimension

Extent to which the     1  Eating and drinking
personal care           2  Nappy changing or toileting
provided meets          3  Personal cleanliness
basic needs of the      4  Sleeping, quiet time or privacy
infants and children    5  Mobility
                        6  Behaviour
Extent to which         7  Provision is made that ensures children
relationships              can form and sustain secure relationships
around children are        with adults, siblings, peers and other
supported                  children and each child receives
                           appropriate support to enable them to
                           interact positively with other children
                        8  Adults demonstrate sensitivity, warmth and
                           positive regard for children and their
                           families
                        9  A strong ethos of teamwork is evident in
                           the setting
                       10  The staff of the facility operates in
                           partnerships with parents and are
                           responsive and sensitive in the provision
                           of information and support of parents in
                           their key role in the learning and
                           development of the child
                       11  Setting is integrated with local, regional
                           and national community
Extent to which        12  Indoor environment is comfortable and
the physical               pleasant and is laid out to accommodate
or material                the needs of all children and adults in
environment                the setting
supports               13  Indoor environment provides a range of
development                developmentally appropriate, challenging,
                           diverse, creative and enriching
                           experiences for all children
                       14  Materials are freely available and easily
                           accessible to all children when needed
                       15  Outdoor environment is comfortable and
                           pleasant and is laid out to accommodate
                           the needs of all children and adults in
                           the setting
                       16  Outdoor environment provides a range of
                           developmentally appropriate, challenging,
                           diverse, creative and enriching
                           experiences for all children
Extent to which        17  Activities encourage and support play
the programme of       18  Activities encourage and support language
activities and its         development
implementation         19  Each child is enabled to participate
supports                   actively in the daily routine, in
children's                 activities, in conversations and in all
development                other appropriate situations, and is
                           considered as a partner by the adult
                       20  Each child has opportunities to make
                           choices, is enabled to make decisions,
                           and has their choices and decisions
                           respected
                       21  Each child has opportunities and is
                           enabled to take the lead, initiate
                           activity, be appropriately independent
                           and is supported to solve problems
                       22  The opportunities for play or exploration
                           provided for the child mirror their stage
                           of development, give the child the freedom
                           to achieve mastery and success, and
                           challenge the child to make the
                           transition to new learning and development
                       23  Planning for curriculum or programme
                           implementation is based on the child's
                           individual profile, which is established
                           through systematic observation and
                           assessment for learning
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