A message to the early years sector from the National Children’s Bureau

The early years sector has been at the forefront of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing crucial support to vulnerable children and the children of key workers. While for some of you Monday 1 June marks the reopening of your service, many of you have never been away.

As a sector, you have shown great bravery and professionalism during the initial stages of the crisis. This includes when you have had to make the hugely difficult decision not to open where this is in the best interests of children and families. We know you will continue to act in this way, but we also want to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty that many of you are feeling.

Like you, all of us have anxieties about the immediate safety of reopening settings, and there is no easy resolution of this question. It will probably not be completely safe for children to return to settings for the foreseeable future, just as it is not safe for many to be staying at home right now. We must work together to find the best balance between health and safety and children’s entitlement. The plan may need to flex as conditions change.

However, it’s not just about working out where children are safest. We know the benefits of early years settings for children’s social, emotional and linguistic development and the role you play in supporting secure attachment. You help address inequalities, ensuring that all children have access to a good quality early years experience while asking what is required to meet their needs.  The impact of the restrictions has been different for different families, so working closely with families will be more important than ever while you work out the impact on children’s learning and development.  

Whatever type of setting you work in, or service you offer, you know your children and families best. You will probably find that returning to familiar routines, tried and tested stories and songs, will help with the transition back into settings. You know your own unique environments, and what practical adjustments will help make it as safe as possible. We encourage you to use the government guidance and your own professional judgement to make the decisions that are right for you and the children and families you serve.

We also know that financial sustainability is a very real and pressing issue for many in the sector, and many of you will be concerned about the future of your setting. NCB will be making the case for the need for both short- and long-term investment in the sector, working with other charities and membership bodies.

These are hugely challenging times, but everyone at the National Children’s Bureau stands with you to put the needs of children first.

Annamarie Hassall MBE, Director of Practice and Programmes

NCB supporting resources

Recognising the concerns of children and families – children and families may have a range of understandable anxieties related to starting or returning to a setting. Seeking out, listening to and acknowledging concerns can help dispel anxieties and encourage children and families to open up about their needs.

Supporting children’s emotional wellbeing - Whether children are starting at a setting for the first time or returning, most children would have had extended time with their primary caregivers at home so may have understandable separation anxiety. Investing time and focus on fully supporting the transition period - particularly for new, disadvantaged or vulnerable babies and children - can increase the likelihood that children become comfortable in their setting and have fun, play and develop.

Welcoming disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEND) -  disabled children and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will need additional support, revisiting settling in periods, and a warm welcome to ensure they are in the best place to learn