Should nurseries have a policy of welcoming staff members' children into the setting as a mutual benefit - or can it lead to problems among practitioners and confusion for the children?
'I was unsure how having staff children at the nurseries would work, but it's definitely been a positive experience,' says Sarah Channon, owner of BonBons Day Nurseries in West Yorkshire. 'It is also a great advert for the nurseries, to say that we are so confident about them that we trust the staff with our own children, including my daughter.'
At Bringing Up Baby in London, the opportunity for subsidised childcare has proved a successful means of retaining key staff members. Operations manager Jackie Gardiner says, 'It started off with having a manager on maternity leave, and we didn't want to lose her expertise, so we offered subsidised childcare as an incentive. Now we have six staff members with children attending the nurseries.'
Bringing Up Baby gives a 10 per cent discount on staff childcare, while at BonBons it rises to 25 per cent depending on length of service. But company policy is that there is only a full-time staff childcare place for every ten places the nursery is registered for. 'There has to be a cut-off on the number of staff children who attend, because it would be unsustainable if too many places were filled,' Ms Channon explains. 'If a discounted place was not available, then it would be unfortunate, but thankfully that issue has not come up.'
Rebecca Warner, owner of Little Troopers in Oxford, decided against offering staff childcare places. 'Originally I thought it would be a perk, but now I think it is a distraction for staff and can be stressful for the parent and child.
'My daughter, who is almost two, goes to a childminder because she doesn't understand why she can't be with me when she sees me at nursery. It works fine in a big nursery, but a small one it is very different and we have just 25 places. I would be unable to hold a place for a staff member's child and they may not get the sessions they would need.'
Many nurseries have a policy that children are cared for in a different room from their parents, but this is not always possible. Anna Fitzpatrick is two-to-threes co-ordinator at Poplars Day Nursery in Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, which operates a free-flow system, meaning she works with her two daughters. She gets the 'best of both worlds' from the arrangement - 'I get grown up conversation at work and still get to see my children develop' - but admits that working with them took time to adapt to.
'Dealing with my children as professionally as I would with all the other children has always been one of my appraisal targets. I used to constantly pick up on things that they were doing wrong, rather than focus on what they were doing well, which is what I'd do with other children,' she says.
Working with another staff member's child can sometimes cause awkwardness. Nursery nurse Amy Marshall fears that they can be favoured. 'I had been made to feel as if I had to treat these children specially, until one child said to me, "It's not fair, just because that's her mummy she gets to go first". That comment opened my eyes to how children are aware of what's going on.
'Fortunately at my current nursery, the staff member whose child we look after made it clear that they are to be treated like all the others. But if I was ever in that position again I would definitely speak to the parent and explain why treating children differently wasn't fair to any of the children or staff.'
NEEDS OF THE CHILD
There can be concerns that staff members' children may find the situation confusing. Early years and childcare expert Penny Tassoni says that it's workable as long as there is open discussion and good management.
'Staff should always be mindful of the child's needs and work out what is wrong, and re-evaluate if needed,' she advises. 'It will not affect the way some children operate with other children or how they work alongside other adults - in those circumstances it is a win-win situation. But some children will not cope as well. A parent may find that their child struggles to accept what their relationship should be and becomes clingy. There is a temptation to push away a clingy child, but that will often result in more clinginess. The child needs more reassurance instead.'
She adds, 'It is very important that a keyworker develops a strong relationship with the child so that if their parent is not available, the child is not totally at sea.'
Helen-Sonia Ainscough, senior nursery nurse at Clever Clogs Day Nursery in Belmont, Durham, found that being on hand when her son started nursery helped him to settle in. 'It can be a bit confusing for him when I go into his room, but the staff are very good at distracting him,' she says. 'Thankfully he has never been the jealous type. When I take him in to nursery we sit and play for ten minutes and I play with and cuddle the other children, too, so he is comfortable with that.'
Ms Fitzpatrick's daughters have also adapted well to having a mother with dual roles. She says, 'My three-year-old knows she can push me more at nursery, but I have the support of my managers and can ask for someone to step in if I'm having a difficult day. But she is proud that I work there and tells the other children that I'm her mum - whereas my youngest is not fazed at all. She finds it funny that I'm there.'
Louise Roberton, deputy officer in charge at Paradise Lane (St Peters) Pre-school in Formby, near Liverpool, works at the setting attended by her two-year-old son, Calum.
'I feel extremely privileged to witness my child in social situations that most parents never experience. As an experienced nursery nurse I am aware of the important moments in a child's life that are often missed by working parents.
'At first Calum found it difficult to share his mummy. He would follow me around, and I am embarrassed to admit that I let him, for an easy life. However, once he was playing with other children rather than alongside them he became more independent.
'Like most children, he can play up for his mum, so I tend to give in to his requests to avoid a scene. However, I sometimes send him to ask another member of staff who he is more likely to accept a "no" from! I'm lucky to have great support from my managers and the other practitioners. A few of them have also worked alongside their children so they understand and I think it's helped our setting achieve a warm, family-like environment.
'My health visitor suggested I place Calum at another pre-school because he is not receiving a "normal" early years experience. I don't agree. In fact, I think it is a huge positive that I know what Calum does during the day and that I know his peer group so well. It gives us lots of opportunities to share stories.
'It is very challenging to work with your own child, but I can't imagine not knowing what Calum is doing each day. He attended a different setting before pre-school and I liked the independence, but I felt uneasy that I had left him so that I could care for other children.'
Benefits from offering staff childcare places can include:
- Helps recruitment and retention - especially if there is a staff discount;
- Increases staff commitment and flexibility (on-site childcare allows staff to cover at short notice);
- A nursery selling point, demonstrating that staff trust the quality of care.
It is important to have a strong policy in place outlining:
- Whether staff can care directly for their own children, or they should be in separate rooms;
- Details of any discount;
- The notice required for a staff member to change childcare hours.
National Day Nurseries Association chief executive Purnima Tanuku says, 'Allowing staff to bring their child to nursery while they are at work offers many benefits for both the member of staff and the setting. NDNA believes that if managed correctly, offering on-site childcare for nursery staff can be a valuable employee benefit that requires only a small investment.'