As professionals it is essential that we all strive to improve, build and reflect on our own practice and professionalism and with the countless amendments, revisions and food for thought that the the Early Years Sector provides, there is always something to consider and build upon in our practice.
This was the case for us when we attended the Minding The Gap conference last week at Brighton University, where we heard an inspiring and thought-provoking key-note speech from Dr Jools Page on her research project on ‘Professional Love in Early Years Settings’ (PLEYS).
The PLEYS project was conducted by Jools Page after she acknowledged the effect of high profile child abuse cases in recent years and the professional relationship between adults and young children, and the effect this had on professional practice, particularly within the Early Years sector and practitioner’s own thoughts and feelings about the way in which they express affection and concern within such a highly emotive and sensitive role whilst facilitating children’s needs for healthy attachments.
The project collaborated with a group of nurseries in the South of England as well as conducting an online questionnaire of practitioners across the country in order to gather as much information and reflections as possible from practitioners across varying settings.
As we listened to Dr Jools Page discuss the main points and findings of her research (all outlined here.) we began to look at each other mildly confused – was this something we should have thought about before? Is this really an issue in Early Years settings? Is this something we should be concerned about?
Then it dawned on us that perhaps we have never really considered ‘Professional Love’ and the feelings regarding this because of the smaller scale, more personal care we offer; so is our affectionate nature deemed more ‘acceptable’ on a smaller scale in a home-from-home setting?
During the keynote speech, many nursery managers and practitioners alike were mentioning policies and their own views and concerns regarding professional love and how they defined ‘professional love’ as ‘giving children what they need but not showing favouritism’. Favouritism was then described as ‘actions or a relationship that doesn’t benefit or hinders the child in some way.’
Again, these viewpoints made us question whether ‘professional love’ is situational within the Early Years? Having both worked in day nurseries previously we were considerably more mindful of affection, behaviours and remaining what was considered to be ‘professional’ and ‘appropriate’. But was that more to do with how certain levels of affection or behaviours would be viewed by others in the setting or our own feelings regarding recent safeguarding breaches in the media?
From a reflective stance, looking back on relationships and our level of professionalism perhaps we were subconsciously aware of ‘professional love’ and the need to remain ‘professional’ but how easy is it to be equally affectionate and ‘loving’ towards a larger group of children that you generally care for within a bigger nursery or preschool environment?
From a home-based childcare perspective, and upon reflection of our previous key person relationships in larger settings, we reflected upon our current relationships with the children in our setting and asked ourselves if ‘professional love’ has a place in home-based childcare? Parents choose home-based childcare for their children as they want a ‘home away from home’ environment and so if we were to limit or restrict our affection/relationships with our children, surely that changes the dynamics of the service we offer?
Safeguarding is of course at the forefront of every decision we make and we are mindful and observant of these policies and procedures, but if a child initiates or requires affection in order to support and nurture them, then should we hold back from this? Surely it is human nature to respond affectionately and lovingly towards a child in any situation? So, what happens in so many settings nationally that have a ‘No cuddling’ ‘No sitting on lap’ policy for their practitioners? What message does this send to them? Why are these settings opting to restrict their staff’s natural affection, and what impact does that have on the children in their care?
It is of course important for practitioners to protect themselves from accusations and safeguarding concerns and being too overly affectionate or behaving inappropriately is unacceptable, (a challenge for a nanny or childminder lone working) and this is where the definition of ‘Professional Love’ comes into it’s own and outlines for practitioners the boundary in which affection and ‘love’ should be used within Early Years.
In today’s society, PLEYS plays a pivotal part of Early Years practice but it is important to consider whether it is applicable within the realms of home-based childcare and if we were to adopt a policy or become increasingly more self-aware if this would alter the dynamics of our care; our children and parents essentially choose us for the family-esque relationships and environment that we adopt and promote, and so to alter this or become more critical of the natural relationships that have grown between us as care-givers and our children would essentially change us as a setting.
However, PLEYS could be the changing point for so many nurseries that have adopted these anti-tactile policies and procedures and instead of having a blanket ban on such affection, instead give practitioners back the confidence in their own practice and enable them to bond more effectively with their key children without fear or judgement.