Wyndham Early Learning Activity Centre (WELA)
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles

Overview

Practice focus

WELA is a good example of an effective grassroots approach to responding the needs of children, families and their local community. The whole-of-community and inclusive approach to consulting with families and community members allows the WELA Centre to respond appropriately to the needs of the community and to deliver positive outcomes to children and the broader Kimberley community.

Delivered by

Wyndham Early Learning Activity Incorporated: A community-based organisation.

The information for this Promising Practice Proflie was provided through a telephone interview with the Manager of WELA.

Service type

Wyndham Early Learning Activity Centre (WELA) is a multicultural family centre for parents or primary care givers to provide and facilitate early learning opportunities for thier children. The aim is to encourage the promotion of children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development as well as providing a source of support for their parents and carers. WELA services are open to all parents/carers and children who were born and bred in the Kimberley region.

Location(s)

The Kimberley Region, Western Australia.

Description

The program was started in 2005 in response to a need identified through various Kimberley communities for a service that increased school readiness among children. Existing family support services at that time were not producing the desired outcomes that families sought for their children in those communities. The WELA centre was conceived as both a school readiness program and a family support service as part of a holistic approach to service delivery, where parents, carers and other community members could have a "voice" in their children's development and wellbeing.

Children's school readiness is influenced to a large degree by parents and for this reason, WELA adopts a "family-centered" approach to building the capacity of parents to facilitate a good education for their children. This means building the confidence of parents to speak with teachers and educators and to get them involved in their children's schooling. Often parents placed little value in education after having negative school experiences themselves, so WELA works to break down these negative perceptions and foster positive relationships between parents, carers, teachers and other community service workers.

WELA continually aim to produce the following outcomes:

  • develop the self confidence of children and parents;
  • foster an interest in imaginary and exploratory play;
  • develop children’s fine and gross motor skills;
  • enhance early literacy and numeracy skills;
  • develop organisational and self-help skills that will enable children to make a smooth transition into the primary school environment;
  • instill good food habits and a taste for a well-balanced and nutritious diet;
  • develop pride in their home language; and,
  • encourage competence and confidence in using Standard English.
Resourcing

WELA's core funding arrangements include:

  • 0-5 year programs are funded under the Communities for Children initiative;
  • the Community and Parent Engagement Program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR); and,
  • Prime Minister pledged $1.7 million for a new premises.

Practice

MOST promising aspect

As a "grassroots" organisation, where WELA staff, volunteers and community members worked together to plan and refine the service, a large degree of flexibility was written into the Incorporation Act by the community itself. This enables WELA services to more readily respond to family and community needs as they arise.

Other promising aspects

WELA staff actively engage parents/carers as part of an inclusive approach to bring other family members into the service to help foster positive educational experiences for their children. Teaching the parents how to parent provides them with opportunities to be more actively involved in their children's lives from birth. As a result, parents' confidence grows and they enjoy being positive role models for their children and are more willing to open up and further engage with the service.

Building the capacity of parents and carers is complementary to the services WELA provides directly to the children. In the early years of delivering WELA services, a lot of time was spent trying to contain the children. However, by viewing parents as "partners" in their children's learning and having the parents assist staff in keeping the children focused, the kids are more willing to engage with WELA staff and more time can be spent in actual learning activities.

Evidence base and opportunities

In every sense, the WELA Centre is entirley Aboriginal led and owned yet it is available to all non-Aboriginal families to promote a sense of social inclusion for all participants. This approach is key to WELA's effectiveness in facilitating vital and ongoing friendships, social support and community connections for the whole community. By employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as workers and volunteers and involving the wider community in the decisions surrounding the delivery of WELA's services, a sense of trust has been cultivated for the Centre, and community members are actively engaged in participating and refining the services. This trust is also a key feature to WELA's effectiveness in meeting the specific needs of families in the Kimberley community and its ability to promote the capacity of the community to deliver positive outcomes for its children and families.

Play-based learning is also known as an effective means to assist families with children that have additional needs, and playgroups act as a soft-entry gateway for families to access more intensive assistance and support where required. This is reflected and recognised in the achievements and awards the WELA Centre has received, and the reputation of WELA among other statewide agencies has been achieved without excessive promotion. This has allowed WELA staff and volunteers to focus on delivering effective face to face services to the Kimberley community and its families. However, WELA recognises the importance of capitalising on its credibility so that community advocacy can be enhanced and other supportive networks built - to enhance the capacity of the broader community to care and protect their children.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The program started in 2005 after a young Aboriginal Mum’s group that felt their needs were not being met by existing services in town. In 2006, in partnership with Joorook Ngarni Aboriginal Corporation, WELA became a Community partner with Save the Children and was piloted as a Communities for Children site. As a "grassroots" program, WELA's advisory committee is made up entirely of WELA clients who feel a sense of ownership over the program.

Currently there is only one non-Aboriginal person, the Program Manager, who administers the program. She was born and raised in the Kimberley and is familiar with the local community. She takes care of the letter writing and provides support for the Aboriginal staff and volunteers to deliver WELA's services to the community. She also teaches staff the necessary management and administrative tasks to enable the Centre to continue operating if funding no longer becomes available. Building this kind of capacity also helps the staff and volunteers to become leaders and mentors in the local community.

The site visits and programs delivered by WELA are delivered exclusively by local community members, including assessment interviews that help to develop and refine the program. WELA's core group of 10-12 workers are women who range from great grandmothers to a 16 year old youth. They help to identify the needs of families in the community on an informal basis through "yarning" and through practical support, such as talking to local teachers and other community members. These women also encourage parents to be on school councils or to attend council meetings as a way to foster greater parental involvement in their children's education.

The flexibility of WELA's program structure to respond to changing family and community needs was also achieved through the community's support. After the community rallied together with WELA to negotiate a less restrictive funding arrangement with the funding bodies, funding conditions were relaxed and community members were able to work with WELA to plan and write WELA's Incorporation Act. WELA was then free to continue to develop new services and refine its existing programs.

Cultural practices and materials

WELA does not believe in targeting services exclusively for Aboriginal people. The children and parents are encouraged to be inclusive of all people irrespective of their colour or background and all families from the Kimberley region are welcome at the service.

The program takes a holistic approach to service provision and WELA aims to be as responsive as possible to the needs of the Kimberley community. This is facilitated through WELA's flexible program structure. For example, the community gardens were established as a way to instil good nutrition and dietary habits in the children (and their parents) and to teach them where food comes from and how to grow it. It is also a gathering place for the community to share their recipes and discuss other community issues.

WELA recognises that minorities in the community can often have the biggest voice. Therefore, emphasis is placed on listening and responding to the voices of all community members when it comes to understanding their needs. This is achieved with the use of informal communication and engagement strategies that adopt everyday language and traditional customs. This allows WELA to connect and maintain healthy relationships with community members, build their trust and deliver services in a manner that they are comfortable with.

Evaluation

Evaluation status

An external/independent qualitative evaluation of the Communities for Children component of WELA's services has been undertaken by Curtin University. See Saggers S & Frances K 2009, Local Evaluation of East Kimberly Communities for Children Initiative for Children and Their Families: Final Report. Social Justice Research Centre.

Link to evaluation

See Saggers S & Frances K 2009, Local Evaluation of East Kimberly Communities for Children Initiative for Children and Their Families: Final Report. Social Justice Research Centre.

Effectiveness

Demonstrated outcomes

There is evidence from the Catholic School Board and the WA Department of Education to suggest children from local schools who have been involved in the program are learning more quickly and their attention is being held for longer periods. This is reflected in recent results of the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) and the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). Testing shows Wyndham children have performed better than in previous rounds of testing.

Other evidence

WELA received recognition of its work at the WA Department for Communities 2010 Children's Week Awards by winning the regional award for "Outstanding Children and Family Services".

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard acknowledged WELA's credibility and effectiveness when she recently visited the premises to open the WELA's new early learning centre.

The WA Commissioner for Children and Young People included the program in its "best practice" Building Blocks report (2012), which highlights outstanding local programs that are improving the lives of children and young people and their families, and contributing positively to their community.

Above all, WELA staff and volunteers report that they have seen the positive changes they've made to children's lives.

 

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