With their extensive knowledge of those in their care, childminders have much to offer other stakeholders as part of collaborative efforts to meet children’s needs, explains Maureen Hunt…
You’ve probably heard the term ‘partnership working’ – it’s used to describe the relationships that key stakeholders have to meet the needs of a child, and it’s central to the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework. Children become involved with a range of services in the early years and beyond, so, while independent childminders usually work alone in their own homes, they still have a crucial role to play in building wider partnerships to support a child’s health, development and wellbeing. This is also evidenced in the national Achieving Early programme, delivered by myself and colleagues at Achievement for All.
A childminder is likely to be the only professional in daily contact with a child and their family, and in effect may have the most to offer in terms of information around the holistic needs of a child. So, if you’re a childminder, what does this collaborative working approach look like in practice?
The most important partnership to develop is with the parent/carer – they know and understand their child better than anyone. Taking the time to listen and build a respectful relationship based upon trust is crucial, as it will mean parents/carers are more likely to share important information about their child, and make it is easier for you to discuss any developmental concerns you might have too. You can provide significant support, particularly for those parents/carers who may feel isolated or excluded.
On top of building strong relationships with parents and carers, it’s important to keep up to date with the support available in your local area so that you can confidently signpost them to the right service at the right time. A good first step here is to contact the Family Information service in your area.
Often parents and carers use childminders because they are flexible and can offer care tailored to their busy working hours – this may also mean that they sometimes feel isolated in their own communities as they don’t have the opportunity to develop local relationships. If you’ve taken the time to build local community partnerships with the likes of toddler groups, schools, shops, libraries and care homes, you can help families to become included in childcare networks and support any important transitions. For instance, if you have a child at school, you can keep parents and carers informed about events by sharing newsletters or delivering messages and reminders.
If a child in your care is accessing additional services or is about to, you must fully understand the support they receive and offer to work together with the services to help achieve the desired outcomes. It’s good to discuss this with the parents and gain their written permission to introduce yourself to the key people concerned, and if possible attend any meetings arranged. Parents and carers will, most likely, value this support as navigating your way through several services can be emotionally draining.
Clear communication is vital as you may be asked to contribute verbally or in writing to any multi-agency meetings – keep to the facts about the child’s progress and development, and state clearly what you think the child’s needs are. You will find each service to be unique with its own set of jargon and professional behaviours but while that can be confusing at first, don’t be put off. As the childminder you play a powerful role, contributing information about the child’s learning and development and by planning to support any interventions in their day-to-day practice. You can also act as an advocate for the family, asking the questions that parents and carers may be afraid or unwilling to ask.
By listening to parents and carers, working collaboratively with wider services in your community and trusting your professional judgement, you will no doubt be able to champion the needs of the children in your care throughout education and beyond.
Maureen Hunt is early years lead at Achievement for All. Achievement for All have developed the Childminder Professional Development Programme with experts at PACEY to help childminders support the achievement of all children in the early years.
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