Aisha Ashante of Langtry Children’s Centre describes the thinking behind the centre’s approach to quality provision for young children

‘Quality in work with babies and young children can only be delivered through a caring, personal relationship between baby or child and practitioner. In nurseries, a key person system needs to link an individual practitioner with individual children and with their parent(s).’ Lindon, J (2005) When I started my childcare career 20 years ago I worked in one of the group rooms with the children and as a staff member I saw my role firstly as a team player and appreciated that we all ‘did our bit.’ We had our routine for the day set out for us; a weekly rota was displayed stating whose turn it was to set the tables for lunch, put the beds out for sleep time or change the nappies. In this role I had ‘key working’ responsibilities, which included sharing information with parents about their child’s day and keeping up to date with written records. This system worked well; the parents and children were happy, there was a good team spirit in the setting and the nursery functioned efficiently on a system of routines.

Rethinking our approach
During the late 1990s when I was deputy manager within a nursery centre in Camden I became involved in the Camden Early Years Under Threes Group, a working party consisting of managers and practitioners from the maintained, private, voluntary and independent sectors. As a group we had the opportunity to explore how we provided appropriately for the youngest children in our care. With the facilitation of Julia Manning Morton of London Metropolitan University we researched children’s emotional attachment, their physical dependency on adults/carers and most importantly, the role of the key workers. The outcome of this project was the production of the Key Times document, a framework for developing quality provision for children from birth to three years.

Key working
The following text is taken from the Key Times document – written by Julia Manning Morton and Maggie Thorpe.

‘Important aspects of key working are:

  • keeping records of your key children’s developmental progress, contributing observations to records kept by colleagues and sharing with records with parents
  • observing your key children and analysing the information gathered through observation
  • planning experiences for individual children based on your observations of their interest
  • writing individual education plans for your key children with special educational needs
  • writing reports for parents and colleagues
  • communicating with parents on a daily basis in person and through diaries
  • communicating with colleagues and other professionals
  • planning group times
  • organising a back up key person who is known to the parent and child.’

Practical solutions to managing a key working system
The daily challenges which have to be faced to make a key working system function successfully include:

  • long-term staff absence for sickness or holidays
  • lack of non-contact time
  • shifts patterns to cover the centre’s opening hours.

To address these challenges, as part of our key working system at Langtry Children’s Centre, we do the following:

  • Implement a settling-in policy: new children are settled in gradually over a minimum of two weeks – this could be longer depending how a child progresses.
  • Offer home visits when a child is due to begin – if the parents decline we still offer a special time to child and parent when they begin.
  • Ensure children’s physical needs are met sensitively by their key worker, or another significant person, to create continuity of care.
  • Meet and greet the child and parent at the beginning and end of the day.
  • Develop secure trusting relationships and respond to a child’s individual needs – by knowing key words in their mother tongue or acknowledging their sounds and gestures.
  • Observe and plan for their likes, interests and their individual needs.
  • Produce reports include a settling-in report, termly report and transition/leavers report to which all team members contribute to observations.
  • Share the ‘Record of Achievements’ portfolio with individual child and parents on a termly basis, alongside the Camden Foundation Stage Record.
  • Hold a transition meeting – when a child is transferring into another group room and when going to school.
  • Review policy and practice in group and staff meetings.
  • Provide regular support and supervision for key workers by a member of the management team to reflect on issues and concerns regarding the children and families.

References

  • Manning-Morton, J, and Thorp, M (2001) Key Times, University of North London (Metropolitan University)
  • Bowlby, J (1988) A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory, Routledge
  • Lindon, J (2005) Understanding Child Development: Linking Theory and Practice, Hodder Arnold
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