Katherine Isolated Childrens Service

Question 1 – How have you adapted service delivery in response to the bushfires, floods and Coronavirus pandemic? When has it worked and when hasn’t it worked? How will this affect how you deliver services in the future? Have your service adaptations included better integration with other initiatives?

KICS remote mobile playgroup service suspended its travels to Indigenous communities and pastoral stations in the NT from 17th March (term 1) until 19th July2021 (first week of term 3) on recommendation from the NTG, communities and company policies. This meant that 2 full time staff due to be employed in April could no longer be offered their positions, and a part time admin assistant chose to take retirement. KICS was able to send postcards to our families (clients) and partnered with United Way Australia to coordinate 550 boxes of stationery and craft supplies donated by 3M to be posted to all our children (clients) living remotely. The distribution of these were greatly helped by our stakeholder friends in schools, FaFT and creche centres in Indigenous communities. KICS usually visits over 50 venues on rotation, so the number of visits was reduced in 2020. KICS is funded through the IAS and NIAA after the changes made to BBF services and our removal from the Dept. of Education, although prior to DoE, KICS was funded through DSS and DEEWR. The inability to travel and facilitate playgroups has seriously impacted KICS’ ability to meet its KPIs in its IAS funding contract. Our children (clients) and their families are in a high risk category and our service delivery model involves travel from one venue to the next, with four playgroups per week at a different venue each time. Being a mobile service means that staff have to be super vigilant with their toy cleaning regime, although that was already in place. KICS has offered 2 full time positions to staff beginning in April 2021 who currently live in Victoria. We hope that they will be able to begin their contract without further costs incurred by KICS due to border closures or quarantine requirements. KICS children and families (clients) are already socially and geographically isolated, living in the most remote areas in the country. Having an Early Childhood service visit them is imperative not only to encourage their children’s learning journey but for the mental health of parents and caregivers. COVID-19 has further marginalised our families (clients) and our playgroup and parent information services are needed now more than ever.

Question 2 – Are the proposed key outcomes for the families and children programs the right ones? Are there any major outcomes missing? How can we include strengths-based outcomes that focus on family or child safety?

KICS collects demographic data from its playgroup participants but this data is currently not required under the IAS funding stream. The IAS funding is focussed on Indigenous employment and we feel that this ignores our service delivery and reporting of outcomes and our success and achievements as a relevant Early Childhood service. We would like to report our outcomes! However, as our playgroups focus on children 0-5 and their families/carers, many of the measurements are anecdotal and subjective. We can easily record venues, ages, gender and number of attendees but the satisfaction of attending playgroup is something that would need a very good measurement tool that could be used easily in a remote environment, often with people who have English as a second (or third, fourth) language. Also, KICS mobile playgroup visits children and families who have little or no access to current services, and aim to visit twice a term or eight times a year. There can be transience and movement of our families (clients) so ‘registering’ with a lot of paperwork and following up with surveys can be more difficult than with a sign-on sheet and a simple assessment tool. KICS is a small, incorporated association with one admin/coordinator staff and 2-4 full time playgroup facilitators in the field and is governed by a Board of volunteers who live remotely. KICS does not have the same capacities as larger organisations.

Question 3 – What tools or training would support you to effectively measure and report outcomes through the Data Exchange Partnership Approach?

KICS is currently funded under IAS funding through the NIAA and as such does not use the DEX tool. KICS has members who have signed on to the service through an online or paper enrolment form but KICS playgroups are open, inclusive and welcoming. KICS welcomes any child with a parent, carer or educator at playgroup. As mentioned in the answer to the previous question, KICS aims to visit twice a term or eight times a year, weather and access permitting. KICS remote mobile playgroup services socially and geographically isolated children and families with little or no access to services. Although some children and families enjoy multiple visits with KICS playgroups throughout the year, some do not due to transience, access or other unknown factors resulting in piecemeal attendance. We would not like this to reflect badly on the KICS mobile playgroup service as a large body of evidence based research suggests access to Early Childhood play based learning is extremely important.

Question 4 – Do you already have a program logic or theory of change outlined for your program? Did you find the process useful? If you do not have one, what has stopped you from developing one? What capacity building support would assist service providers to develop program logics and theories of change?

KICS has a strategic plan in review with its current Board which is similar to a program logic or theory of change. However, further investigation and consideration would require professional learning in the area and that requires monies to be taken from operational funding which is already stretched. KICS has operated in the Big Rivers / Greater Katherine region since being incorporated in 1989, over 30 years ago. It promotes a play-based learning philosophy with an emphasis on relationship building between playgroup staff, children, families, carers, educators and other stakeholders. There are many similar, evidence based programs but for KICS to train staff and use the program franchise, this would again cost funds that cannot be currently allocated due to budget constraints. Also, the KICS remote mobile playgroup service delivery is extremely unique in the vastness of the area it covers and in its staff camping in the field in order to bring the joy of play based learning to remote families with little or no access to services. Where professional learning opportunities arise in the region, either in Katherine or Darwin, then KICS staff are encouraged to attend and incorporate their learnings into the playgroup delivery. Staff have completed Abecedarian training, Let’s Count and Let’s Read training, Walker Learning training and an introduction to Reggio Emilio philosophy. All of this informs how playgroups are programmed, planned, set up and run but as yet, we have not paid to incorporate an evidence based approach because of our unique service delivery.

Question 5 – If longer-term agreements are implemented, how can the department work with you to develop criteria to measure and demonstrate performance? How can the Data Exchange better support this?

KICS is currently funded by IAS through the NIAA. Our current contract is 2 years, the previous one was 18 months. Prior to that KICS was a Budget Based Funded (BBF) service with the Dept. of Education. Prior to that we were with DSS and DEEWR. I have been employed as coordinator for almost six years and have been in four different government departments. Under the NIAA I have had 5 or maybe 6 different funding managers in the past 2 years. KICS services those children and families who have little or no access to existing services and has a unique service delivery. As a small organisation, KICS has some flexibility in its service delivery to change venues and locations depending on where young children are currently living. However, due to no real, actual increase in funding, but greater maintenance costs, KICS has had to cut back 2 of its full time positions to be a contract position. Still, even with these cutbacks, our full time staff get paid award wage that is half what a FaFT educator is paid. If we are to attract degree qualified staff then we must be able to pay them what they deserve. KICS currently markets its available positions as a lifestyle choice, facilitating playgroup, travelling long distances in spectacular country and camping in the gorgeous Northern Territory. Its an adventure! But it is also hard, albeit rewarding work and our staff deserve more. They currently camp in swags overnight during the week. We are saving quite a bit of money through this endeavour, and it enables our service to reach far and wide into those places where socially and geographically isolated children and families are living.
KICS prides itself on its reputation and relationships with children, families, carers, educators and stakeholders. It is only by communicating and working effectively with others that KICS is able to enjoy its excellent service provision, engagement and attendance. So much so, that the Isolated Children’s Parent’s Association (ICPA Federal) is currently lobbying for a similar service, or for KICS, to be extended in the Alice Springs region where many children and families are missing out on Early Childhood services. KICS has repeated requests from families outside of our 750,000 sqkm area for visits, that we must decline due to our services already being stretched to the limit. If we had the money, we could put on another team in the dry season (April-October) and their itinerary would be full. We are happy to report on attendance and demographic data, but as mentioned previously, the IAS acquittal process is vastly different from the data we provided as a BBF organisation.

Question 6 – What does success look like for your service, and how do you assess the overall success of your service?

KICS records quantitative date including number of venues, repeat visits, number of attendees including adults, ages, gender and whether attendees identify as Indigenous. However, success for KICS is robust and continual improvement of communication with over 100 families and contacts in over 50 venues. KICS visits 24 Indigenous communities and small townships and communicates with families, principals, preschool and transition teachers, FaFT educators, creche educators, health clinic staff, other program coordinators, local council representitives, police, local stores, and anybody else who can help spread the word that playgroup is coming to town so flyers can be displayed, mothers with young children can be encouraged to come along and stakeholders can work collaoratively together for better outcomes for children and families. KICS most definitely does not work in a ‘silo’.
KICS’ success as a remote mobile playgroup and parent information service is very subjective and reflected in the good relationships that continue with children, families and friends. Success looks like happy, smiling, engaged children discovering cause and effect or making something with their hands. Success looks like mothers talking to each other at playgroup, making comparisons and sharing stories to relieve the isolation of not only being a mother of young children, but doing it away from any support systems. Success looks like children running and yelping for KICS staff the next time they see them, and annoying parents and carers asking for when KICS will come next? Success looks messy; playdough everywhere, food dye on faces, paint on hands and camp dogs, slime all over the grass, wet bodies running around giggling wildly! Success is observing children discover new things and master concepts; KICS takes photographs at playgroups which are printed and stored in folders to be shared at the next playgroup, these visual records are extremely important for parents to be see developments but also for a sense of community in the ‘KICS family’. KICS’ objective is to visit socially and geographically isolated children and families who have little or no access to services and bring them play based learning opportunities. Feedback from children and families is often anecdotal and informal but always appreciative of bringing the joy of play based learning to remote families.

Question 7 – Do you currently service cohorts experiencing vulnerability, including those at risk of engaging with the child protection system? If not, how does service delivery need to adapt to provide support to these cohorts?

KICS objective as written in its constitution is to bring playgroup activities to socially and geographically isolated children with little or no access to services. KICS visits 24 Indigenous communities and small townships as well as over 40 pastoral stations, which can change due to families moving. Around 73% of children who attend playgroup identify as Indigenous with 27% of children who do not. Although KICS is a Registered Charity we apparently do not qualify for Deductible Gift Recipient Status as KICS visits both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and families living remotely. KICS’ application for DGR status was not supported “because non-Indigenous children living in isolation are not considered to be a group that has benevolent needs.” (Marion Hopkins ACNC 5/06/2018) This decision by the ACNC (which is linked to ATO reasoning) that non-Indigenous children living in isolation are not considered to be at a disadvantage contradicts the most recent Australian Early Development Census National Report 2018 published in March 2019.
Children living in Very Remote areas in Australia in 2018 were more than twice as likely as those living in Major Cities to be developmentally vulnerable on one or two domains (45.5 and 20.8%). They were also three times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains (30.3 and 10.2%). Quite obviously these developmental vulnerabilities for remote children need to be addressed before a child gets to school age. Please note that I have only taken note of geographical location of remoteness as an indicator of developmental vulnerability to highlight the reason KICS visits all children, Indigenous and non-Indigenous who are socially and geographically isolated in the greater Katherine/ Big RIvers region. Indigenous children face further disadvantage of which I am sure the Federal and NT governments are all too aware.
KICS is a ‘soft entry point’ for young children and new mothers in their education and learning journey. In some instances, schools can be intimidating and a barrier to particpation. KICS playgroups occur outdoors in a culturally appropriate way and are open and inviting to everyone. Children will come to playgroup and may have a mother, aunty, grandmother, father or governess with them. It takes time to build trust in any community and KICS has developed its play based learning program to break down barriers to participation. It helps to have absolutely wonderful staff who are able to communicate effectively and appreciate the priviledge it is to visit communities, families and the Northern Territory. As mentioned previously KICS goes to great lengths to communicate effectively with families and stakeholders but is yet to develop its relationship in depth with Territory Families.

Question 8 – If you are a Children and Parenting Support or Budget Based Funded service provider, do you currently link with a Communities for Children Facilitating Partner or other regional planning mechanism to understand what other services are provided in the community and what the community identifies as their needs? How does this work in practice? Would you value the increased support of being attached to a local Facilitating Partner?

KICS is a Budget Based Funded Service but was moved out of the Dept. of Education with the changes to the childcare scheme to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) funding stream through the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). KICS is a member of Early Childhood Australia ECA, National Association of Mobile Services NAMS, SNAICC and NTCOSS, Isolated Children’s Parent’s Assocaition ICPA and the Big Rivers Early Years Network. Out of interest and to keep abreast of available services in the region, the KICS Coordinator attends the Communities for Children Facilitating Partner (CfC) Communities for Children Committee (CCC) meetings with The Smith Family in Katherine and the CHAIN meetings organised by Save the Children. KICS regularly organises children’s events on the school holidays in Katherine in which the most recent KICS Literacy Festival included 20 service providers coming together for a very enjoyable morning promoting early literacy, craft, play and a sense of community. KICS considers the importance of working together with other service providers and in the Katherine region this is something that seems to currently work well and is improving. However, staff retention in all services is of importance to the relationships that have been established but may get overlooked with staff turnover. As mentioned previously, KICS is a mobile service and as such only has an office and storage shed in Katherine and does not have a centre based service. KICS has the ability to travel and mobilise resources to public areas in town and to remote communities.
It may also be worth mentioning that KICS has won many awards in recent years, including Most Outstanding BBF service (NTECA 2016), NAPCAN award (2016), Australia Day Community Event of the Year (Katherine 2019), Katherine Chamber of Commerce Most Outstanding Not for Profit and Most Oustanding Community Engagement (2019) at the NT Early Childhood Awards.

Question 9 – For all providers, are there other ways to improve collaboration and coordination across services and systems?

KICS has an impressive spreadsheet of contacts in its vast Big Rivers / greater Katherine region. This information is currently being migrated to a new platform for communication through ePublisher to allow for greater ease of sending electronic newsletters that contain images, PDFs and links to other organisations. This platform also allows for emails and surveys to groups of people. The KICS Coordinator communicates effectively with other services in Katherine and in the region and has further used the NTG School Holiday Program funding the faciltate links between organistions, working together to bring life to free, pubic events for families in what essentially looks like alot of fun! The KICS Coordinator reaches for opportunities for its kids and families (clients) at every opportunity and these provide further links for families to other organisations such as the Indigenous Literacy Foundation books for communities, United Way Australia and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, GIVIT and donations including pencils, books and corporate donations from Hanes (Bonds) of socks, jock and onesies which are very much appreciated by families living remotely.
As a remote, mobile playgroup service KICS relies heavily on communication with families and stakeholders. There is always a fair amount of movement of staff and families so it is a continual process to update databases and contacts lists to keep abreast of the best contacts in each area. This can be tricky without an admin assistant and only a parttime coordinator. The Coordinator was integral in opening the Early Years Network from mainly preschool teachers in Katherine to include all Early Childhood service providers in the Big Rivers region. This is a great way to meet and communicate, but obviously travel distances prevent many from meeting in person. Professional Learning is another way for services to come together, although unfortunately in this region they are few and far between.

Question 10 – The capability building support offered under Families and Children Activity programs has gone through several iterations. What works well? What do you think should change?

KICS is an incorporated association governed by a Board of volunteers who all live remotely. KICS employs Field Team staff to travel and facilitate playgroups and this includes both resource and vehicle maintenance, of which there is quite a lot. In the office there is one part time coordinator to attend to admin, communication, logistics, resource management, staffing, finances etc. KICS would be interested in incorporating a relevant evidence based program into its remote, mobile playgroup service but at the moment its resources are incredibly stretched due to operational funding not being as generous as we would desire. We appreciated the funding that we do receive as it allows the service to continue, but the uncertainty of funding rounds, short contracts, unachievable KPIs and general inability to squeeze a unique service delivery into a ‘one size fits all’ approach means that capability building isn’t high on the agenda for a small service trying to keep its head above water. Staff are encouraged toward training that will improve the service delivery, but any long term training would diminish KICS ability to actually provide its playgroup service, and would need to be accessible to staff in Katherine and for new staff. Trips to Darwin require accommodation which puts further constraints on the budget. KICS is interested in joining together with other organisations for capability building opportunities and has done so recently with governance training as an example.

Question 11 – Aside from additional funding, how can the department best work with you to support innovation in your services while maintaining a commitment to existing service delivery?

KICS has a successful service delivery because of its continuity over a 30+ year period, despite changes to departments and funding streams and having a very tight operational budget. As a small organisation, KICS enjoys some flexibility in its service delivery and being able to incorporate new programs and changing venues. KICS would appreciate the development and incorporation of an evidence based program to include in its remote mobile playgroup and parent information service, but the uniqueness of both the region and cohort is of the utmost importance to find the most appropriate program. There are a number of mobile playgroup programs in different regions who use different approaches and have different operating schedules and cohorts. Although there are similarities, there are many differences in both the region and the cohort. KICS would there urge caution in the effort to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach as the KICS service is unique in its far ranging delivery of its playgroup service. There have always been requests for the KICS service to extend its already very large range, or for similar services in areas of the NT where there are no such services. KICS advocates for Early Childhood opportunities for all socially and geographically isolated children. There are some absolutely wonderful programs operating in remote locations such as FaFT, but due to financial factors, there will always be those children who do not have access to remote programs because there is not enough young children to justify the costs of a place based service. This is where mobile services such as KICS are imperative in giving socially and geographically isolated children an opportunity to experience play based learning, even if it is not every day or indeed every week. Occasional, rotational Early Childhood opportunities are still developmentally beneficial and better than nothing at all. There are children without such opportunties and KICS wishes we could visit them all!

Question 12 – Is there anything else you would like to share about the ideas and proposals in the Discussion Paper?

KICS respectively directs you to the Productivity Commission’s report on Expenditure on Children in the Northern Territory and the Senate inquiry into Remote Education, in particular Early Childhood Education.