Principles for high quality playgroups: Examples from research and practice

CFCA Practitioner Resource – September 2017

Playgroups are both strengths-based and strengthening

Recognise and value the strengths, skills and knowledge of carers while also offering a space to build on their strengths and capacities. Acknowledge the role of the carer as the child's first teacher. Build on carers' strengths and create opportunities for carers to contribute. Be collaborative and co-design the group with families.

High-quality playgroups focus on carers' strengths, or their capabilities and resources, recognising and valuing their strengths, skills and knowledge. Strengths-based approaches utilise strategies that identify and build on carers' existing skills and strengths, rather than focusing on their deficits and pathologies (Hunter & Price-Robertson, 2014; Holzer, Bromfield & Richardson, 2006). Within this approach, carers' resources, personal characteristics, interests and wishes are considered to be motivators and tools for positive change (Hunter & Price-Robertson, 2014). Research investigating parenting education programs aiming to prevent child maltreatment found more positive outcomes were achieved when programs used a strengths-based approach, compared to programs operating from a deficit perspective (Holzer, Bromfield & Richardson, 2006).

In alignment with the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (DEEWR, 2009), playgroups recognise that families are children's first and most influential teachers, and acknowledge families as partners. The framework encourages children and families to be respected and actively encouraged to collaborate to enhance the meaningfulness of learning experiences (DEEWR, 2009). Practitioners we spoke to told us this is apparent in supported playgroups when facilitators, who often have an early childhood education background, work in partnership with carers to co-produce/co-design the playgroup. Co-production/co-design of services involves a partnership between the service provider and the service user, in which decisions "about what, where, and how services are delivered are made jointly, with power shared equally" (Moore, McDonald, McHugh-Dillon, & West, 2016, p. 12). This is evident in supported playgroups when decisions around activities, routines and visiting specialists, for example, are made in partnership with carers.

Further, in their recognition of the carer's role as first and most influential teacher, supported playgroups have a focus on strengthening the capacity of carers so they are more supported in their caring role. Playgroups offer a space for carers to build on their strengths and capacities, providing opportunities for carers to strengthen their community connectedness, friendship and social networks. Through these new connections with other carers, and the chance to observe them with their children who are at similar stages of development, carers can informally learn from one another (Jackson, 2011). This type of peer support is also evident in community playgroups, and is defined as a way of giving and receiving help, based on the key principles of respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful. It rests on the idea that peers can, through shared experiences, empathetically understand one another's situation (Mead, Hilton & Curtis, 2001).

Supported playgroups further strengthen the capacity of carers by setting up specially targeted and facilitated learning opportunities. Facilitators can model appropriate play experiences, demonstrate high-quality parenting practices to carers, or model good nutritional practices through a focus on healthy eating at snack time, in an effort to enhance the parenting confidence and knowledge of carers. More explicitly, facilitators can arrange for professionals from a variety of services to attend playgroup to deliver key health messages, and playgroup can also provide a platform or setting for the delivery of programs promoting child and carer health outcomes (Commerford & Robinson, 2016).