CHAntal williams Stepping stones

CEO of stepping stones children’s services, tasmania (australia)

What was your main motivation to carve your organisation with a social conscience?

I was living in Queensland and I had an idea to develop childcare in my home town of Ulverstone in Tasmania. My young son had been using childcare and I really valued the importance of it for educating children and supporting families.  Then a miracle happened, I was contacted by a relative stranger who informed me that a Government building was available in Ulverstone and could be used in many ways.   I started a conversation with the Government in 1994 to create a childcare centre and two years later we opened the first centre in a relatively poor part of town.

From the outset, I targeted families who could not attend the main childcare centre which was full of working parents.  I started talking to local single parents, who were unable to work or study. Tasmania, despite its holiday destination reputation, has limited public transport, high unemployment, high number of single parents with pockets of poverty.

I was highly aware of this and knew that the only other childcare Centre catered for those parents in full time work.  I started to talk to single parents locally and realised that they thought that childcare was only of you worked.  I started a campaign to get them to realise that if they used childcare they would get support to help educate their children, while time to work out what they could do with their own lives. I firmly believed in the benefit of a positive parental self-belief on positive parenting. I introduced them to the idea that time to themselves could make them a better parent.  What they wanted to do first was to do the groceries, or the housework, finish a cup of coffee or visit a friend for an adult conversation.  As they got braver and build some confidence they started college or got a job and we built relationships with colleges and job centres to help them seek financial support to attend the courses or start in a Job.

Today, we continue to do that today and our latest acquisition is for three buses to help families with no transport to bring their childcare to three of our centres across Tasmania.

How do you tackle the highs and lows of running an organisation?

Celebrate the highs!  Give yourself a pat on the back. Take everyone with you.

Similarly, during the lows you need to take people with you.  We have been at the very heights with the highest accolades awarded to us and the very low when we almost lost everything.  But through it all we kept our team informed, we sought their input and commitment and all rowed together, in the same direction.

There will always be ebbs and flows and sometimes they will come out of nowhere, but they are all simply part of the journey. And when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up!

What is the one book we should read, or podcast we should listen to or piece of art we should encounter to better understand the world of early years?

If you want some practical advice, read Vernon Mason’s “Don’t go! A Practical Guide for Tackling Employee Turnover” and “Get Out! But before You Go…”  Quality early childhood staff are crucial to our work with children and Vernon has some great ideas on finding staff, keeping them, and if and when necessary, letting them go.

What are you interested in that most people aren’t and should be?

Travel (although lots of people are interested!). I have been blessed to see so many settings in so many places around the world, sharing their highs and the lows, and meeting people who do so much with so little. I always come home inspired to better.

What’s a project you’ve dreamed about but haven’t started yet?

Gathering our entire team in one space so that they can see what we see – all of them are just so valuable to our organisation and because they work over so many settings they don’t always see how they are a part of our larger puzzle.  So, I am working on it!

What’s the most ridiculous think you have ever done in the name of Early Years?

I often act before I think, with some interesting consequences! I am known for simply rocking up to people to ask for their help, commitment or vote, from Prime Ministers, to senators, journalists to businesses. Mostly with good outcomes thank goodness!

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

  1. Never, never, never give up!
  2. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  3. Leap and the net will appear

Just for fun – If someone made a film of your work, who would you ask to play you?

Julianne Moore for her gorgeous red hair!

Tea or G and T?

Having given up alcohol, tea it is!  Sometimes a cup of Irish breakfast tea is it takes to allow me to draw breath and see things a little more clearly.