Cathy's story

I was made redundant from a role at the Department for Work and Pensions in 2015, and used this as an opportunity to change my career path completely. I had been considering a switch to become a foster carer for a number of years, and had a keen interest in children’s development. However, at the time my niece was struggling to find the right childcare for her family, and this drove my decision to undertake the relevant training and registration to become a qualified childminder. Once my business was up and running, I took on some vulnerable children who had found it harder to find suitable childcare.

Career change

I was approached by a single mother to help provide childcare for her baby, who has the rare genetic condition, Prader-Willi syndrome (Prader-Willi syndrome is a rare genetic condition that causes a wide range of physical symptoms, learning difficulties and behavioural problems). Originally from Romania, she was quite isolated and in need of additional support. With no family living locally to help out, she required childcare to enable her to work, and have the necessary respite to provide the best possible home environment for her son.

When I first welcomed Idris into my setting, he wasn’t yet a year old. He displayed many of the symptoms commonly associated with Prader-Willi, including an interest in food, and floppiness caused by weak muscles. Initially I found some of the situations I faced with him quite scary, but his Mum undertook a huge amount of research into the best ways to support her son, and we worked in partnership to build a care routine that worked for Idris. We were both learning as we went, and she was brilliant at sharing everything she found with me. I spent a lot of time reading up on methods I could adopt to make things easier for him.

There were also delays in other areas of his development. Idris didn’t walk until he was three years old, and his speech is well behind what you would expect from a child of his age. But his Mum decided that his Early Years home visitor from the local council should also be involved in the decisions we made about his life outside of her house, and together the three of us built a strong working relationship to ensure his needs were met wherever he was.

One of the most commonly recognised symptoms, excessive appetite, came later for Idris. His Mum gave me a special diet prepared for him and his needs, plus an insight into what was to come. This helped me prepare for the best ways to handle situations when they arose. Idris’s food is still controlled by her, but he now tells me he is hungry. Idris is always thinking about his food, and knows what he is going to have, but I find ways to distract him to make sure he eats at specific times.

Becoming part of the family

My setting became like a second family to him. To the other young children in my care, Idris was one of them. For the slightly older children, I was able to explain what extra help he needed, and what they could do to help him join in or feel included. I run an inclusive practice, and have always made sure that Idris is never excluded from what we’re doing. I honestly believe that there are very few activities and events that cannot be tailored to meet the needs of all children, as long as you give them a little consideration.

On some of the days I have Idris, I have smaller numbers of children to facilitate additional levels of care. For example, I agreed with Mum that I would take him to his music therapy lessons, which he loves, but being able to transport him and participate in the session means giving him 1-to-1 care. I am also extremely fortunate to be part of a local group of wonderful childminders. Together, we attend playgroups and organise meet-ups, where we’re all supporting each other, and making sure that the fun and learning opportunities we provide are accessible to all. We’ve even helped raise money to support Idris’s medical requirements.

Idris is four years old now and doing so well, much better than anyone had ever expected. His Mum believes my approach is to thank for his success making friendships at nursery, and managing beautiful age-appropriate interactions with the adults in his now wider circle. She also believes that because of the many opportunities I have provided for him, Idris is becoming an inquisitive and enthusiastic learner. Her wish is for him to be able to attend a mainstream school, and it’s a decision I’m fully supportive of. With the right support, there is nothing Idris won’t be able to achieve.