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Partnerships with families in early years settings

It is essential in the early years setting to build partnerships with families and individual parents/carers. This in turn can support a child’s learning and allow them to develop effectively. Working with parents/carers should be a high priority in any setting and should be incorporated into every aspect of practice. In early years settings it is known that practitioners support and encourage children to learn, however, it is predominantly the parents who know the child best, therefore it is key to share information between practitioners and parents. If this is not the case, then a child’s learning needs will not be fulfilled, or you may not have a clear understanding of each other.

Sharing information

When sharing information with a parent/carer it is important to take note of any information given at any time, as much of the information given to you will happen informally and spontaneously. However, if you are able to make the time to discuss a child further with their parents/carers then this can develop a culture of informal information.

It is important to have a trusting and welcoming relationship between key workers and parents/carers. This will begin immediately and is crucial from the start. This will allow parents/carers to understand and appreciate that staff value their knowledge and understanding of their child. However, not all parents will be able to pick up or drop off their child due to work commitments or health reasons. Therefore, a two-way diary can be a useful tool, to ensure that there is communication flowing between the setting and parents. If a child’s key work is unavailable to discuss a child’s progress, then the practitioner who is speaking to the parents will make it clear that they will arrange a more convenient time to discuss their child’s progress. Where possible it is important to engage both parents in their child’s learning and development.

Parents attending school meeting

Engaging parents

Many early years settings organise parents’ evenings for the parents/carers to discuss their child’s progress in a more structured way. However, this may prove difficult to arrange a set day due to a parent’s work commitments or daily routines, therefore it is important for the key worker to arrange a meeting that is more suitable to the parents. The meetings allow parents to discuss and share information about their child. They also allow practitioners to show parents any observations they have on their child. They are also able to show the parents their planning and next steps in supporting their child to develop their learning further.

There should be an emphasis on celebrating what the child has achieved and how the setting and parents can build on the child’s current interests and achievements. Most meetings will take place within the setting, however, if parents prefer and staffing allows, a home visit may allow the parents to feel more relaxed and comfortable. A home visit may be more valuable for a family who are unable to make it to the setting for a more serious reason such as health problems or if they cannot afford to take the bus/taxi due to financial difficulties.

If a meeting is planned it allows both parents and practitioners to prepare any questions or reflect on any concerns they may have. It also allows the practitioner to ensure that their child’s development profile is up to date. This can provide a useful focus point for discussion. During a meeting with a parent it is easier to discuss any patterns of behaviour or personal learning interests that have arisen. It is easier to discuss what provisions can be implemented in the setting and at home to enable a child to be engaged and further expand their knowledge and learning.

A summative report can also be offered to parents. This will allow parents to be able to reflect on the meeting they have. A summative report is written and usually contains information about a child’s learning. It is usually linked to the areas of learning. There should also be a box for parents to contribute their thoughts and feelings.

A way to engage parents in the Foundation Stage curriculum is to host a group parents’ meeting. This offers the opportunity for practitioners to inform parents about how their setting plans and assesses each child’s learning and how it supports the areas of learning. A group meeting also allows the setting to discuss how important the learning process is and why child-initiated learning is important. They are able to discuss schemas and support parents in recognising if their child has a schema. Practitioners can answer any questions a parent has, however, they will be unable to discuss a specific child’s learning progress. If your setting offers a group meeting for parents, it is important that it is presented by a confident practitioner who has an excellent understanding of child development and early learning. However, less experienced staff members can support their colleague in delivering the presentation. This will allow them to gain experience and boost their confidence.

Other organisations

Working in partnership with other organisations is vital in order to identify any additional needs and to safeguard the children in your care. As a practitioner it can often be quite daunting when you think something is amiss, and these feelings are heightened when you have no one to talk to with regard to your suspicions. Not wanting to upset parents/carers or being frightened of ‘getting it wrong’ are not, however, adequate reasons for ignoring any warning signs and it is important to remember that you must act on any concerns you may have as it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the child’s best interests at heart at all times even if this may initially make things difficult for you.

Identifying a problem may be relatively easy if you are caring for a child regularly and, depending on the nature of your relationship with the child’s parents/carers, you will be able to discuss your concerns with them. For example, you may notice that a child you are caring for is having difficulty following simple instructions. This may be simply because they don’t want to, or it could be down to underlying hearing problems. A quick chat with the parents/carers may reveal that the child has had a cold or an ear infection that you had previously been unaware of or it may reveal other issues that may need addressing with the help of the child’s General Practitioner. Either way, when you have identified a problem, no matter how small you MUST do something about it. Identifying a problem and ignoring it is worse than not having noticed it in the first place!

Practitioner observing child

Concerns for a child

When you have identified a concern with regard to a child’s development it is vital that you speak to the parents/carers initially. If, after having spoken to them, you are still concerned, and the parents share your concerns, then it is time to work together in partnership with other professionals in order to decide on the best outcome for the child.

If a child in your care is showing signs of requiring support from an outside agency it is crucial that you get the agreement of the parents/carers. Without this consent there is very little that you can do except to support the child to the best of your ability and by continually sharing your concerns with the parents/carers. Parents/carers need to know that their child is not being ‘labelled’ and that the intervention is to ensure that the child’s best interests are supported. It is vital that you stress that outside agencies are responsible for working with parents/carers rather than for them and that the support they can provide is far reaching and of great benefit to the child.

Although you may be helping to identify a potential problem it is essential that you focus on the positive things in order to help the parents/carers to cope with the fact that their child may require support from outside agencies. Painting a picture of a dismal scenario can frighten off parents/carers and may even push them into refusing any necessary help and this in turn will have an adverse effect on the child. Telling the parent/carer of a child who appears to have slight hearing problems that you think their child may be ‘deaf’ is, for example, extreme and always remember that you are the practitioner, you are not an expert on hearing problems and you cannot and must not attempt to diagnose a child. Even if prompted by the parent/carer, always refrain from giving your own ‘opinion’. State the facts, backed up with observations, and make sure that you are there to support the child and the parents/carers in whatever they decide to do.

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