Over the weekend, KU Children's Services hosted their Annual Conference, with staff in attendance from various regions across New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland.

The event, with the theme of Being, Belonging, and Becoming Together, was an insightful day of professional learning sessions and a fantastic opportunity to acknowledge staff members who have significantly contributed to KU, benefiting children, families, and communities throughout the previous year.

Heartfelt congratulations are extended to all the recipients of the 2024 "Making ‘the KU Difference’ Awards."

Making the KU Difference for Children

  • Alicia Hackfath, Early Childhood Teacher at KU ANSTO Children's Centre

Alicia advocates for children in every aspect of the program. She develops warm and caring relationships with children and families, from the nursery room to the preschool room. She has a genuine care and interest in each child and advocates for specific resources for individual children and for the service. Alicia’s teaching is child-focused, creating environments for children to explore and develop their interests, and she programs for each child’s diverse learning needs. Alicia listens to children, comforts them, and follows the ‘Circle of Security’ program. She has the best interests of each child at the heart of all she does and goes above and beyond in every way.

  • Christine Lee, Early Childhood Teacher at KU Macquarie Fields Preschool

Christine makes a difference to every child she teaches. Her approach to teaching is many things – it’s strength-based, relational, and embeds diversity, inclusion, cooperation, humility, respect and honesty. Her welcoming, compassionate, and non-bias attitude fosters connection with all children. She is held in the highest regard by the team as an expert in children’s education. Her knowledge, wisdom, sense of humour, musicality, and commitment to children from diverse social backgrounds, is valued and commended. Not a day goes by where Christine does not apply her smiling, uplifting spirit to the children and team. She is humble, kind, caring and makes a difference to all children.

  • KU St Ives Barra Brui Preschool Team

Inspired by the work of Vivian Paley and the book “Princess, Dragons and Helicopter Stories”, the KU St Ives team embarked on their journey of 'Helicopter Stories.', embracing innovative practices and connecting these with the childhood desire to tell stories.

Each day, children immerse themselves in the creative process of storytelling. Teachers scribe children’s stories which are brought to life through group enactments with a storyteller, story actors and story listeners, with all children participating. The stories are often published through Book Creator and filmed to share with families via Storypark.

The impact has been significant, with children embracing storytelling roles, transcending stereotypes, finding joy in self-expression, and fostering a love of storytelling and literacy.

Making the KU Difference for Families

  • Gaye Ryberg, Education Support Manager at KU Central Office

Gaye embodies a warm, caring, and generous nature, making every family feel valued and supported. During family meetings, she has a positive and significant impact by genuinely listening, understanding, and going above and beyond to connect and support each family and child so they can thrive and receive the best start in life.

As an ESM and mentor, Gaye guides services with her expertise through programs such as the Circle of Security, encouraging understanding of children's additional needs, and ensuring each educator feels empowered and equipped to support families.

Gaye’s regular visits and tailored strategies create a culture of support and growth, and demonstrate her commitment to both educator development and inclusive practices that ultimately benefit families.

Making the KU Difference for Communities

  • Oriana Blanco and the KU Inner West Supported Playgroups Team

For nearly 20 years, Oriana has successfully led Supported Playgroups across the Sydney Metro and Inner West areas, where she and her team of six Facilitators and Co-Facilitators engage with over 200 families at seven community venues each year.

The weekly sessions, funded by the Department of Communities and Justice, provide targeted early intervention to support the needs of vulnerable members of the community who are isolated and don’t have access to other early childhood services.

The team’s efforts consistently receive praise from both families and the Department of Communities and Justice for their outstanding commitment and care, with data indicating the positive impact the sessions have had on vulnerable communities.

Making the KU Difference for Staff

  • Di Enks, Education Support Manager for Newcastle and the surrounding areas

In 2023, Di provided intensive supports to the KU Peninsula Preschool team.

Last year, the service had 26 children requiring various levels of additional supports, including children with high levels of challenging behaviours.

With the team at KU Peninsula facing very challenging circumstances where the program, staffing, child-based and family supports were intensive, Di offered informed advice and became a trusted mentor and advocate for the preschool team.

The team worked collaboratively to develop responsive behaviour support plans, and Di and her KU colleagues visited the service frequently to implement the changes that helped each day and each week and will be long lasting for the KU Peninsula team.

  • Jennifer Green, Education and Quality Manager at KU Central Office

2023 was an incredibly difficult year at KU Peninsula Preschool, with Jennifer becoming somewhat a pillar of strength, encouraging, and inspiring the team to continue on in difficult circumstances.

Jennifer was a trustworthy advocate for the team, children and community, and worked closely with the staff to create an environment of stability for all, ensuring consistency and a reestablishment of service goals and vision.

Into 2024, Jennifer has assisted in a 'hard reset', supporting the team through a period of transition, with recruitment, program and routine overhaul.

Jennifer has made strong connections with staff, children and families within the service community, working closely with the team to ensure quality early education that is inclusive to all of the diverse needs of the service community.

Making the KU Difference to Quality

  • Megan Dodds, Director at KU Corrimal East Preschool

Megan, with almost 35 years of service with KU, demonstrates dedication, innovation, and exemplary leadership in early childhood education. She consistently provides a nurturing and stimulating environment for children and staff, modelling Circle of Security principles, and supporting families.

Megan's depth of knowledge and practice in Circle of Security, Marta Meo, and the work of Ann Pelo, as well as her openness to embrace new ideas and practices further enhances the quality of her work. Families consistently praise KU Corrimal East’s welcoming environment, its sense of belonging and connection, which is a testament to Megan's genuine care, passion, and exceptional leadership, which has shone through her 35 years with KU.

Making the KU Difference through Sustainability

  • KU ANSTO Children's Centre Team

KU ANSTO embarked on the Becoming Eco Smart Together program in 2020. With support from Deb Watson and Fiona Harris, the team brought together all stakeholders to revamp their practices and embrace a greener approach.

Today, sustainability is woven into every aspect of their program, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the entire team. From eliminating paper towels for adults, to hosting clothes swap weeks, implementing composting and worm farms, and fostering community connections through bush tucker gardens, their commitment is clear.

Initiatives such as wet bag systems, using compostable nappies, and establishing partnerships for plastic recycling, further highlights their sustainable practices, and pave the way for a brighter future.

Making the KU Difference through Innovation

  • Deb Watson, Manager Sustainability, at KU Central Office

Deb adapted KU’s Becoming Eco Smart Together (BEST) program from the NSW ECEEN and NSW Environmental Trust Trial document, and the program has since been continually developed and evaluated to support early childhood education communities to become more sustainably aware.

Participating in the BEST program is often the start of this journey or it provides an opportunity to fully shape, support and recognise this focus within communities.

The program began in 2019 with 7 preschools and 1 long day care service participating, growing to 58 KU services in 2023, with a further 6 new services joining in 2024.

Deb has been a long time champion of sustainability and has had a significant impact on KU services in their quest of creating a more sustainable world for our children today and into the future.

Making the KU Difference by Representing KU

  • Carolyn Wilson, NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency State Manager

Carolyn leads the consortium partnership for the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency, which includes Gowrie NSW and Include Me, while exemplifying KU’s values. Her collaborative leadership style fosters respectful relationships and strengthens partnerships, elevating KU's reputation within these organisations.

Through her calm and considered approach, Carolyn ensures all leaders and Inclusion Professionals from the consortium feel valued and trusted, creating a sense of partnership and collaboration.

In addition, Carolyn represents KU in her dealings with the Australian Government Department of Education, demonstrating a thorough and diligent approach to implementing the Inclusion Support Program. The Department's request for Carolyn's comments and advice is a testament to her capability and elevates their perception of KU

Making the KU Difference in Commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

  • Bree Perkins, Director, KU Kahibah Road Children's Centre

Bree has worked closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs Team and has been open and supportive of the whole team to engage in learning more about the importance of cultural responsiveness.

Under Bree's leadership, KU Kahibah Road has made a strong and ongoing commitment in the cultural space, including by organising yarning circles, listening to the voices of KU staff who are Aboriginal, critically reflecting on the service environment and practices and making changes, integrating Aboriginal cultural perspectives into the service philosophy, fostering connections with Aboriginal Elders, and more.

Bree's dedication, passion and care has led KU Kahibah Road to make significant progress in the cultural space.

Making the KU Difference for Inclusion

  • KU Cheltenham Memorial Preschool Team

Director Michelle Healey and her team of teachers and educators demonstrate outstanding commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all children, particularly those with additional needs.

Michelle's leadership nurtures close collaboration with families to understand children’s needs and address barriers to inclusion. Through ongoing professional development, the team equips themselves with the knowledge and skills to effectively support all children.

This has enhanced the team’s capacity to build strong connections, guide positive behaviour, meet children where they’re at, and develop positive peer relationships among children, which has increased children’s sense of belonging and active engagement in the program.

By creating an environment where every child feels seen, heard, and valued, the team embodies the spirit of inclusion.

Teacher from the service, Ally Silaha, collected the award on the day on behalf of the team.

  • KU Fairfield AMEP Child Care Centre Team

Led by Coordinator Mervat Nashid, the team of nine educators epitomise inclusion. Located in South West Sydney, the service has over 70 children enrolled in two daily sessions, with a large number of newly arrived refugee families from Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, Iraq and other countries.

With the team speaking 8 languages between them, and all having migrant and refugee experiences themselves, they’re able to ensure every child and family feels welcomed and understood.

The service provides an inclusive program that features thoughtful experiences celebrating children's culture, enabling them to express their voices, and nurture relationships with peers in their new country.

The team’s high level of care, compassion, and professionalism ensure all children and families experience inclusion, multiculturalism, respect, and belonging.

  • Cockatoo Room Team at KU Faulconbridge Children's Centre

In 2023, the team supported the inclusion of children with high support needs, including those with extreme behavioural responses. Some children had a diagnosis of disability, some were under assessment, and others needed support relating to their wellbeing.

Focusing on each child's strengths, the team implemented programs and practices to support inclusion. They used the ALERT program to create strategies that promoted regulation by helping children recognise their feelings, and what they could do to feel more calm. The team also undertook training, such as Guiding Children's Behaviour and One of the Kids, implementing additional strategies to promote inclusion.

The team worked closely together, demonstrated resilience, and focused on relationships to create an environment where all children were valued, accepted, and celebrated.

KU Marcia Burgess Award

  • KU Briar Cottage Preschool Team

The team at KU Briar Cottage consistently support vulnerable children, families and their community through their daily interactions and planning, and their strong commitment to inclusion and child wellbeing is widely recognised within the community.

Each year, the service successfully includes a high number of children with disabilities, typically 50% of the cohort, in addition to many children with high learning support needs.

The entire team makes sure every child feels heard, valued and included, by providing each child with what they need to fully participate in the program and thrive.

An intensive orientation program lays the foundation for the team to build their knowledge of each child, and a partnership model embraces strong relationships with families and professionals.

Individual Learning Plans focus on small steps that have an immediate impact on a child’s functional participation and skills, and decisions are made through collaborative discussions that enable the team to be advocates for children.

The team demonstrates unwavering dedication to inclusion through daily reflection and active participation in ongoing training, showcasing a profound commitment to supporting children’s wellbeing and development.