Rural and Remote Initiative – Leonie Stevens

  • Portrait photo of Leonie

It was an emotional day for Leonie Stevens, the Director at the Kirdi Mayarr Child Care Centre, a service operated by Save the Children in Mornington Island. It was Leonie’s last day working at the centre after spending three years as Director – and she was eagerly awaiting to hear if one of her students Jovelyn had passed her final exam.

“If she passes, she will be the first to finish a Certificate III [in Early Childhood Education and Care] on the island,” Leonie said.

This was huge news, especially for an industry that had only been on the remote Queensland island for five years. What’s more, there are several staff members following in her footsteps.

“Two more girls are closely behind her. They only have two more modules,” Leonie said.

The success has come off the back of a partnership between QCOSS, C&K and Save the Children. QCOSS was funded by the Queensland Department of Education to deliver the Rural and Remote Workforce Initiative, which coordinated and helped resource the partnership. The partnership offered additional study support to staff from the service, ensuring the children attending are getting the best possible care.

The additional support was needed. When Leonie started over three years ago, she was the only diploma qualified staff member at the service. She had 11 staff members all waiting to complete their qualifications. Their support was limited to C&K visiting the service two or three times every six months, and staff were not progressing through their studies.

With the extra support, the number of face-to-face visits almost doubled, and Leonie says this has meant a continuous flow of support for staff in their studies – something that has been paramount in their progression.

“It has allowed the girls to be focussed and know they are committed – and they can achieve their goals,” she said.

“They know that the ladies believe in them.”

Leonie said she can see the benefits staff are having from the additional support.

“They are more confident. I can see it through their conversations between each other and me. They have taken it on. If somebody else comes in, they will talk about it, challenge it and role model what they have learned,” she said.

Leonie said the impact from the partnership has been a game changer.

“In the big scheme of things, four or five girls might not seem like a lot. But for a little island like this, it’s huge! It is empowering for these young girls – they have become role models for their children and the community’s children,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s so isolated and remote you think you aren’t moving forward, but they are always there to give us support and know we are moving forward. Our girls can achieve what the girls on mainland can!”

For Leonie, the partnership has had a positive impact not only on the staff and the centre, but also the community.

“We would have never achieved what we have without it. We are so remote but knowing there are people…going to bat for our educators and never giving up has meant the world,” Leonie said.

The support meant that Leonie could walk away from the service, knowing her former staff were qualified – especially now. The student she was waiting to hear from had passed her final exam.

“The support from QCOSS and C&K is one of my highlights… They have gone from being mums of the community to being educators of the community as well as mums. They have done the hard yards and earned the right to be professional educators.”

The Rural and Remote Workforce Initiative provided additional study support to early childhood education and care educators in priority rural and remote areas of Queensland to gain approved early childhood qualifications.  This program formed part of QCOSS’ commitment to ensure we support a service system that reflects the community in which it operates by ensuring local communities are resourced to respond to the unique needs of their community, no matter where they are in the state.

The Initiative had three separate but integrated elements, including the Rural and Remote Early Childhood Teacher (ECT) Scholarship Program, which is aimed at supporting Diploma and Advanced Diploma qualified educators in rural and remote services to gain an approved ECT qualification; Indigenous Remote Support Coordination (IRSC) project , which provided support to educators in remote Indigenous communities to gain approved early childhood qualifications; and Growing Our Own Program (GOOP), which is providing additional study support for rural and remote educators to meet legislative qualification requirements. QCOSS’ involvement in the program is now finished.