A lot of childminders ask me for advice about this...
They tell me that it is clear to them a child has a delay in one or more areas of learning... they have done the observations, assessed them against Early Years Outcomes / Development Matters ... and they are pretty sure there is a concern - or maybe there is a health problem which means that the child is falling behind - but parents are not happy to refer their child for help.
The 2 year progress check was introduced to tackle this issue. The intention is that parents and their childminder work together to write the check which is then taken by parents and given to the child’s Health Visitor who will see that there is a concern and act on the information.
The EYFS 2012 makes it clear that this is one of the main aims of the 2 year progress check in requirement 3.2 -
‘If there are significant emerging concerns, or an identified special educational need or disability, practitioners should develop a targeted plan to support the child’s future learning and development involving other professionals (for example, the provider’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator) as appropriate.’
In an ideal world... parents and the childminder should be working together to promote learning both at home and in the provision and parents should value their childminder’s comments, following them up and putting their child’s needs first.
Unfortunately, a lot of childminders report problems -
· The progress check is not given to the Health Visitor by parents who are in denial about delays in their child’s learning and development;
· Parents do not value or understand the need for the progress check and refuse to contribute information;
· Health Visitors do not carry out a 2 year progress check in their local area or send out a form for parents to tick boxes to say their child can do things;
· The Health Visitor ignores what the childminder has written as unimportant;
· Parents lie about their child’s learning and development during the progress check or fail to attend the meeting.
Even in the very best parent / childminder partnerships, problems can occur as soon as the childminder suggests to parents that their child has a delay or notes concerns about their child’s learning. It can be a very emotive subject for many parents and one which has to be tackled very sensitively.
Asking for help to complete the check
The 2 year progress check guidance states (point 4.2), ‘Childminders work in a home environment, without the support of a manager. However, if they need support in preparing the progress check, or making referrals for children, they can contact their local authority childminding support officer, children’s centre or access their local childminding network.’
You can find the document ‘2 year progress check ‘know how’ guide’.
This guidance is fraught with problems! Few childminders now have a local authority childminding support officer, more and more Children’s Centres are stopping childminder sessions and removing childminders from their remit and local childminding networks are mostly gone.
So, who is there to help us? The answer is that we have each other and can ask questions (anonymously - always being careful to mask the child’s identity and not give away too much identifying information) to get advice from other established and experienced practitioners who will be able to share their knowledge.
Making a referral
The 2 year progress check guidance states in point 4.4, ‘Providers should seek the consent of parents to share information from the check directly with relevant professionals.’
This is where the whole process is, sadly, often set up to fail the child - childminders cannot normally go directly to the Health Visitor or other services and ask for help for a child without parents signed permission.
Here is an example from a childminder of how the system failed a child in her care -
“A child in my care had a hearing problem - I could hear it every time I talked to him. The other children struggled to understand him and it became more pronounced as he got older.
I wrote a 2 year progress check but mum refused to engage with it because she said she didn’t have any concerns about him - she said he chatted away at home. I suggested a visit so I could hear him talking at home but mum wasn’t keen.
Mum didn’t give the progress check I wrote (in which I noted his speech and language was delayed and that his next steps were to learn some signing so he could communicate better with us) to the Health Visitor - she told the Health Visitor that her child was shy when he didn’t talk during the check.
I asked my Development Officer for advice about a hearing check referral and was told that I needed written permission from mum before I could ask for any support - which mum refused to give.
I contacted the Health Visitor direct and asked about how to get a hearing check referral and was told that the Health Visitor could not discuss the child with me without parents permission.
I contacted speech and language services for support and was told that I was not qualified to suggest that a child might have a hearing problem - it was up to the parents and Health Visitor to ask for support - not me. Before I became a childminder I was an audiologist - I am as qualified as the person who answered the phone.
Meanwhile, mum was angry that I was suggesting activities to promote language development at home, asking her to refer her child for further help and showing her child had a delay in his communication, understanding and language development (and other areas of learning where he needs to communicate) in his Learning Journey file. Mum withdrew the child from my care to send him to grandparents who fill him full of sweets and sit him in front of the television every day. I haven’t seen him since he left.”
Is it a safeguarding concern? Is it parental neglect?
The guidance to the 2 year progress check - point 4.4 goes on to note that,
‘Providers must have written policies and procedures in place to safeguard children, in line with the guidance and requirements of the relevant Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB).’
Why does this statement follow one about childminders seeking consent from parents before taking concerns further?
This is because, if you are concerned that a child’s learning and / or development delay is due to a medical or other similar problem which needs urgent help from other agencies... and parents are consistently refusing to ask for that help for their child... and you feel that their lack of action is putting the child at risk... and the child is being neglected (which is one of the reasons why safeguarding must be contacted)... you must follow your safeguarding procedures.
What would be the result of a safeguarding referral? It is very likely that Social Services and Safeguarding will swoop on the family, make some assessments and possibly refer the child for further support to the relevant agencies... but we hear of speech and language services who send children away until they are older and over-worked Social Services who ask childminders during training to only refer the most serious cases.
What would happen to the relationship between the childminder and the child’s parents as a result of a referral? I am not aware of any studies into how many childminder / parent relationships survive a referral of this nature, but I know from childminders to whom I have spoken that the ‘trust has gone’ and the family very often withdraw their child immediately.
Is this in the best interests of the child? Only you can decide - but you must weigh up the possible long term positive and negative effects to the child of any interventions which have been requested without parental permission.
Remember that if you have any concerns that a child is being abused you must make the call without delay and you are not qualified to investigate.
Regardless of whether parents are engaged in the process of getting further help for their child, we must ensure that our documentation and records show how the child is being supported to learn and develop to their full potential. This means that we must continue writing observations, linking them to Early Years Outcomes / Development Matters and sharing ideas for children’s next steps / learning at home / individual planning with their parents.
Where possible it is important to attend or source further training to support the child. I know that local training courses are not as readily available as they once were, so it might be necessary to pay for training or to find ideas in books or from the internet which will support your practice.
For example, if you have a child who you feel is struggling with communication and language, you should do everything you can to turn your provision into a communication friendly environment, turning down background noise and using strategies to promote language and listening skills.
There are more ideas in this blog.
Covering yourself with Ofsted
A childminder was recently graded unsatisfactory by Ofsted for failing to support a child who had a delay in his learning and development because she had not complied with EYFS requirement 3.2 and referred the child for help. She argued that her local authority refused to accept a referral from her and that parents were in denial. She asked the inspector what more she could do... the inspector said that she must do more but was unable to come up with any answers. Unfortunately, this happened because there are no easy answers...
Communication with parents needs to remain high on the agenda and they must be told, as sensitively as possible, that you have concerns about their child. I suggest you write regular development checks (every 6 months might be appropriate) and ask parents to contribute to and sign the checks so you can show Ofsted that you are informing them and they are choosing not to get further help.
Keep records of when you suggest activities parents might like to follow up at home - this will help you to show that you are engaging parents and continually supporting the child’s learning.
If your local authority has told you that referrals can only be made with parents written permission, keep the training notes so that you can show them to Ofsted. If you do ask for help, keep records of dates, times, person spoken to and the response you received, again to show to your inspector.
At the end of the day, the child must come first and if you believe there is a safeguarding concern you must make the call and let others better qualified than you decide what to do next.
However, if you feel that you can offer support to the child and family and raise outcomes for the child within your provision, then you need to do this as proactively as possible, asking for help and documenting responses from various agencies so that you have clear evidence for Ofsted that you are continuing to put the child’s learning and development needs first.
All Local Authorities are different - you should always contact your LA and ask for confidential advice. Write up what they say as evidence for Ofsted.
I hope this helps. Sarah