Childcare Workers – The Forgotten Heroes?

Schools Out Henleaze

The nation is so very appreciative of the selfless work carried out by the NHS and other critical workers during this time of emergency, but as we work in the childcare sector, we felt it was important also to recognise the amazing work carried out by our childcare and play workers.

Without the support of childcare and play workers, our nurseries, pre-schools, breakfast, after school and holiday clubs would be unable to operate and without them, some of our critical workers would have no childcare to enable them to go to work, to keep the country running and to keep us safe. And some of our most vulnerable children would be at even greater risk.

“Our childcare and play workers are critical workers too”

Without those groups in operation, some of our most vulnerable children would be at even greater risk – and some of our critical workers would have no childcare to enable them to keep the country running, and to keep us all safe.

Our childcare and play workers are critical workers too, although they often get overlooked. They support the rest of the country – our children and families would be so much worse off during this emergency without their care.

We thought it would be interesting to ask some settings in Bristol for their thoughts about working during this testing time. We wanted to find out how practitioners and owners felt about needing to work through, especially when they may feel anxious themselves and may have feelings of resentment about their colleagues being furloughed whilst they put themselves at risk. We wanted to know how they cope with working with much fewer numbers of children than usual, and what they do to support children who will be feeling anxious themselves.

These are replies from just a handful of settings in Bristol:

AGOSC – an out of school setting, supporting the families at Ashton Gate Primary normally has around 150 children attend After School Club each day – this has now dropped to between one and ten.

Bella the Manager said:

“It is lovely really getting to know the kids we have and it’s great for them that they get to do what they want. We do worry how they will cope when life goes back to normal and they have to share with others again. Me and the other staff spend a lot of time reminiscing about all the children that we miss and wonder how they are. We also really miss the parents and miss talking to 90+ of them every day when they collect their kids at the end of the session. We have become very needy when the parents walk past the setting on their daily walks. We do not feel anxious to be working, we feel very grateful. I would feel very lost at home not being able to help. It has made me proud to wear my uniform. I think the hardest part was worrying about how we would cope as a setting financially. I also worry about the vulnerable children as they benefit the most from being at a play setting. It has also been nice having a slower working pace. I no longer have to look after 20 adults a day and my admin work load is much less.”

George is one of the Administrators at AGOSC; her role is still crucial to keeping AGOSC open for the vulnerable children and children of critical workers. George said:

“Whilst other areas of the setting have slowed down, the administration role has been very busy. I am only contracted to work 10 hours/week, but I’ve had a sense of ‘all hands to the deck’ as we try to get to grips with the financial impact on the setting and the implications on staffing and future viability and the balancing act of continued parental support.

My contact with the parents (mainly through emails) has been hugely encouraging and supportive, with a significant number wanting to financially support the setting by paying more than the retainer fee we are asking for. Bella and her team are truly appreciated, for that I am sure!

Working from home (whilst ‘home schooling’ 2 boys) has been a juggle, but the flexibility of my hours has meant I work every day for a few hours rather than two full days in between school hours as I did before. This I discovered actually suits the role better as I can process payments as they come in and keep on top of credit control more regularly. The negatives of working from home is the lack of team contact (albeit through email), although a zoom meeting or telephone call would suffice should we need to discuss anything in depth.

Daily contact with Bella and Hayley (the Administration Manager) has been brilliant and Linda’s wellbeing emails have been greatly received. All in all, I feel very lucky to work for such a brilliant team and feel that ‘doing our bit’ to help during this crisis (even in a very small way) is an honour.”

Linda is a Senior Play Worker at AGOSC. Linda also provides mindfulness and wellbeing sessions for the children, the staff and even the parents. Linda said:

“I feel very privileged to be able to still come into work and support other critical workers. I have really enjoyed giving 1:1 to some of the children and feel this has been good for them to talk about the situation. It’s been lovely to have so much time getting to know the children in depth. It’s been strange having less kids and less staff but that has been kind of special, the silence has actually been very calming and reassuring. It will be nice to get back to some normality but I really like change and I feel the way forward will be very positive and everyone will value loved ones, family and friends more, which is a good thing.”

Lauren, Deputy Playworker at AGOSC, added:

“I have enjoyed coming into work like I do on a daily basis during this uncertain time. It makes me feel happy to know that I am helping vital key worker parents as they are helping us with this crisis. Although I am very happy to go to work I also feel it’s very important to protect ourselves when looking after the children and to make the children aware of what is happening as its very uncertain for adults to understand let alone the children.

It is definitely strange having fewer children during Breakfast, After School and Holiday club compared to the busy After school club that we run. Although we have fewer numbers of children it does come with some positives: we now know more of the children’s personalities and vice versa, building stronger friendship between unlikely friends in different years

I also think it has had a positive outcome on the staff as we now get to work closely (within a 2 metre distance) with staff members who we don’t get normally work with so it builds a stronger friendship between us. Although I do miss the other staff members we all have kept in touch to make sure they’re OK.”

The Manager of a large Bristol nursery, that normally cares for up to 90 children and now has 20 to 30 children daily, gave us very honest feedback about how staff felt to be working. The setting wishes to remain anonymous.

“When the Government closed all educational settings due to Covid19 except for key worker children and vulnerable children, I knew, because a lot of our parents are key workers, we would remain open. The level of anxiety throughout the nursery at this time was really high due to staff worrying about becoming ill, possibly being exposed to Covid19 and the constant worry about taking it home to their families and loved ones. The general feeling of being torn between wanting to continue to try and support families that really required us to stay open so they could work on the front line and save lives, but also wanting to run in the other direction and stay at home has been something all of my team, including myself, have had to work through and this has been extremely hard, emotional and stressful.

The first few weeks were awful because children were being sent home due to illnesses and families were phoning in each day saying that they were off work due to self-isolating. Both staff and parents were anxious and I found it very hard to support everyone and look after my own mental health as they were all looking to me for answers and support – and I didn’t always have the answer or ability to put any more support or safety measures in place. As a team we all wanted to continue to support the parents who are key workers but in turn this caused anxiety due to knowing that the parents might be in contact with people with the virus, but the problem working with babies and small children is that we cannot follow Government guidelines such as social distancing or use all of the PPE etc.

Now several weeks on, it all seems a bit of a blur but things have settled. Staff anxieties have eased due to consistent numbers of children and families using the nursery plus new measures that have been put in place to support them, which includes a day working from home to support their well-being. We are now all getting used to our new role and routine, trying to keep busy and get all the little jobs done which we never usually have time for. We don’t know what the future holds or how long we can continue with the amount of staff that we have. This is only something that over time I will know.

We have had nothing but support, praise and thanks from the families that are still using the nursery and also from families that have stopped during this time. This has really helped all the staff continue to do such a great job during such worrying times. We feel very appreciated and every Thursday when people clap for key workers all of us find it very emotional and just feel blessed that everyone that we care for are safe and well.”

Deputy Manager, Shrina of Moon River, a 70-place nursery in Bishopston, spoke to staff and compiled their thoughts:

Moon River

“Although we miss our Moon River children it has been quite nice having 13 children across the nursery compared to 70. The staff feel that they are able to have more time with the children and really spend quality time with them, also tap into their interests. The children have been able to go and do lots of gardening in small groups, they have loved planting new flowers and fruit and vegetables and get the back garden up and running. The staff have been writing personal letters to the children who are not attended for their learning journals.

Currently we have 10 staff who are working, this includes nursery practitioners, nursery cook and senior staff. Whilst we are working with minimal staff due to staff being furloughed, we still talk to the children about the staff who are away from nursery so they are not forgotten. We are still in touch with our staff via Facebook and I know some of the girls chat through facetime, this is very important so they still a part of the team.

The staff do become worried about the virus and the spread of it in the environment. My role is to keep reminding them about how to prevent the spread: by washing their hand using hand soap thoroughly throughout the day and maintaining social distancing in the rooms. The children are also consistently reminded throughout the day about good hygiene.

Moon River - double window rainbow
Moon River

The team who are currently working are in very high spirits, and I am so proud of them as they are still coming into work and being positive. They understand that we are doing our best to help our families and community during these difficult times, they want to be a part of that. We have had some very warm comments from our families vie email and our Facebook page. The staff really want to stay connected with the families and the children so we have been uploading weekly songs and stories narrated by the staff. I have started to make a Moon River family book and families who are not currently attending nursery are sending pictures in so the children can see their friends. We are working so that families can continue to help the community and beat this virus and the children who are attending are still maintaining a consistent routine.”

St. George Pre-School

Sharon is the Manager at St. George Pre-School, a 56-place Early Years setting in the east of the city which is currently averaging 8 children per day. Sharon shared her thoughts:

“During the uncertainty of the Covid19 pandemic the team at St George Preschool CIO have continued to offer care and support to the families and children from the preschool community.

St. George Pre-School

The preschool has remained open to provide care to the children of ‘key working’ parents and those deemed as vulnerable. Our numbers have been low, but the children are really enjoying the adult interactions and learning opportunities that are happening. We have enjoyed baking, planting, woodwork, making playdough to take home as well as playing indoors and outside with their friends. We have provided lots of different resources outside to encourage the children to spend lots of time releasing energy in the fresh air whilst playing.

We continue to maintain contact with all our families through Tapestry and have set up a closed Facebook page for parents to share with each other what their children are doing at home. Staff are adding activity ideas, sharing stories and providing update information for parents. We are having weekly ‘Debutots’ session’s via Zoom – families log in and enjoy and hour of singing, dancing, and an interactive story. The children are really enjoying these sessions and seeing their friends. Our senior team along with our family support worker are contacting families via telephone to check in and offer support when needed. We also thought about how we could support our EYPP and low-income families: we contacted the Co-op store in St Anne’s which agreed to help us with providing them with food. Week one they had bread, milk, cereal, butter and week two they had bread, milk, cheese, tomatoes, oranges. When children come with parents to collect these items we have made our lending library accessible and put out resources such as chalk and paper for children to do art at home.”

The owner of a large north Bristol nursery who wishes to remain anonymous provided us with a lot of information about the difficulties caused by the Government’s lack of clarity during the initial days leading up to the lockdown, especially with the announcement of closing schools and nurseries. The owner’s concern was:

‘How do we pay the staff wages?’ Fortunately, this dilemma was then dealt with by the furlough announcement which I thought was amazingly generous and gave companies all over the country a chance to keep their staff and be ready to resume with the minimum fuss when things loosened up. With regard to the outcry to the new furlough conditions that were announced last Friday, I must admit that, if I understand them correctly, they seem to be reasonable.

When the salary issue was resolved we were then concerned about the health of our staff and we looked carefully at the possibility of closing, and even sounded out our parents accordingly. We realised we had lost the plot by even thinking about closing down – we were completely ignoring the reason why we should stay open, namely to support the key-workers. When viewed in that way it was obvious that we should “do our bit”, so open it was!

We then split our staff into two teams, the furlough team and the working team. The criteria for deciding who was in which team was determined by each individual’s circumstances. We wanted full-timers, a good range of qualifications and roles, staff who don’t have their own school-age children, and those for whom 100% of salary is a significant requirement. The working team will stay for the duration unless sickness or fatigue become an issue and will be replaced by a furlough member.

The children who are coming in (minimum 0, maximum 7) are loving the amount of attention that they are getting and the whole thing is beautifully harmonious.”

Meanwhile in the north of the City, sister nurseries, Archfield House in Cotham and Woodland House in Clifton have joined up during the coronavirus pandemic and are providing care for the children of keyworkers during this period. Whilst operating jointly, they have renamed themselves as Woodfield! They are operating from Archfield House and have between 20 and 40 children every day. The staff have been working extremely hard in order to carry on providing a safe, secure and exciting environment for the children attending, in these most tough of times.

Woodfield Celebrating Earth Day, when the children created artwork repurposing materials and taking inspiration from some books (Somebody Swallowed Stanley, A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea), discussing the importance of Reducing, reusing and recycling to look after our environment.
Celebrating the Queen’s birthday by making crowns from old magazines.
Cooking healthy ‘tomato sauce with hidden veg and protein’.

These a just a  few thoughts from some of the open settings in Bristol, but we’re sure these feelings and ideas are duplicated many times across the city. This just gives us a flavour and we thank all our practitioners, committees, Trustees, owners everywhere for the amazing jobs they are all doing to keep our children safe.

Next time you are out on the street on a Thursday night for the 8pm clapping session, spend an extra few minutes clapping and think about our forgotten heroes!

Rainbow over Bristol
Image: Klafubra / CC BY-SA (