A whole-child perspective assessment guide for early years settings.
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
Child care, pre-school, assessment, Ireland, assessment guide development
(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)
|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|
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.
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
* 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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
* '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.
(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.
* 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
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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