When we work with children, much of our success with the children relies on working effectively with the family. This seems like a reasonable statement, but how much does our role involve supporting families in a variety of ways?
Making new families feel comfortable
Recently I had new children start. The children came for an initial visit with the parents, I then visited the parents at their home in the evening to do contracts and chat more about the needs of the children and the parents.
We then had lots of settling in visits, both with and without the parents. These are as much for the parents as the children. Then the children started coming; happy to do so, as by this time they were familiar with the environment, the other children, Em (my assistant) and myself.
Two separate families, but at this time the parents had similar needs - for both it was the first time they had left their children, they had new routines to get used to in the morning and they had a whole load of conflicting feelings about going back to work and leaving their child. Most importantly, they wanted their children to be happy!
So, in those early days my role was as much about getting to know the parents and supporting them to feel comfortable and confident with me. Maybe tweaking the routines until they worked better or sending text messages and photos to say how the children were getting on, as it was about ensuring the children were happy and settled.
As this is normal practice for me, I was pleasantly surprised when one of the new Mums’ sent me a text saying how grateful she was for the support that I had given her in such a variety of ways and how much it had helped. It's nice to be told sometimes and a reminder that support starts from the beginning.
Practical support and signposting
Sometimes the support is very practical, such as with these new parents. This is ongoing, developing as the relationship does. I'm sure we've all had those conversations about potty training, weaning or sleeping!
At other times, it can be a bit trickier and will include signposting, such as when I had concerns about a child's speech development.
I had built a good relationship with the mum so I was able to introduce my concerns gently and suggest ways we could both support the child.
When it became clear that we might need some additional input, it was easier to build on the conversations we had been having and signposting mum to the child's health visitor, with the aim of getting support with a speech therapist.
Supporting extended families
Support isn't restricted to the parents of the children, I've had several occasions when for various reasons the child/ren's grandparents have been caring for the child/ren.
It has been reassuring to both grandparents and the parents to know that I'm there to assist, maybe remind them of routines and perhaps flex the hours I care for the children.
Another important aspect of support to extended families is involving them in the child's day. As a grandparent of young children myself I know how nice it is to hear how my grandchildren are doing.
With parents permission I include grandparents on the mailing when I send photos or updates. I have made photo albums of the child's time here which children have taken to their grandparents, some going as far as Zimbabwe and Saint Lucia.
The children also love taking their learning journey folders to show their grandparents and I encourage them to contribute to the folders as much as I do the parents.
Sharing knowledge with parents
Sometimes parents benefit from my knowledge about funding and tax breaks they may be able to access.
The Winter issue 2014 of Childcare Professional has details of the Early Years Funding on pages 22 and 23 and another way we support families is to keep up to date with latest developments and highlight these to parents.
The article states that "the government has shown a commitment to increasing funding and support for parents to access high-quality childcare." Of course this is great news and it is our responsibility to ensure we provide that high-quality childcare,
PACEY supports us in this by providing many member benefits including free online training. I also find it very useful to have the PACEY homepage as my homepage on my web browser as the news section which is constantly being updated helps me keep up to date with developments.
I believe that by committing to my own Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and adding this to the experience I have gained over the years as a mother, grandmother and childcare professional, I’m well equipped to support the families and ultimately the children in a wide variety of ways. It’s another reason I love my job.
About the author
Jane is Chair of PACEY’s Board of Trustees. She has been a registered childminder since 1995, has a degree in Early Years and holds Early Years Professional Status.
The experience she has gained through the combination of study, volunteering and work, give Jane a deep understanding of the early years sector - both its challenges and its many rewards.