Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Unsupervised children, childminders and Ofsted

EYFS 2012 requirement 3.27 states - ‘Children must usually be within sight and hearing of staff and always within sight or hearing.’ The EYFS framework covers the legal requirements for all early years providers who care for children from birth to starting year 1 at school.

The Childcare Register (legal requirements from birth to 17) does not contain legislation about leaving children unsupervised and there are no laws which state the minimum age at which a child can be left unaccompanied. However, the NSPCC states that ‘it is an offence to leave a child alone when doing so puts the child at risk.’

To clarify the age of a ‘child’, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child ‘means every human being below the age of 18 years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’.

I have recently been asked to support 2 childminders from different areas of the country who have received safeguarding actions from Ofsted inspectors who judged them to have left children unsupervised because they have not kept children within sight and hearing at all times -

• One childminder was actioned during her inspection because she let one child outside to play and then changed another child’s nappy inside the house - the inspector said that the child playing outside was not within her sight (and was unlikely to be within her hearing) at all times.

• One childminder was actioned as the result of a complaint because, during a visit to the park, someone informed Ofsted she did not have all the children in her hearing (and possibly sight) because they ran off to play.

A further inspection outcome has come to light recently where the childminder went to the toilet during her Ofsted inspection and the inspector was unhappy that the children were left unsupervised during this time - she said that the childminder should have taken the children with her.

If we are honest, there might well be lots of times when children are quite possibly out of our sight and / or hearing during the day - when we go to the toilet or take another child to the toilet is probably the most common, but also (obviously depending on the layout of your house and garden) -

• Outings to the park when children run off in all directions
• Essential jobs - taking a nappy outside / making a drink / preparing food / answering the door etc while the children are in the playroom
• Leaving the table to get something from the kitchen while children are eating
• Going inside / taking a child to the toilet while other children are playing in the garden
• Taking a child upstairs for nap time or checking a sleeping child upstairs
• Changing nappies if the nappy changing area is in a separate part of the house
• Children moving around the house while you are playing with others
• Taking children into school / pre-school / nursery
• Children sleeping in the garden or a quiet room.

While written risk assessments are no longer a requirement of the EYFS 2012, it is strongly recommended that you still have them. I suggest you think through the times when children might be unattended and, where possible, put controls in place to stop it happening. For example -

• Toilet breaks - personally I do not feel it is acceptable to take children to the toilet. This would be totally unacceptable for a male childminder and most female childminders feel exactly the same. We must not accept discrimination and if this is suggested by an Ofsted inspector I would challenge it very strongly. I make sure older children are occupied, pop any babies or small children in a travel cot or securely in the buggy and go very quickly to the toilet. The children know where I am and we usually sing a song together while I am briefly out of their sight. I can hear the children at all times so I am meeting the requirements of the EYFS.

• Taking a child upstairs to sleep - this is not usually recommended by Fire Safety Officers because, if there is an emergency situation such as a fire, you would have to leave the child in the upstairs room while leaving the house with the other children. However, if you have received different advice or if your risk assessment shows this to be safe in your home and you do take a child upstairs then you must consider the safety of children who are still downstairs. You might feel that it would be safest to take everyone upstairs with you - or you might have a combination of children which mean you can put one in a travel cot with some age appropriate toys for a few moments.

• Leaving the table while children are eating - you must never leave children unattended while eating. If you have to get up to, for example, collect something from the kitchen you should remove plates from in front of the children, check they are secure on their chairs and make sure their mouths are empty before you go. I would recommend you ignore the door and other distractions during meal times so that all children are well supervised.

• Outings to the park - we have all been there - we arrive at the park and the children gallop off in all directions while you are struggling to get the buggy through the gate or the baby out of the pram. Visits to the park must be carefully risk assessed to make sure you are absolutely certain you can manage your ratios safely while keeping children in your sight and / or hearing at all times. You must consider a ‘lost child’ scenario at each park you visit and it is good practice to write a risk assessment which also covers how you monitor children - high visibility vests or matching colourful shirts / coats are popular among childminders.

If you have any concerns about leaving children unattended / unsupervised I suggest you ask your colleagues on the Childminding Forum or Independent Childminders Facebook group for more advice.

I am sure someone will have experienced a similar scenario!

Sarah / Knutsford Childminding

Friday, 4 October 2013

Listening to children

I was prompted to write this blog after a discussion with another childminder. She was concerned about a child and asked me, 'how do you know what they are thinking?'

It made me stop for a moment and consider her question - little ones, especially before they can communicate effectively, often struggle to tell us what they are thinking.

We need to clue into their non verbal communications and it is very important that we are always aware of what they are saying to us.

So... a new blog was born! Catchily entitled... listening to children

It is important that children are given opportunities throughout their time with you to voice their thoughts, feelings, emotions and concerns … and that they are listened to and acknowledged when they do tell you things that are important to them.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that ‘a child’s opinion should be taken into account on anything that affects them’ and the EYFS 2012 and Development Matters guidance all tell us that we must listen to children and involve them in decisions which affect them.

Some practitioners get confused about how to manage this - they wonder if it means they have to ask children if they want their nappies changing … and not change them if the child runs away! Respectful, listening care means that we do ask children, when we can see they are not busy (not in the middle of a very important game) if we can take them to change their nappy and we do listen to their reply and explain that they need a clean nappy so they are comfortable and do not get sore… and then we lead them gently and respectfully to the nappy changing area and allow them to dictate the type of change they want - quick and efficient because they are busy or longer with a favourite song because they want some one-to-one interaction time with an adult.

It is not enough to write an annual questionnaire and give it to the older children… listening and respecting children’s opinions is about your day-to-day interactions and the ways you support every child - even little babies - to feel that they are an important part of your provision.

Think about the following scenarios and how you react to the babies / children involved -

• Baby is screaming constantly and you don’t know how to help him. He doesn’t seem to improve whether you hold him or put him down - what do you do? How do you best meet his needs? Do you ask yourself whether he is in the right provision to meet his needs or do you struggle on because you need the money? What do you tell parents - that he has been a bit clingy or the truth?

... Baby is telling you that he is not happy and that his emotional needs are not being met… your response if you listen to him needs to be calm and reassuring, letting him cry when he needs to express his emotions and maybe using a sling to keep him close. You should also be working closely with parents and finding out how he is handled at home - maybe a home visit would be useful?

• Toddler is running around the house and your rules say ‘we walk inside’. You have asked him time and time again to walk and you are getting frustrated…

... You need to ask yourself whether you are meeting his needs fully by asking him to walk. Would you be better getting him in his coat and shoes and encouraging him to play outside so he can run around until he has worked the need to run out of his system?

• You are getting 2 children ready for an outing to the park when 1 of them says that he does not want to go. Do you ignore him, knowing he will be happy when he gets there? Do you stop what you are doing and sit and talk to the children to try and elicit more information from him about why he does not want to go? Do you speak to parents and find out when he last went, what might be stopping him wanting to go etc? Do you still go on the outing - regardless of his wishes?

... Children usually have a good reason for saying ‘no’ they don’t want to do something. They might be tired after a later than usual night or disturbed sleep … or they could be hungry, feeling a little ill, remembering a bad experience last time they went to the park etc. We are responsible for keeping them safe and ensuring their mental health as well as physical so we need to consider whether we are doing the right thing if we ‘jolly them along’ and take them when they have said ‘no’.

• An older child is trying to do some jigsaws and struggling. He needs help and asks you to show him where a piece goes. Do you sit with him and show him how to start the jigsaw properly by looking for corner pieces? Or do you ask him how he is doing the jigsaw and chat about strategies he might use to find where the pieces go by himself, encouraging him to use his knowledge about size, direction, colour and shape?

... It is very important to listen carefully to what a child is saying to you and respond appropriately to their questions and concerns. It is very easy for us to use our experience and knowledge to take over their games and lead their play - but often this just puts a child off asking in the future because we disturbed them and they didn’t want us do more than answer the specific question.

• You are organising a game of ‘follow the leader’ and one child always pushes to the front and wants to take control of the game. You are worried that if the child is not allowed to go first he will have a tantrum (this has happened before) … but you are also aware that it is not fair on the other children who have to wait their turn every time. How do you support all the children in this type of situation? What games can you play / what activities can you introduce to help them take turns and share more effectively? In a similar situation, you are sitting reading with a group of children and asking them questions to check their understanding of the book. One child constantly shouts out the answers while another child is quiet and rarely responds. How do you ensure both children are given opportunities to have their voice heard?

... In this sort of scenario, the child who is pushing forward and shouting out needs someone to listen to them and reflect on why they need to be first … working with parents is normally a good place to start in situations like this.

• You are feeding the children when one child pushes his plate away / spits out food he ate yesterday / refuses to eat his sandwich (and you know he likes it). You know that his parents don’t give him any more food at home if they think he is being ‘silly’ with his food. You also know that the child’s nutritional needs will not be met if you do not feed him.

... Childminders are not responsible for making rules about what happens when a child does not eat - and we are not allowed to starve a child! The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) is clear that children have a right to food. It is a good idea to have a little store of food that you know children like that is also nutritious and healthy so you can offer it if they refuse their main meal - we always give children the option of a toastie or sandwich, milky drink or water and yoghurt plus fruit to follow if they dislike something we have made them. While not a perfect meal, they are getting their necessary food groups - and we are respectfully acknowledging that their tastes change and they can sometimes be picky and we understand that they are trying to tell us something when they refuse the food we offer - rather than trying to be difficult.

I hope this gives you just a few examples of how listening to children will help you to manage your provision and time with the children just a little better. I am sure the majority of childminders use these techniques, but it is good to reflect on practice sometimes and ask yourself if you can improve the ways you work. I know I have learned a lot researching to write this blog!

You can find out more about listening to children in e-book 44 from my Knutsford Childminding website.