Second-time Family Day Care Australia regional award winner Leah Uttley knew she wanted to work in the profession from an early age.
“It’s all I ever knew,” Leah remembers. “My mum was a family day care educator, so I grew up with her running a family day care service in our home.
“We always had extra friends to play with as a child and the experiences Mum was providing for all the children meant that I got to benefit from that as well.”
As Leah grew older and started high school, her involvement changed and she started reading stories to the children and helping her mother prepare resources for them.
Driven by a desire for others to experience what she had as a child, Leah has been working in the sector since 2009 and in 2018 opened her own family day care service out of her South Canberra home.
More than a job or a calling, it’s a way of life for Leah, whose two young children, aged six and 10, are now growing up in the same setting she did.
“My youngest was only six months old when I opened my family day care,” she says. “So, he has grown up exactly like me, with all of these different children coming in over the years, and he’s formed some really close friendships.”
Friendships that, if Leah’s experience is any indication, will last a lifetime.
“Some of the children [my mum cared for at her family day care] are now well into their 20s and 30s and having children of their own and every now and then we’ll talk about what they remember of their time as a child,” she says.
“I’m hoping the children I care for feel the same way when they grow up and they may even consider family day care for their own children one day as well.”
It’s these relationships with the tight-knit group of no more than seven children who attend her family day care that Leah says motivates her to keep going.
“They become part of your family,” she says. “You can pick when they’re having a day where they need an extra cuddle and you can see when they might need some extra help in their development, because you are so close with them.”
Leah says she hopes her award also draws attention to the benefits of family day care, which she says has been “a more forgotten childcare provider” in contrast to larger childcare centres.
She also thanked Communities@Work, which her family day care service is registered under and which gave her a start in the sector 14 years ago.
“I couldn’t be where I am without the support that I’ve gotten from them, the extra training and all of the things they provide, so I’m very grateful,” she says.
Leah is now in the running to be named as one of four national Educator of the Year finalists on Tuesday, 17 October. The winner will be named on Saturday, 25 November.