Like many families, we have spent the last few weeks trying to decide if it would be safe for our toddler to return to his childcare setting when Boris Johnson gave the green light for early years providers to re-open. We spoke to our families, we spoke to our friends, we followed social media debates on the subject, but my husband Tom and I agreed that what was right for some, would not necessarily be the best route for us. Ultimately, only we could decide if we were comfortable for our son to return to his childminder.
A large part of my husband’s day job is risk assessment, and we chatted about how, in the end, our choice would come down to the level of risk we were happy to accept when it came to our little boy. So, we followed the same process we do with almost everything we do on a day-to-day; we looked at all the information we could gather, and then decided if the benefits outweighed the risks. Did the pros outnumber the cons? If it helps anyone else to make their own choice, here are the factors we took in to consideration;
Even before lockdown, our childminder only cared for the children from four different families, so we knew there would be a limited number of people our son would be exposed to. In addition, we knew that, like us, all of these families had been in almost total isolation during lockdown, and had observed all the government advice about social distancing.
Our childminder, Lorraine, had kept in touch with us during lockdown, and had shared updates of what she was up to. Right from the start she had decided to use her time to take additional training courses, and refresh her resources, as well as keep on top of all the ever-changing government guidance. More recently, she had shared information from Covid-19 webinars and training sessions she had undertaken, as well as new policies and procedures that would be put in place to protect both our family and hers.
Safe, not scary
Lorraine had also provided us with photos and videos on how her setting had changed, in order for her to provide the safest possible environment for the children. This included moving her main play space to a room with hard wood floors, plus a newly covered outdoor area to enable all-weather outdoor play. She had purchased a portable play sink, with real water, to ensure that the regular hand washes would be fun, and adapted all of her existing play areas to ensure they could be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day.
In addition to all of this was our own family situation. We live in a south east borough of Greater London, and national statistics state that less than 0.5% of local residents have contracted CV-19. My husband has continued to work full-time from home throughout lockdown, and after a few weeks attempting to do the same, whilst we both juggled caring for our two boys, I accepted furlough. But none of that changed the fact that staying at home continued to have an impact on us all.
Our eldest son is in Year 2, and trying to successfully home-school him, whilst balancing the needs of a toddler has been tricky. More worryingly, my independent, happy-go-lucky youngest child has become clingy, anxious and visibly distressed if both of his parents are out of eyeshot for as little as 30 seconds. I honestly felt that he was missing his time with Lorraine and his friends at her setting.
We concluded that a staggered return to Lorraine’s setting would be the best approach for us. If our youngest could return two days a week, then this would gently allow him to get used to leaving us and the house again, whilst enjoying the benefits of time at the childminders. Equally, a part-time return for Lorraine meant she had time to ensure that everything was working process-wise for her.
So, this week our little man returned to his second-favourite place, and he was absolutely delighted to be reunited with Lorraine. With only one other person currently attending the setting alongside him (as fate would have it, his favourite little friend) we are confident that we have done what is in the best interests of our son, as well as something that will have a positive impact on the rest of the family too. By the end of our first ‘new normal’ day, Tom and I were already commenting on how much more relaxed things had been at home that day with our home schooler. Plus, our toddler, who had been refusing to walk without holding our hand at home, came back confidently strutting across the kitchen. It just goes to show the positive impact a great early years practitioner and setting can have on a child.
Obviously, like any good risk assessment, we will continue to review the situation using the latest information and advice. We’ll monitor things on an ongoing basis, and make decisions as we need to. But the great thing is, I know my childminder is too. She’s not lost in the woods, she’s just continuing to do the next right thing, so she can keep her doors open, and our children safe and well cared for.
And yes, one of the benefits of furlough is that I finally found the time to watch Frozen II – and I loved it!