Majority of nursery workers supporting children with challenging and complex issues

A new report Their challenges are our challenges from the Anna Freud Centre revealed that a high proportion of nursery practitioners have been working with children with challenging emotional and behavioural needs. Anna Freud logo

Many of these practitioners admitted that these needs were difficult to manage. 

They have been supporting children who were affected by trauma or abuse, substance misuse and bereavement.

The Centre surveyed more than 900 UK nursery staff during the last three months of 2020 and found:
  • 69% of nursery staff who responded said they had experienced working with babies or children affected by trauma or abuse.
  • 71% of nursery staff said they had worked with babies and children affected by domestic violence.
  • 60% reported that they had worked with babies or children from families affected by substance usage.
  • Almost half (48%) said they had worked with children who had experienced the bereavement of either a parent or sibling.
  • 42% of staff told us they had noticed signs that children in their care had had their emotional wellbeing affected by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.
  • Three quarters (75%) of staff said they had looked after young children who displayed “unusually aggressive or violent behaviour”. 
  • 91% said they had dealt with challenging situations that involved children who potentially had mental health issues, or social or emotional difficulties.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: “The results of this survey clearly show the range of challenges practitioners are facing. They are seeing the impact the Covid-19 pandemic and numerous lockdowns are having on our youngest children first hand and dealing with the difficulties. 

“Practitioners are extremely knowledgeable and can spot issues children are having early on. Research has repeatedly proven that a child’s early years are of paramount importance in preparing them for later life. The vast majority of nurseries have risen to the challenge and are supporting children well but they all need to be supported in order to continue educating and caring for children. To support children and families, settings need to be able to remain open and sustainable, allowing children to experience some ‘normality’ during these challenging times. It is vital that early years workers are also backed with priority access to the vaccination programme and at-home testing. 

“Our own recent research with Education Policy Institute has shown nearly half of settings saying there were not enough opportunities to access specialist training such as child trauma and bereavement or supporting children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). We wholeheartedly support calls that the sector needs more training to support staff for the complex work they are doing. This training is increasingly important for them to identify problems early as we know this can have the biggest impact on those children’s development. Support to the sector and the workforce is now more important than ever.”

Dr Camilla Rosan, Head of the Early Years Programme at the Anna Freud Centre said, “The early years are the most important in terms of a child’s development, and the results of this survey are truly eye opening. When most of us think about who will be directly supporting our most vulnerable children and families, we normally think of social workers and mental health professionals. But we forget that our nursery workers are engaging with vulnerable children on a daily basis. Aside from their own families, these children probably spend more time with nursery workers than anyone else during their early formative years. This research should fundamentally shift the way we view the role of nursery workers within our society.”

Read the full report here.