The other side of the door

Step into the shoes of parents who use early years settings with Susan Soar from the National Children's Bureau.

Allow me to take you on an imaginative journey:

It is 8.55 on a Monday morning and you are a new parent entering your setting. Your three-year-old is twisting your arm and you are also carrying your 10kg baby, who was teething for most of the night. Your back problems make it difficult to manage all this, but you had to leave your pushchair by the outer gate. The noise of the playground is overwhelming but, after passing through a buzzer-controlled gate, you finally arrive at the nursery door. It is covered in signs and notices, not written in your first language. You don’t have time to read them now, so feeling a bit flustered, you take your child’s hand and step inside…

A parent who has to overcome practical, social or emotional barriers to bring their child to your setting is likely to arrive feeling stressed or uncomfortable. They may avoid talking to practitioners and try to depart as quickly as possible. These parents may be labelled as ‘hard to reach’ and fail to access the very provision that might offer the most support. So we need to ask, “What is it like for parents at our setting?”

As practitioners, we are accustomed to the environment of our setting and may no longer perceive the barriers or difficulties it presents to those who are new or vulnerable. But by being willing to see our setting from a parent’s point of view, by asking questions and being ready to consider the The other side of the door answers with sensitivity and an open mind, we may come to understand what prevents some from participating.

In practical terms this may mean creating opportunities to ‘walk-through’ the experiences of parents at your setting or taking a fresh look at your policies and procedures. The solutions will be as individual as your setting, but may make a significant difference to some children and their families.NCB’s training in parental engagement can be found at