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