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It’s on for young and old

Experiments to merge aged care with childcare are showing plenty of benefits for residents, and staff, reports Megan Stoyles.

Australian aged care services are moving to closer relations with childcare centres, aiming to not only foster intergenerational social activities but also to help recruit and retain staff.

The arrangements include informal social activities in facilities, planned mixing of the age groups and co-located services.

These intergenerational activities promote the positive effects for both residents and children. The growing Eden Alternative movement in Australian aged care has as one of its basic tenets moving children into facilities.

The positive ideas are being adopted by innovative aged care providers and industry advisers. One zwell known operator, James Underwood, owns seven childcare centres in Queensland that have strong links with aged care services.

One barrier is that few sites, existing or planned, have the land for co-located facilities. And even the strongest proponents admit to challenges in getting such services up and running.

The Sundale organisation in Queensland, led by industry leader Glenn Bunney has been an early proponent of the Eden Alternative. But this is only one reason for their pioneering activities at their Kilcoy facility, about 100 kilometres north of Brisbane, believed to be the first co-located site in Australia,

“Others have been built close by but I’m not aware of any location where childcare and aged care share the same building,” Bunney told INsite.

“Our workforce includes a significant number of younger people, so co-location was a deliberate strategy to ensure ongoing availability of employees as the general aged care workforce is ageing and the lack of available and flexible childcare is a great impediment to younger people continuing in the workforce.

He said they would build co-located centres where it made sense but it unlikely that childcare would become a large business for them.

“We believe intergenerational contact is positive for all concerned – and this has clearly proved to be the case. We have even had times when grandchildren or great grandchildren of aged care residents have been at the childcare centre.

Alison Ham, the Kilcoy site manager covering the Residential Aged Care facility (RACF); community care and childcare, was responsible for establishing childcare at Kilcoy.

“Our commitment to person-centred care and the Eden Philosophy led to starting an Outside School Hours Care program within the facility. The benefits to the children and the residents were very clearly seen, but due to the school-aged care growing, we could no longer work from the activities room at the facility.

“When our organisation became part of the Sundale group, we were able have the childcare centre built on the site and could once again get about the business of bringing together Kilcoy’s elderly with Kilcoy’s children.

“Our childcare centre is under the RACF, taking advantage of the lie of the land to provide viewing areas for the eldersand their family to sit listening to the sound of the children playing.

Ham said that several of the team work between the two care areas.

“Our childcare team receive basic aged care training so they are able to assist if required. Our admin and maintenance is shared by both areas and our lifestyle co-ordinator works closely with the kindergarten teacher to ensure that we are able to integrate as many activities as we can.

“The children from the childcare centre, supervised by childcare members regularly visit elders, including those in the secure wing. The children talk to elders one-to-one, sing, and celebrate their birthdays, which are a great cause for celebration.

“It never ceases to amuse me when a child looks up at one of the elders and asks ‘what did your mummy give you for your birthday?’

“Our elders get to know the children, seeing them grow and develop.While so many families are fractured and children often do not have a steady role model, an older person who can take the time to listen, to play with them is so beneficial.

“We are able to provide childcare on site for team members, and there is a great feeling knowing your children are so close. Shared admin and maintenance help to reduce costs.”

Ham sees a few disadvantages with some elders not enjoying spending time with children and some who are visually impaired are sensitive to the noise from the play ground.

She advises other facilities not to even start planning co-location unless the manager, senior clinicians, lifestyle co-ordinator, and director of childcare centre are all “extremely supportive”.

From a business perspective she cautions that it’s break even at best when you only have one or two childcare facilities. She said the government continues to increase requirements without commensurate funding, including requiring qualified teachers. This determines the facility’s level of income and can make decisions around parent contributions unaffordable for some families.

The Kilcoy experience was investigated by Strathearn aged care in Scone, NSW, along with other developments in Victoria and Tasmania.

Strathearn’s CEO Matt Downie said they undertook significant community research as well as detailed demographic/economic studies.

“Whilst we focused on the community’s needs in relation to aged care services and accommodation to plan for our future, the need for childcare came up as well,” he said.

“As an organisation which we needed to grow significantly over the next five years, and with a workforce already facing issues of access to childcare, this is one of the key issues facing current and future employees within our region.

“Strathearn already had excellent relationships and programs with the local schools and pre-schools, and saw an opportunity to expand on this. There are some good economies of scale to be explored, such as the provision of meals for the children from our existing commercial kitchen, and administrative services from our existing team.”

Strathearn’s site plans also include more community infrastructure, such as a community centre, a wellness centre (possibly hydrotherapy), a cafe/restaurant, and allied health offices; with as many of these as possible made available to the broader community.

Strathearn has lodged development applications for the RACF, retirement village and childcare, hoping for approval within three months.

At Geelong, BUPA Bellarine (formerly Amity) was landlocked and had to take a different approach to its intergenerational activities, its general manager Heather McKibbin said.

“We worked with Playgroups Victoria and the local council to establish a formal relationship with local mothers to form a playgroup that brings their children to our facility to promote interaction with residents.

“We provide fruit and other food, a secure toy cupboard, heating and electricity obviously, and our staff actively work to foster relationships and develop activities. We are onto our second group of mothers and children [with about 6 to 10 in each group]”.

Finally, Underwood told INsite that his US fieldwork convinced him of the strong economic benefits of aged care linking with childcare.

“It can provide substantial benefits to staff recruitment and retention and that is how we should more fully look at it in Australia.”

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