Welcome to the first in our series of #RadicalChildcare guest blogs. Whether you are a parent / guardian, family member, pedagogue, community member, childcare practitioner or artist – whoever you are, we want to hear your stories. Whether you have experienced childcare barriers, discrimination, or have innovative ideas for what the future of childcare could look like, we’d love to share your ideas as part of #RadicalChidlcare.
This guest blog features Naomi Juste’s story…
Hi, my name is Naomi. I’m 29 years old and a mother to an 8-year-old son. I have a Level 3 childcare and education qualification and a BA (Hons) degree in Working with Children, Young People and Families. I am currently a childcare practitioner providing cover in various childcare settings throughout Birmingham and in my own time I run my own organisation, Juste4Kids, which has provided everything from holiday clubs, breakfast and after school clubs to pop-up crèches.
I started university when my son was 18 months old and put him in a private nursery which he attended full time up until he left to go to school. My experience of the nursery was okay; he seemed happy, developed well and met milestones, but one thing I noticed was that there was a lot a lot of emphasis on money. The fees were very expensive but needed to be paid because I needed the childcare. This influenced the relationship I had with the nursery, and I know for some people this can become negative.
I remember once the senior manager handed me my invoice and on the front she had put an unhappy face. As she passed it to me she proceeded to tell me that I was in arrears and had to pay a late fee. I explained (which they already knew) that my son had an operation that day so he wasn’t going to be in, and therefore I couldn’t make the payment on that specific day. They said that they understood, but it was their policy that they would still have to charge for absences (which was fair enough) but also that they’d have to charge the late fee also, which I found quite unfair. The relationship broke down from there with management, but he remained at the nursery as he was settled and he had made many friends, and other members of staff were great.
Having worked in many childcare provider settings myself, I have had the opportunity to witness first hand both positive and negative practices that parents don’t see, and in many cases, will never get to see. As a result, there are many implications of such practices on children and their families.
Firstly, I found that this type of service played a major part in the quality of care the children received. Many private nurseries focused on enrolling as many children as they possibly could. A few in particular were employing a high percentage of young girls on apprenticeships and were giving them the same work and hours (7am – 6pm) as other qualified staff, in addition to being counted in the staff to child ratios. I usually worked 9am – 5.30pm and I was really struggling with the amount of work I had to do. By the end of the shift I was shattered, hungry and my back ached. All staff had one break which ranged from 30-45 mins.
“The apprentices were receiving £3.50 per hour and most other employees other than management were on minimum wage.”
I feel that the children’s basic needs were met but the quality of the care for the children just wasn’t there. There was a lack of time and attention put into the children. There were plentiful resources but there was a lack of 1:1 interaction or small group activities, and less interaction between child and caregiver. When parents came to pick up their children and they were given feedback about their child, whether on paper or verbally their day would sound fantastic but in reality, it could differ somewhat. The sad thing is how would parents know any different?
In comparison to this, I have also worked in many local authority establishments. All of them seemed to have higher staff to child ratios and less children within the nursery. Spaces were limited so some had waiting lists that families had to join in order to get their child into the nursery. The staff worked less hours as they either did an early or late shift which meant they never worked the full duration of the nursery hours. The pay I received was higher, and my experience and qualifications were taken into consideration. The staff spent a lot of time completing paperwork to demonstrate targets were being met in terms of government frameworks. This seemed quite time consuming, but with more staff available it meant that there was time for them to do this. Activities were more interactive and 1:1 and small group work would happen regularly as staff had to observe and record each child constantly. I noticed there was more time to input into the children’s development, for example at lunch time children were encouraged to serve themselves and clean away their plates. One nursery even allowed the children to wash their own plates, whereas at the private nurseries the food had to be shared out and cleaned away by staff. It may sound trivial, but such a simple activity contributes to their development and increases their independence. Some of the nursery schools lacked resources and the words ‘funding cuts’ came up quite a lot between staff. In terms of fees they too had to follow protocols, but there was less emphasis on money and a more relaxed approach.
“I believe the implications on what I have found mean that children don’t often get the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
They may lack certain skills that help equip them for the future and going on to school. We sometimes forget how many hours children spend within these nurseries, which can be the majority of their waking hours within the week and in many cases with the absence of parental involvement children are being bought up by their caregivers at nursery who may lack the time to give them the attention they need and cater to their individual needs. They may have certain beliefs and values that they unintentionally pass on to the child that don’t coincide with the beliefs and values of the child’s family.
I think parents need to have more input and the opportunity to have a say within any setting their child attends. This could be simple things like making suggestions and having an input within the planning, or having meetings every so often. More effort should be made to build a relationship between the parents and practitioners. Settings should be more open, especially private nurseries, in bringing parents in to observe and participate in activities. In some cases, I believe Ofsted inspectors should have the power to make informal visits to settings without notifying them first as I feel Ofsted also only see the setting at their best. Usually they are notified well in advance and therefore the nursery will have time to prepare and perform to their best on the day.
“In the future I hope to see more flexible and affordable parent-led childcare facilities available for all families.”
I would like the ethos of private nurseries to be more about supporting families and providing top quality care rather, than how much money they can make. I would like to see the quality of care remain consistent with every childcare setting, therefore, allowing all children to have the opportunity to learn grow and develop holistically, having their individual needs met and able to reach their full potential.
Naomi has received Awards for All funding to set up a not-for-profit childcare provision that consists of holiday clubs for working families and a pop-up crèche, to help support parents attending training/ courses, studying or seeking employment.
You can learn more about this and get in contact with Naomi via: email@example.com
If you’d like to write a #RadicalChildcare guest blog, please contact Paige on: firstname.lastname@example.org