A key person has special responsibilities when working with small number of early years children. They are an important part of good early years practice, for which Early Years Update offers a range of practical ideas to underpin the information in the Early Years Foundation Stage Principles into Practice cards

Theme: Positive Relationships
‘Children learn to be strong and independent from a base of loving and secure relationships with parents and/or a key person.’

Commitment 2.4 Key Person‘A key person has special responsibilities for working with a small number of children, giving them the reassurance to feel safe and cared for and building relationships with parents.’

Areas of knowledge covered:

  • secure attachment
  • shared care
  • independence.

The CD-Rom in the EYFS pack features a video clip of a short interaction between a young baby and her key person, along with extracts from three documents, which help to explain the background of the key person approach. The lessons learned from attachment theory and how this has helped to shape practice with children under three is accompanied by a description of the key person approach from the originators of the term, namely Peter Elfer (senior lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Roehampton University) and colleagues. A practical review of introducing and implementing a key person approach in a group setting is provided in an article by Julian Grenier from the Kate Greenaway Children’s Centre.

In the ‘in depth’ section of the disc there is information on the benefits of the key person system from the perspective of the child, the parents, the key person and the setting, along with practical examples of how different settings have implemented the key person approach.

Supporting effective practice
As part of supporting effective practice in this important area of the EYFS, practitioners should:

  • deepen their understanding of attachment theory and the role of the key person by reading and further study
  • meet regularly with colleagues to discuss the emotional as well as the practical challenges of implementing a key person approach
  • discuss how transitions, rotas and daily routines can be managed to support the key person approach
  • help parents to understand, and feel comfortable with, key person working.

Working with babies
Building a close relationship with a small number of babies and their parents gives the practitioner the opportunity to create the environment in which the baby will thrive and the parents will feel reassured that their child’s emotional and physical needs are being addressed. The key person should greet the child and parent at the beginning of the day, manage the handover process and minimise any anxiety involved in separation. Talk to the parents about what will be happening during the day and find out about any issues which may affect the baby’s behaviour during their time in the setting.

Be flexible in daily routines to adapt as far as possible to individual eating and sleeping patterns. Treat each child as an individual by talking directly to him or her and making eye contact. Watch for the response and continue the conversation, always giving the baby time to manage their side of the conversation. During nappy changing, feeding or settling a baby for sleep, build up a range of ‘special interactions’ that are specific to that child and in keeping with their personality and personal preferences. When babies are playing, listen and watch carefully to appreciate how individual children respond to different situations and use this information to plan appropriate daily experiences.

At the end of the session make sure that parents receive information about all the experiences their child has been involved in during the day. This could be in a conversation, or through sharing notes and photographs.

Ideas to use with toddlers
Some children may need time at the beginning of the day to become involved in the daily life of the setting. Be aware of which children respond well to a jovial, upbeat approach and which prefer to sit quietly, often with their key person, and watch for a while before joining in. When one child is in need of undivided attention it is important to have a strategy whereby colleagues effectively manage the remainder of the key person’s group.

Help children to build strong relationships and friendships with one another by providing experiences and activities which require co-operation and collaboration. These could include building a simple den, helping one another to put on or take off coats or sharing toys while playing together. Comment on instances when children help one another to draw their attention to being part of a team.

Working with three- to five-year-olds
The key person can make an important contribution to children’s emotional development and wellbeing by helping them learn how to manage and regulate their own behaviour. This involves acknowledging and accepting children’s emotions and feelings, for example, ‘I can see how angry that makes you feel…, ‘I understand how upset you are…’ Deal with unwanted behaviour by helping a child to appreciate the impact of their behaviour on other children and always make it clear that it is the behaviour not the child that is being rejected.

As children and parents make the transition from one setting to another the key person can play an essential and reassuring role in helping to smooth the transition by acting as a source of information and professional advice.