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What the research says about family day care educators and mental health

A 2019 – 2020 study by Everymind assessed the depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress of family day care educators, and how these symptoms impacted their work. The study found that stress was the highest amongst the participants.

Family day care is a formal form of early childhood education, performed by one qualified educator in their home. Family day care educators are small business owners, who can care for babies and children up to 13 years of age.

Family day care educators tend to have high levels of responsibility, whilst working long non-traditional hours alone in their homes. Family day care is a sector with high levels of burnout and educator turnover. This has been under researched in Australia and internationally (Davis et al., 2011).

Being a family day care educator can be incredibly stressful

Many educators reported stress stemming from the long hours, difficulties taking time off (e.g., “a child’s parent told me once that she was having a ‘mental health day’ – I don’t feel that is an option in my job!”), feeling isolated, and struggling with administrative tasks (e.g., “the amount of paperwork we have to do is by far the most stressful part of the job”). These issues are common issues amongst small business owners.

A child’s parent told me once that she was having a ‘mental health day’ – I don’t feel that is an option in my job!

With the challenges of family day care come great rewards

Importantly, despite the various issues highlighted, the educators also reported high levels of job satisfaction and many indicated that they appreciated the ability to have a more autonomous career (e.g., “it’s great to be able to work independently and not have the constant stress of working with other adults”).

Like many small business owners, family day care educators are passionate about their career and get many benefits from their experiences (e.g., “being at work I'm actually in my zone. It's what I love. I don't do it as a job. So, mentally for me someday that's my happy place. Just seeing what influence we have on the children we care for mentally, is one of the most uplifting, rewarding things ever”).

For example, in the study, educators highlighted that working with children can have a positive impact on their mental health because of their relationship with the children and by extension, the families of the children, e.g.,

I have the best job in the world, I get to enjoy the company of wonderful children every day and in turn I educate and care for them. I learn from them just as much as they learn from me.

Exploring the importance of self-care for family day care

Although many educators reported adopting various self-care strategies (e.g., exercise, focusing on getting good sleep, spending time on their hobbies, putting aside time for themselves), many of them felt that they needed to improve their self-care, e.g.,

Not having any breaks or downtime is really hard. You must always put the children’s needs before your own, which means that there is no time to look after yourself.

Similar to many small business owners, educators are often time poor and struggle to put time aside for themselves. Some educators indicated that their way to address this issue was to try to incorporate self-care strategies into their work. For example, some educators reported that they enjoyed spending time being active outdoors and they incorporated this into their daily programming with the children. One educator even mentioned that they practiced breathing exercises and that the older children often asked to join in.

Recommendations from the study

One of the recommendations from this project is to encourage small business owners to make sure to incorporate self-care into their daily schedules, even if it means integrating it with work activities.

The study also asked about the best ways to help educators look after their mental health and wellbeing. Another key recommendation to come from this research was to create an online forum for educators. As highlighted by one of the participants in the study, “family day care can be quite isolating – it’s important to connect with other educators”. This connection would allow them to talk to other people who understand their work, but also would allow them to learn from other educators. Also, since their time is precious, an online forum would be the most appropriate medium to connect with other educators.

Full findings from the Everymind study will be released soon.

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