If a volunteer or student on practicum placement either holds or is actively working towards at least an approved certificate III level qualification, then they may be included in educator to child ratios (regulations10, 13, 122-3 and 126).
What to consider if your service has volunteers or students on placement
There are several factors to consider in deciding how best to involve volunteers and students on placement at the service. The approved provider and nominated supervisor are responsible for ensuring children are adequately supervised at all times (section 165 of the National Law),and that they are protected from harm or hazard (section 167). Ratios are a part of ensuring effective staffing arrangements, but ensuring children are adequately supervised also involves considering each educator’s experience, knowledge and skills, as well as their knowledge of children at the service (Guide to the National Law and Regulations, pages 65-66). Students on practicum placement are likely to be less familiar with children and their families, and have less knowledge about the service. This may also apply to people who volunteer at the service. Students on placement are attending the service to learn about providing education and care and develop their skills, and this should also be taken into account when considering whether they should be included towards ratios. Considering these factors when planning staffing arrangements will help ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of children including adequate supervision.
It is also important to consider how the involvement of volunteers and students may affect children’s experiences and their learning and development. Continuity of educators is important for children’s wellbeing and development, enabling them to build trusting, secure relationships. When assessing a service against the National Quality Standard, authorised officers consider whether ‘every effort is made to promote continuity of educators and co-ordinators at the service’ (element 7.1.3). In addition, in assessing element 4.1.1 ‘educator-to-child ratios and qualification requirements are maintained at all times’, authorised officers may discuss how the service arranges rosters to support continuity of care and positive transitions. They may also consider whether there are strategies in place to ensure a regular pool of relief educators is available (Guide to the National Quality Standard, pages 108-109).
Taking these factors into account will help ensure quality education and care for children while also allowing opportunities for students and volunteers to participate at the service. It will also be useful for informing the service’s policy about the participation of volunteers and students on practicum placements (regulation 168(2)(i)).
The service must also have a policy on providing a child-safe environment (regulation 168(2)(h)), and this should include requirements that apply under your state or territory’s child protection and working with children laws. For example, if your state requires people working with children to have a check, it will be helpful to keep the details of their check in the volunteer or student’s record.
Records for students or volunteers who are counted towards ratios should include evidence that they hold, or are actively working towards, an approved qualification. This is to allow the regulatory authority to check compliance with ratio and qualification requirements.
For students on placement, you will also need to consider any agreement between the employer and the registered training organisation. This includes making sure that the student and the training organisation understand what the student’s role at the service involves. Volunteers and students should only be counted towards educator to child ratios if they, and the training organisation, have consented to this. You should also check whether there are relevant requirements under industrial relations or work, health, safety regulations that apply in your state or territory.