Speaking at the 5th Baby Room conference today in London, What about the Children (WATCh) will argue that moving children to a new room each time they reach a developmental milestone or birthday may be appropriate for the over-threes, but can prove traumatic for a younger child.
The charity will also say that a change of room also means a change of a child’s key person and the loss of this close relationship, which can be very distressing. For this reason, WATCh want children under the age of three to have the same main carer at nursery, as they do at home.
According to the charity, the relationships people have with early carers are the biggest factor in their well-being, in terms of stress levels as an infant and also into adult life. They argue this is 'because the brain is incomplete at birth' and it is the early relationships that largely determine how it develops.
This is backed up by a 2011 New Zealand study of early years education that showed inconsistent care and high staff turnover are barriers to quality childcare.
Minimising key person transitions, known as ‘continuity of care’, can be executed in a number of different ways, including:
- Having a practitioner moving through the rooms with her/his key children
- Once assigned a room, having the key person and her/his children remain in the room permanently
- Family groupings where there are no rooms and a key person is free to move about the space with her/his group of children, much as a childminder would at home.
The Slade Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Oxford is one setting that uses a ‘family groupings’ approach, which it says makes children happier and more secure.
Sarah Heale, director of WATCh said, ‘The traumatic effects of the loss of a mother are well known due to an increased understanding of attachment theory, coupled with the recent outpouring of neuroscience. If we accept this, then it follows that the loss of other carers, who spend significant amounts of time with an infant, will have a similar - albeit lesser - effect.
‘WATCh? wants to see nurseries making more effort to minimise key person changes for under-threes. This means putting in place a structure, which puts children’s needs first instead of the one, which is easiest to administer from a managerial point of view.'
The charity is now calling for more research to better quantify the benefits of attachment and the continuity of care approach.