After school care pilot study a class act

Posted on 21 Aug 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors

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Children have played a key role in helping design a pilot program aimed at improving their own after school care experience.

Activities they had a hand in road-testing included robotics and computer coding to cooking, dancing, and knitting hats for people experiencing homelessness.

Based on their feedback, one activity was then selected to become a full-length program and tailored to meet each after school care community’s needs.

A collaboration between the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre and Uniting NSW.ACT, the Connect, Promote and Protect Program (CP3) gives children a say by allowing them to shape their own experience in after school care.

The first co-designed social connection and wellbeing program of its type, researchers believe after school care has the potential to play an important role in helping kids build meaningful social connections and boost their general wellbeing.

Researchers aimed to leverage the university’s mental health research expertise, combined with Uniting Early Learning’s commitment to children.

Study lead Dr Alyssa Milton said after-school-hours care (OSHC) programs are an important service for many Australian families.

“CP3 is special because it allows children’s voices and needs to shine, the program is in their language and on their terms,” she said.

OSHC is the fastest growing childhood education and care sector in Australia, catering to almost 500,000 children in 2020, according to the Productivity Commission.

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Children having fun as part of the CP3 after school care program.

A NSW Department of Education review found that after school care programs have the potential to become places where children’s wellbeing is actively supported.

Children and educators in the CP3 program work together to create unique activities that promote social and community connections with kids involved in the decision-making process and encouraged to take ownership of their wellbeing.

Dr Milton said the pilot program not only significantly improved participating children’s social behaviours and reduced conflicts with other children, but helped families, educators and volunteers feel connected to their community.

“This is important as social connection is a key determinant of wellbeing.”

"CP3 is special because it allows children’s voices and needs to shine, the program is in their language and on their terms."
Dr Alyssa Milton, University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre.

Uniting’s CP3 coordinator Kristin Ballesteros said she was "completely blown away" by the positive reaction to the program by children who took part.

“A woodwork activity was so successful that next term volunteers and families in the local community supported the children to build a chicken coop,” she said.

“The addition of baby chicks and an incubator allowed them to witness the hatching process.”

Kristin Ballesteros
Uniting NSW.ACT CP3 program coordinator Kristin Ballesteros.

Ms Ballesteros said that even through covid lockdowns, the program allowed the children to stay socially connected online.

“This transformed it into an educational experience that nurtured fine motor skills, caring for animals, understanding how pets can improve mental health, and fostering collaboration and communication skills.”

The first round of results from the pilot study have been published in the academic journal JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting and the program has now been rolled out across 12 rural, regional, and urban OSHC locations in New South Wales.

“When Uniting first partnered with the University of Sydney, we held a joint vision and dedication to exploring new ways to support children’s wellbeing in the often ’missed middle’ years,” said Ms Ballesteros.

“We hope the research delivers not only an evidence informed program but that our work in this area will also spark an interest and greater investment into the OSHC sector as a whole.”

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