A history of caring before convention

Matron Louise Taplin on the steps with children.

The Infant’s Home (TIH) was awarded the HESTA Early Childhood Education and Care Award 2016 in the category Excellence in Building Inclusion, Journalist Sue Osborne writes.

The TIH’s extraordinary history goes a long way to explain its philosophy of making inclusion core to every aspect of its functioning.

TIH was founded as a rescue operation in 1874 for abandoned babies and mothers. From the beginning the aim was to provide a place where mothers and babies could stay together.

Many young women working in manor houses were abused by the ‘master’, and thrown out when they became pregnant. A group of far sighted women banded together to provide a refuge for these and other women and babies in need. They received much criticism at the time, including being pilloried in the Sydney Morning Herald, as they were seen as encouraging illegitimacy.

The property at Ashfield was originally a farm with gardens that mothers maintained and with cows for milk.

Originally in Darlinghurst, then Paddington, the TIH finally moved to Henry Street, Ashfield thanks to a large loan by Sir Thomas Walker. Since its inception TIH has challenged conventional wisdom to protect children at risk and strengthen families in vulnerable situations.

Over the years TIH has evolved into a unique large service with five early learning centres, a family day care provider, early intervention service provider including therapy, family support, playgroups and parent education and specialist health services, including a GP clinic, and allied health clinics.

The horse and cart that children used to go on excursions in.

It has served 188,000 children over 142 years. It was one of the first places to offer long day care in 1972 and remains one of NSW’s biggest early childhood centres.

Each year TIH services are accessed by over 2500 children and their families from over 100 suburbs across Sydney. Thirty per cent of services onsite at The Infants’ Home in Ashfield are targeted to support children living with vulnerabilities or additional complex needs.

Director Lynn Farrell said inclusion isn’t an add on but “who we are”.

“Inclusion isn’t just about providing appropriately sized furniture, it underpins the language we use, the decisions we make, the practices we put in place, who we are as individuals.

“All the children are encouraged to develop a strong sense of social justice and equity. We talk to the children about differences and that’s it’s okay to choose a different path or way of doing something.”

The inclusive approach goes towards TIH employment policies too, with a diverse workforce reflecting different ages, ethnic backgrounds and gender.

The inclusion model

Achieving inclusion at TIH has been underpinned by critical reflection and collaboration throughout the process. In particular, features of inclusion at TIH comprise:

  • Drawing on research stating the quality of a service is pivotal when working with children with additional needs, TIH focused on operational aspects such as improved ratios, qualifications of educators, and additional numbers of allied health staff within programs.
  • Putting the above operational structures in place to increase the capacity of staff in delivering the services and shifting to a deeper and truer enactment of inclusion.
  • Considering inclusion in a holistic way at all levels of the organisation including staff, children, families, disciplines, and cultures. This necessitates assimilation of often conflicting professional disciplinary practices.
  • Ongoing collaborative and reflective practices to bring allied health staff and early childhood staff together to establish goals with families, external agencies, and wherever possible the children.
  • Designing new indoor and outdoor learning spaces also enabled us to create a structural building that promotes inclusion, through the intentional use of fences and gates in ways that make inclusion visible.

Positive impacts

Non stigmatised environments and quality services underpin inclusion at the service. These help to uphold the rights of children with additional support needs, allowing them to feel valued, acknowledged and respected by their peers and the organisation.

This acceptance can result in a sense of belonging that further promotes their independence, resilience and wellbeing, and supports them in building strong and capable futures.

Lynn said this has enabled all children attending TIH services to see beyond the images of difference they are presented with and look deeper to the individual characteristics people may possess, which facilitates the development of true, reciprocal friendships.

Each of the five early learning and education centres at TIH have teaching directors to lead their teams, rather than directors behind a desk. The directors’ demonstration of professional skills and knowledge help strengthen their teams’ everyday practice and has been a significant step towards implementing quality practices.

Additionally, Lynn said TIH has recently employed a teacher just to provide professional development to staff in its five centres.

The teacher works one day a week in each centre in collaboration with the staff and director, talking about potential resources, new research and practice or activities that can support the TIH philosophy.

“The difference has been amazing. All our teachers are four year trained and all very engaged – everyone has a voice here. It is not a top down organisation.”

Lynn said the award honoured not only the current staff but also the work of the ground breaking founding mothers of the school, who defied convention to aid women and children.

HESTA awards are announced biennially. The next awards will be in 2018.


HESTA awards: http://www.earlychildhoodawards.com.au/

TIH: http://www.theinfantshome.org.au/

For more on the TIH history: http://www.theinfantshome.org.au/about-us/history/