Transforming the early years: Tasmania’s Child and Family Centres
26 Sep 2016
The Transforming the Early Years day-long event held in Hobart in early September was an inspiring day drawing together educators, policy makers and architects from Tasmania, Victoria and NSW to learn about Tasmania’s Child and Family Centres (CFC).
The morning session set the scene with Suzanne Purdon from the Tasmanian Department of Education explaining the background to CFCs, of which 12 centres opened between 2011 and 2014 in response to the 2009 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) ‘National Early Childhood Development Strategy, Investing in the Early Years’. The CFC wrap-around model in which health and well-being of children, and their parents are supported through co-location of community support service providers was clearly a powerful framework to assist, engage and create thriving community hubs.
Key criteria determining Centre Community locations were:
• A higher than state-average percentage of children under four years of age
• Demographic characteristics that exhibit one or more of the following in percentage higher than the state average – Aboriginal families, sole parent families, very young parents (maternal age less than 19)
• A high score on individual measures of social and economic exclusion including, for example, low educational attainment, housing stress, adult unemployment, and family income supplements
• High socioeconomic area disadvantage.
M’Lynda Stubbs, Centre Leader of Chigwell CFC spoke of how rich and complex a typical day-in-the life at Chigwell was, and how invaluable these centres are for the community. This was reinforced by Melissa Warn and Allison Gatehouse, parents who spoke to the group about their experiences of becoming a part of Ptunarra CFC, and the impact it had on their lives.
James Morrison from Morrison & Breytenbach talked about the design of Chigwell and Ptunarra CFCs, including the community co-design process, which undoubtedly contributed to the sense of ownership and belonging, and ultimate success of the centres. After a leisurely lunch in the courtyard of the Professional Learning Institute where the session was held, (itself a cleverly designed learning space comprising a series of demountables around an external courtyard), we went to visit three CFCs.
Images of Chigwell Child and Family Centre well represent the sense of the space, with its central and homely kitchen area with adjacent reading pit. The main joinery wall running the length of the building is not only appealing to look at, but is in fact a lot of fun to engage with the various sleeping nooks, play recesses, steps and tunnels leading through and up into the mezzanine bridge. Even a secret slide is hidden within the joinery! It was fun to explore this, although slightly difficult as an adult given the scale of the spaces, and that’s what’s so great about it – these areas are specifically designed for children yet transparency throughout the centre enables great visibility and ability for parental supervision. It was an inspiring place to visit and clearly a well-deserved Project of Distinction at the 2013 CEFPI International awards.
The second centre was Tagari lia designed by Liminal Architecture which won the 2013 Tasmanian Architecture Chapter award for Public Architecture. Similar to other CFC’s, the kitchen and dining area was the heart of the centre, and primary to the entry experience. Reading pits and raised children’s nooks complemented the range of gathering, learning and play spaces within the centre.
The final centre of the day, Ptunarra was similar in nature to Chigwell albeit slightly wider and with much more outdoor space. This determined the orientation of the building, towards the adjacent park and giving greater opportunities for indoor/outdoor connections. Similar to Chigwell, the design of the building enabled the flexibility to separate a multi-function space at the front of the building for weekend workshops whilst giving security to the rest of the building.
The day ended for most attendees with some finely crafted Tasmanian ales at Shambles Brewery. Thanks to James Morrison for putting together a great program and fine cast of speakers for what was a meaningful and memorable day.
Article by Fiona Young
Images courtesy of Csaba Kollanyi and James Morrison