'Keep our nurseries open'

Karen Simpkin, owner and managing director, Sunflower Children's Centre, Sheffield
Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Early years settings must stay open during lockdown, argues nursery owner Karen Simpkin

Karen Simpkin: 'I want to encourage other nursery and early years providers to remain steadfast and be heard regarding priority access to vaccines'
Karen Simpkin: 'I want to encourage other nursery and early years providers to remain steadfast and be heard regarding priority access to vaccines'

Sunflower Children’s Centre in Sheffield opened its doors in 2002, providing much needed learning and early years support and valuable, high quality childcare service for families and working parents. 

After 20 years building the business and managing through no-end of legislation changes, implementation of new guidance and rules, last year was the first time I had to close the doors, though temporarily, due to the first national lockdown. 

Moving forward nine months, and after investing thousands into covid safety to protect my staff and the children in order to reopen in July, I now face the devastating thought of closure once again due to the current lockdown situation and the lobbying of unions in support of teachers and school nurseries.

However, armed with knowledge, experience and safety measures to cover every aspect of the nursery setting and interaction among staff and children, myself and my team feel strongly that our nursery and all early years settings throughout Sheffield and the country should remain open now and during any further lockdown scenarios that may be imposed in the future. 

Our amazing team at Sunflower Children’s Centre are 100 per cent committed to the care and education of the children in our setting. It would be a travesty if this commitment was disregarded and we were forced to close along with other equally committed early years providers in this country.

The economy will be affected even further if parents cannot access work. Being able to work from home is a big advantage to stop the spread of the virus. However, having children, especially those under five years, to care for and/or home-school makes working and doing a job effectively almost impossible. This puts employability at risk, increases furlough and potentially leaves individuals redundant.  

We know children will be unsupervised to enable work, a form of neglect that is being forced onto parents. The worry that parents/carers in this position are feeling as a result has a detrimental effect on their mental health, impacting eventually on the child.

In a nutshell, the younger child will always need more supervision and interaction; balancing that with home schooling older children, in many cases will have a massive effect on their on-going development and attainment. This equally could impact on the parent/carers attempting to work to provide for their family.

Concerns over the welfare and development of children during forced closures of schools and nurseries have been aired by everyone at Sunflower Children’s Centre right back in March 2019. A child’s development begins during the early years, and this is where the foundations are laid for the successful education going forward.

We have already seen a significant difference in our children due to closure of settings in the previous lockdown. This includes social development and wider community understanding. Children of disadvantaged families already show a gap in their attainment which schools are tasked with closing. Attending an early years setting starts the process of reducing the gap.

As professionals, nursery staff pick up on Special Educational Needs or spot the signs of abuse/neglect at an early stage, offering help, support packages, or appropriate intervention - all of which will be missed should the settings be closed. 

With reports of physical abuse against children to the NSPCC increased by 53 per cent during the coronavirus lockdown, we are extremely worried about the impact not only for our children, but for children across the nation should a closure be enforced.

How the next few weeks unfold is yet to be understood, but in the meantime, I want to encourage other nursery and early years providers to remain steadfast and be heard among the council officials regarding access to priority vaccine roll-out, testing kits within the setting, access to funded PPE and access to business grants, all of which are currently overlooked and inadequately supported.

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