There are many different reasons why children may need additional support which involves working with professionals outside of your childcare facility. This is known as partnership working, where professionals support children, and their families, together in a holistic way. It often involves sharing information, discussion and a commitment to working as a team around the child says Rebecca Fisk.
Identifying a need
Children may have additional needs relating to medical conditions, special educational needs, safeguarding and child protection, or learning English as an additional language, for example. In order to care for the child it is essential that parents/carers are given the opportunity to talk openly about their child’s needs without judgement by professionals. This openness is not always forthcoming, especially if parents are worried about interventions which may result from disclosing a child’s needs. However, in most circumstances parents/carers are only too pleased to share information and receive appropriate support.
Safeguarding children from harm is everybody’s responsibility. Partnership working is key to successful implementation of safeguarding practice and policy. Each early years provider will have access to their Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) information where all processes are outlined if you have a concern. The thresholds for Early Help or referrals to Children’s Services will also be available locally. The Designated Person in the setting is responsible for liaising with any statutory services concerning safeguarding and child protection. A list of all guidance documents from the Government is available at www.gov.uk. Safeguarding partners in a local area include the local authority, the clinical commissioning group and the chief officer of police and they must provide strategic leadership for safeguarding services and must set out how they will work together and with any relevant agencies, of which childcare and education services are a part.
Special educational needs and disability
Often it is through early years developmental assessments when delays and concerns are identified. Health visitors send questionnaires to parents as part of the health review at age two years, and childcare practitioners assess children against the EYFS prime areas developmental bands. The aim of the integrated review at two years is for this information to be shared between health and education/childcare in discussion with parents and it is important that early years settings seek to connect with health visitors through the child’s parents or directly to ensure that a holistic review takes place.
There are many possible professionals who may be involved in the lives of children with special educational needs, from hospital staff who deal with medical conditions, to speech and language therapists who assess and deliver programmes to support communication and language development. It is the responsibility of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator in the early years setting to “coordinate the support across the setting and specifically to liaise with the professionals or agencies beyond the setting” (SEND Code of Practice 5.54). Working in partnership with the child, their parents and other professionals to assess and meet the needs of children is essential to promoting positive outcomes for children, and can be achieved by listening carefully to the child (their likes, dislikes, hopes and aspirations) and to the parents. Outlining choices and enabling good understanding around options is key in partnership working and involves services being clear about their offer and thresholds for access.
Each local authority is required to provide information about services and pathways for families on their Local Offer outlining how they meet the needs of children identified with SEND. Early years providers should become familiar with the Local Offer and signpost parents to this. Joint Local Area Reviews are undertaken to review if local authorities are meeting their statutory duties for partnership working under the SEND Code of Practice, which can include visits to early years providers.
Learning English as an additional language and being bi-lingual
Children who are learning to speak more than one language have an additional need which can be supported through partnership working. It is important that settings involve parents to stay informed about the setting and their child’s development, which may involve using translation services. Working in partnership with the local community where the child lives and valuing their beliefs and cultural diversity is essential in promoting good relationships and enriching for children, parents and staff. Some local authorities have advisory teachers who can support settings to be as inclusive as possible for children who are integrating their home language with learning English. Understanding how children learn language and supporting the development of dual languages is key to demonstrating acceptance and providing quality learning experiences for children who are bi-lingual.
Essentials for partnership working
Involve parents and children as much as possible in partnership working, keeping the child’s needs at the centre.
Be clear about gaining permissions where applicable. Always follow safeguarding guidelines when gaining permissions from parents for information sharing.
Commit to working in partnership with other professionals and agencies and ensure parents are aware that this is your professional responsibility.
Ensure clear policies and procedures are understood by all staff, outlining key responsibilities, such as that of the Designated Person or Special Educational Needs Coordinator.
Be prepared with evidence - based assessments when discussing children’s needs and progress, using the EYFS as a starting point. Some more detailed assessments or observations may also be required.
Ensure all staff are aware of the Local Offer and are confident to signpost parents to services as appropriate. Referral pathways should be outlined on the Local Offer.
Consider how your childcare provision will be represented on the Local Offer and liaise with your local authority for information.
Keep records of discussions with other professional and agencies.
Work to build positive professional relationships.
Partnership working is essential to ensure children have their needs identified, assessed and met throughout their childhood. Building good professional connections reduces working in isolation and provides a holistic view of children and families. This in turn can support high aspirations for children and better outcomes.