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Role of regulatory bodies in early childhood education

Role of regulatory bodies in early childhood education

December 19, 2016 | By Ron Spreeuwenberg
This is a transcript of the Preschool Podcast, episode #23"Role of Regulatory Bodies in Early Childhood Education”.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things early childhood education.

In this week's episode we discuss the role of regulatory bodies in early-childhood education, by serving and protecting children and families with registration requirements, setting ethical and professional standards for ECE’s, and governing member conduct. Our guest Melanie Dixon is herself a registered early childhood educator and is the director of professional practice at the College of Early Childhood Educators in Ontario. Melanie sheds light on the purpose of a regulatory body, how and why it was created in Ontario, and the college's current and future priorities. If you're interested in learning more about how a regulatory body can serve the public interest as well as enhance the status of early childhood educators through a professional designation, then stay tuned for this week's episode of the Preschool Podcast.

It’s so great to have you as a guest on the show.

Melanie DIXON: My pleasure.

SPREEUWENBERG:So what is the role of the College of Early Childhood Educators?

DIXON: The College of Early Childhood Educators regulates the profession of early-childhood education here in Ontario. We do that by setting registration requirements to practice, establishing a code of ethics and standard practice, having an accountability mechanism and through complaints and discipline processes, and also having a public register of members.

SPREEUWENBERG: Why was it initially formed?

DIXON: The legislation - the Early Childhood Educators Act - passed in 2007 by the provincial government. Prior to that about 20 years of advocacy had gone on to get legislative recognition. That advocacy and promotion of early-childhood education as a profession had been started by advocacy bodies such as the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario. And that not too long after that once they opened, the Association francophone à l'éducation des services à l'enfance de l'Ontario - the Francophone Association, which started up a little later on in our history - they, as well as ECE’s and other interested stakeholders, had advocated for a legislative recognition. It had actually gone to the provincial legislature a couple of times as bills prior to 2007.

SPREEUWENBERG: Why was it initially formed?

DIXON: The legislation - the Early Childhood Educators Act - passed in 2007 by the provincial government. Prior to that about 20 years of advocacy had gone on to get legislative recognition. That advocacy and promotion of early-childhood education as a profession had been started by advocacy bodies such as the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario. And that not too long after that once they opened, the Association francophone à l'éducation des services à l'enfance de l'Ontario - the Francophone Association, which started up a little later on in our history - they, as well as ECE’s and other interested stakeholders, had advocated for a legislative recognition. It had actually gone to the provincial legislature a couple of times as bills prior to 2007.

SPREEUWENBERG: This is obviously unique association in Ontario. But how about in Canada or North America or globally, [are] there other associations that are similar to this?

DIXON: Just to be clear, we’re different from an association. We’re a regulatory body. And we are the only one of this nature in Canada, and you could really say in North America. You'll find variations of the profession being regulated in other countries. For example in Scotland there's the Scottish Social Services Council, which regulates social service-based professions, including early-childhood education. Then you might find them affiliated with and regulated along with teachers in some other countries. So not very common, but found in some other countries.

SPREEUWENBERG: Why is this regulatory body important?

DIXON: In passing the legislation the government was acknowledging that we are a distinct profession from other professions. There is a science behind what we do. There is certain set of skills, knowledge [and] values that are inherent to our profession. We look different from teachers, we look different from social workers. Early Childhood Educators are in positions of power and trust which is another reason why the government would want to ensure avoidance of harm to the young children and in some cases families that we serve, and also look for quality in the service being provided.

SPREEUWENBERG: Of early-childhood educators in Ontario, what would you say is the percentage that are part of the college and are registered? How has that changed over the years?

DIXON: Currently under the legislation, if you meet the registration requirements to be a member of the profession and you're working in scope of practice, you're required to be a member of the college. The scope of practice is defined in the legislation. And there are a couple particular environments in which, under other legislation, there are certain positions that are required also to be filled by RECE’s. That's in licensed childcare as well as in education in the kindergarten program here in Ontario. But again if you also want to use the title “early-childhood educator,” or “registered early-childhood educator,” and the designations, you need to be a member of that college because it's a protected title here in Ontario and protected designations.

SPREEUWENBERG: Can you tell us at a high level what the standards would be for being recognized as a registered ECE?

DIXON: To become a registered early-childhood educator we look at a number of criteria for registration. From an educational qualifications perspective it is the two-year diploma in early-childhood education from the Ontario College of Applied Arts and Technology. There are few other recognized programs here in Ontario and some in other jurisdictions across Canada that are on an approved list at this time. But an individual coming from a program, or internationally trained, can undergo an individual assessment. That's looking at educational qualifications. We're also looking at their capacity to work in Canada, their status as a citizen or an immigrant in Canada, language fluency and past conduct as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: Now these are some of the criteria to be recognized as a registered early-childhood educator in Ontario. How do you maintain your status? Is there anything you have to do on an ongoing basis?

DIXON: To maintain [their] status as a current member, [members] have to renew every year. They have a membership issue date, the date on which they became a member. They have to renew on and before that date every year, and maintain the standards of the profession. And also, effective this year in 2016 we are implementing a continuous professional learning program. Moving forward that is a requirement to be participating in that program as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: Can you just tell us a little bit more about that continuous professional learning program and what that is?

DIXON: Certainly. Members have to in their first year as a member - let's say you have a new grad. In their first year of practice they have to do an online module, it’s called “Expectations For Practice”. It takes about an hour to an hour-and-15 to complete. They have the year to complete it. When they go to do their first renewal they make to make a declaration. Did they complete it? It is at the beginning of their second year of practice that they will then begin a portfolio cycle. It's a two-year portfolio cycle whereby they do a self-assessment in relation to the code of ethics and standards of practice, come up with a plan with three learning goals for the next two years, and then document their activities.

SPREEUWENBERG: Have you received any feedback from the public or from early-childhood educators terms of the impact that this has had on them?

DIXON: Like I said there'd been advocacy for well over 20 years. We got the legislation, and definitely at the beginning people really didn't grasp what that really, fully meant. And so there's been a learning curve over the last almost eight years now, whereby members are becoming more aware of what it means to be part of a regulated profession that there are standards, that there's accountability. But what comes along with that again is that that public recognition that you are a professional. And when you communicate with pride that you are registered early-childhood educator, that communicates something to the public, in particular to parents and potential employers. You have standards; you're accountable to your practice and to your behaviours.

SPREEUWENBERG: This makes a lot of sense to me. Why haven't more jurisdictions adopted or implemented a regulatory body?

DIXON: I think the land was ripe; the seeds had been planted. There were a number of initiatives happening at the time, as well, that the college was created. The provincial government at the time had the Best Start Initiative and they were looking at a curriculum in 18-month-old baby visits and relooking the kindergarten program. And so there were a number of factors that just sort of led to this being a good time for them to regulate the profession.

SPREEUWENBERG: Would you foresee other jurisdictions implementing a regulatory body over time?

DIXON: I think there has definitely been interest. We have visitors who may come from other jurisdictions in Canada, and we've had more recently this past fall someone from the United States come to connect and ask about professionalization of early-childhood education. It has happened in other countries as well. At some level there has to be openness from the government, receptivity and advocacy from the profession itself. There [are] a number of factors that at play.

SPREEUWENBERG: We talked a little bit about how you become recognized under the college of ECE’s and how you maintain your status. What about in terms of accountability? How do you hold registered ECE’s accountable to their position and their status?

DIXON: We have a code of ethics and standards of practice. We had our first set there in bylaw, actually, so they're framed in legislation. They were first published in February of 2011. We're in the process of reviewing those standard right now and we'll have a fresh, updated code and standards by the by the end of Spring 2017. We also have a professional regulation from their complaints-and-discipline perspective. So if any member of the public - that could be an employee or a parent, a colleague, literally anybody from the public who has a concern about a member’s conduct, their competence or their capacity to practice – can call to college with their concern. We're here to answer any questions they may have. However they can file also file an official complain if the concern is severe enough, so the college can investigate the circumstances [and] collect any documentation. The member has an opportunity to respond. It's not anonymous so the member knows who has filed the complaint. And then the Complaints Committee undertakes to look at that file. They could choose to take no action, if it's not our jurisdiction. They could choose to remind the member through a formal written decision about their ethical and professional standards and where they might not have been upholding them. And if they feel that there is strong evidence that there's been professional misconduct they can direct the registrar to charge the member with professional misconduct and then the members refer to the discipline committee for a hearing. And that's open to the public. We're talking very serious situations: failure to supervise abuse, conduct unbecoming of the profession.
SPREEUWENBERG: I suppose then there's potentially also some overlap with if there's any criminal investigation or anything as well, potentially…?

DIXON: Sometime what happens is, sometimes we find out about a situation or it's reported to us that a charge has been laid. Oftentimes we’ll let that system play itself out. We'll take action but we'll also wait out the legal/criminal proceedings to happen because we're able to use that to impart some of that evidence as well, in some cases.

SPREEUWENBERG: That’s kind of an independent part in a lot of ways to then how you would evaluate that from your perspective as the College. Now, it would take quite a few resources to run the regulatory body and conduct these assessments and membership and all this stuff. How is that funded?

DIXON: It is funded entirely on membership fees. There is a one-time application fee of $75, and an initial registration fee of $150. And then that $150 is the annual renewal fee for members. We register, renew, have ethical and professional standards and resources to support that, the Continuous Professional Learning Program and then the complaints-and-discipline processes. [These] are all the functions that we have to do, and that's what we use the membership funds for.

SPREEUWENBERG: How about the college itself? How do you maintain accountability to your mission and vision? [Are] there any checks and balances in place there?

DIXON: We have the governance structure of the colleges, the council. We've been given the privilege to self-regulate and that comes through the governance structure. The government - the province of Ontario - gave us the Early Childhood Educators Act to enact. Where self-regulation comes in is that you have 14 registered early-childhood educators who have been elected by registered early-childhood educators. They bring the voice of the profession to the table. But remember we regulate in the public interest. So we have 10 public appointees who are appointed by the government. They are accountable and must report to the Minister of Education on a yearly basis in terms of the activities of the College.

SPREEUWENBERG: Where would these individuals come from, in terms of background?

DIXON: We divide the province into eight regions. Every year we have two or three regions that are up for re-election. Currently we just announced three of the regions that are up for re-election and members - registered early-childhood educators, in good standing - can run for re-election, and they're elected by ECE’s. And as I mentioned earlier the government appoints the public appointees. They could come from a variety of different areas of the sector. The idea is that they're bringing the public voice to the table and ensuring that the decisions at the governance body and the council are being made truly in the best interests of the public.

SPREEUWENBERG: Typically the public appointees would have some familiarity with early-childhood education, or not necessarily?

DIXON: They may, not necessarily. We have currently an accountant on there, someone who might specialize in communications, some with a background in education. So it really varies.

SPREEUWENBERG: What are some of the previous successes of the college?

DIXON: We're going to be officially eight years old on Valentine's Day. February 14th, 2009 was when the act was fully proclaimed and we had an official first council and such. Registration at that time was very quick. We grew very quickly when we first started. Considering how quickly we were growing we did manage to accomplish some pretty significant milestones, including developing a code of ethics and standards of practice and getting the core functions in place. One of the big pieces of development that happened was around the Continuous Professional Learning program.

One of the successes in terms of looking to how we tested out the framework for the CPL program was through a couple of leadership pilots. We also launched the CPL program in a voluntary fashion prior to getting the regulations. That allowed some time for members to become familiar with the program and start to build some engagement and understanding there.
SPREEUWENBERG: Why do you think that the college put a prioritization on continuous professional learning?

DIXON: As soon as we had the ethical and professional standards - of which from there you can see reference to the need to continue learning, and that as a profession and we value lifelong learning - we were already getting questions from not only members but from stakeholders around, “What do I need to do to stay current? What are your expectations of me? How are you going to hold members accountable and help ensure their ongoing learning and competence?”

SPREEUWENBERG: Are there other initiatives that are high on the College’s priority list at the moment?

DIXON: Rolling out CPL is pretty significant. We're also taking a look at entry-to-practice readiness. Initially when we started it was based on, the regulation was set up to be that two-year diploma in early childhood education. What are some other mechanisms that we can help to ensure that individuals entering the profession are ready to practice? That's one of the things we're looking at right now.

SPREEUWENBERG: We talked a little bit about the College, how it works. We talked a little bit about registered ECE’s as members of the college. What about the profession, generally? First of all what you see is some of the challenges in early-childhood education at the moment?

DIXON: At the moment we've undergone significant change and continuous, significant change for a number of years. Just over the past eight years since the college was regulated - never mind the eight years prior to that - we've seen an implementation of the full-day kindergarten program which saw RECE’s being partnered with the teachers in kindergarten, which was a big shift. We've seen the shift of childcare and family support programs and special-needs resourcing going from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services over to the Ministry of Education. Fairly significant legislative changes: the repealing of the Day Nurseries Act and the new Child Care and Early Years Act, significant policy changes, all good stuff. Great stuff. The creation of the College, all of that really lends to the growth of the sector. It’s just a lot for people to take in.

SPREEUWENBERG: The pace and the scope is a lot to take in. There's been a lot of change, for sure. Like you said, all for the best, but it’s a lot, absolutely. On the flip side, what's exciting you the most about what's happening in early-childhood education right now?

DIXON: I think there are a lot of alignments as well. If you look at the updated legislation that are on the Child Care In Early Years Act and policy directions, such as, “How does learning happen?”, the new CPL program - there's a lot of alignments and we're hearing that from the profession as well. Through this process of reviewing our code of ethics and statements of practice and this revised version that we've been out consulting with, they say, “Okay, it's making sense. These standards are even clearer for us because they're fitting with what's going on around.”

I'm really excited about the potential around the Continuous Professional Learning program. That's based on the two leadership pilots we ran. The framework for those pilots was the CPL program. The learning and the depth of learning that happened in those pilots for those few RECE’s - I think if people engage, even at a very minimal level, if you think of 50000 RECE’s engaging and being reflective and purposeful and finding the learning meaningful for them, the potential for growth as a profession and the impact that that can have on the children and families and people they work with.

SPREEUWENBERG: I suspect part of the really important part of continuous professional learning is obviously the content, but I suspect also just the process of annually or wherever the time frame is of going back and, like you said, reflecting on what you do as an early-childhood educator in itself I think very valuable as well.

DIXON: It’s aligning the idea of making the learning meaningful to you. What what's the role you work in? What’s the setting? What are some of the realities for you? What are some of your areas of interest, your needs for growth based on your reflection of the code of ethics and standards of practice? And finding opportunities to engage in learning that go beyond what we would traditionally view, which is attending workshops and conferences and courses. What can you do in your practice setting, in communities and practice and online, in partnership with others in your community? I think that the power of RECE’s coming together to network and learn together is going to be also where a lot of this [and] some good synergies have the potential to make some good things happen. And recognizing that they are professionals and that they then communicate to parents what it is they're doing, and then that helps build the public trust.

SPREEUWENBERG: A lot of it has to come from the ECE’s themselves, too. 100 percent. Now, if I'm listening to this podcast and I want to go check out the College of Early Childhood Educators, where would I go?.

DIXON: Go to our website, College-ECE.ca. It's the number one source of information for members of the college, people from the public who are interested. Lots of great resources available there also for members and employers and others interested in early-childhood education.

SPREEUWENBERG: Well, Melanie, thanks so much for joining us as a guest on the Preschool Podcast. I think the role of the College in Ontario based on our conversation, I can certainly see tremendous value, even [as] a quite a young organization in terms of the history of regulatory bodies. And I can see a lot of interesting things that can be done going forward with the college, as well [as] playing a super key role in early childhood education in Ontario and increasing professionalism for early-childhood educators, also. Very important. Thanks again for coming on the show.

DIXON: My pleasure. Thank you very much, Ron.

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