Better technology for outside school hours care
Outside school hours care has changed forever with the introduction of the Child Care Subsidy, and it remains a critical offering. Executive Director and Head of Partnerships at LookedAfter, Darren Stevenson, outlines how technology is evolving to ensure long-term success.
The impact of the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) on outside school hours care is still being digested. Immediate focus has been on the financial impact to families, but less publicised is its impact on accelerated investment in technology that will benefit everyone.
The government has stated its intent to pay CCS only for hours that a child is cared for. To facilitate this, from January 2019 providers must record actual sign in and sign out times for each child at each session, which is prompting many to consider electronic solutions.
The introduction of technology to enable attendance management has huge productivity potential if rolled out correctly. It is essential that you can clearly identify who collected a child and when, in any time zone, and that you can present this information back to families and compliance officers in real time. Best-in-class systems strengthen compliance further, for example by automating headcount check alerts.
Many providers have bought or are considering electronic devices such as tablets to facilitate sign in and sign out. This is an expensive outlay and it is important to maximise usage. Connected to a good administration system, a tablet can be used to complete incident reports, child observations and other necessary forms and templates. It’s a golden opportunity to turbo-charge the role of educators and divert their time back to caring for children and designing better programs.
Complying written arrangements
Families intending to claim CCS from July must complete a Complying Written Arrangement (CWA), indicating their agreement to pay child care fees charged by the care provider. While the intent is good, a new CWA is required whenever a family accesses a new care provider or where the schedule of care changes.
It is common within Outside School Hours Care for families to access multiple providers, for example when using a different provider for Holiday Programs compared to that for After School Care. In addition, care is often provided on a casual or as-needed basis. Administering CWAs is a burden for providers who rely on paper forms or whose systems require a new arrangement each time information is updated.
Newer systems have anticipated the CWA process and have built processes to support it. At the leading edge, the CWA within the system covers multiple service providers and acknowledges that care is provided on a casual basis. Via electronic signatures, capturing CWA is done on account creation and is expected to be mostly a one-time exercise. It’s one less burden to worry about.
Enrolment and data privacy
CCS is not the only trigger for increased investment in child care technology. Data privacy is more important than ever, and it is surprising and alarming that many families are still asked to enrol via paper forms. Aside from the manual labour needed to type (or mistype) the information into a system, how securely is the form disposed of (including CRNs and credit card numbers with CVV codes)?
Aside from inefficiency and data security concerns, why burden families by asking them to enrol in a new system each time the provider changes, or asking them to resubmit payment details each time they wish to access a new program. Doesn’t this seem a little old-school?
Until recently schools and providers had little choice but to capture and manage information in this way. Small schools might not be of interest to outsourced solutions, and very large schools might have sufficient resources and desire to self-manage their programs but without the budget or know-how to build their own technology.
Fortunately, technology now exists for schools and providers of any size, location or complexity to run their own programs. With systems such as LookedAfter, schools and providers retain the responsibility (and profits and joy) of running the program, while taking advantage of world-class technology to handle back-office transactions such as bookings, attendances and invoicing.
Families benefit by being on one platform with consolidated invoicing, regardless of the provider or program attended.
Bookings and rostering
Families using outside school hours care increasingly demand greater flexibility and convenience to support busy work schedules. With this in mind, the outlook seems limited for systems that stop taking bookings at midnight (or 9-10pm in WA) prior to the session.
Booking deadlines have traditionally been justified by rostering difficulties and the need to remain compliant with respect to staffing ratios. Better technology now helps with this dilemma, with the ability to alert providers in real time to booking numbers and required staffing ratios. Standalone rostering software has also transformed to meet the needs of a flexible workforce, enabling automated shift creation based on booking demand.
These improvements enable online bookings to be taken or cancelled up to 60 minutes prior to the session start time, offering significant administrative time savings.
With so much information now being captured electronically, the opportunities to interpret and learn from it increase dramatically.
Dashboards with bookings, attendances and other important metrics are essential tools to help schools and providers learn sooner and make better decisions. This becomes even more important when running multiple programs, with the ability to see global reporting without having to download reports separately for each program.
The outlook has changed, and it’s bright
Schools and providers are already feeling the effects of the impact of CCS and new registration processes such as PRODA and the Provider Entry Point (PEP). Many have been forced into immediate change due to technology providers no longer being able to support them.
Running outside school hours care right now might seem hard, but solutions exist for schools and providers of any size wanting to retain ownership and make their programs even better.
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