Last reviewed 28 August 2017

As the autumn term commences, many young children face the daunting prospect of starting at a new early years provision. An effective settling-in policy is essential for any early years provider and helps to ease what can be a difficult transition for both parents and children, writes Elizabeth Walker.

Settling-in process

When a child starts at a new childcare provider, it is vital that there is a procedure in place to deal with the settling-in process. This needs to be flexible and should take account of the individual needs of the child and parents. The settling-in period is a gradual introduction of the child to the provision, its children, activities, routines and the staff. The child needs to become familiar with the provision and to feel confident and safe within it.

The process can take up two weeks or maybe longer depending on the age of the child and his or her previous experience of being away from home. Initially, it can be a rather overwhelming experience, particularly for children under three, and for those who have not had experience of some form of care outside the home. First children can find it more difficult and the child’s personality will certainly make a difference as some adapt more easily to change than others.

Key persons

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework requires all early years providers to assign each child a key person. The key person provides an essential link between home and the provision and helps to support the settling-in process. The key person approach helps to develop secure and trusting relationships and respond to a child’s individual needs.

The key person’s role includes:

  • ensuring that every child’s care is tailored to meet his or her individual needs

  • helping the child become familiar with the provision

  • offering a settled relationship for the child

  • building a relationship with parents

  • observing developmental progress and planning learning opportunities to meet individual needs

  • keeping records on daily activities and routines, developmental progress, accidents, the administering of medicines, etc and sharing these with parents and other professionals as necessary

  • organising a back-up key person who is known to the parent and child

  • producing reports and contributing to the integrated review.

Home visits

Prior to starting the early years provision, a home visit by the allocated key person may be offered and this is an excellent opportunity to share information and to form an individual settling-in plan for the child. Information provided by parents on the application form can be discussed such as any special health or dietary requirements, as well as the child’s likes and dislikes and any other relevant information.

Settling-in visits

Parents will usually be asked to stay with their children at the initial settling-in visit to introduce them gradually to the provision and so that they can settle comfortably. Children need time to bond with their key person and to become familiar with the provision’s routines and the environment in order to feel happy and safe. After the first visit, parents should be made welcome to stay for as long as they want but it is normally recommended that they do leave the child for a short period. When parents leave, they should be advised to say goodbye to their child and explain that they will be coming back, and when. The length of time the child is left for can gradually be increased as they grow in confidence.

It is advisable to arrange times for a settling-in visit when the child is normally at its most content, ie not hungry, tired or under the weather. The key person should ensure that he or she knows how to settle the child if he or she becomes distressed and if this proves unsuccessful parents should be contacted. Several pre-start visits to the provision may be necessary before parents can leave their child for the whole duration of a normal session. Parents and key persons can judge when it is the right time to make this step.

Problems with settling-in

Some children find it more difficult to settle and take longer to relax and enjoy their new environment. This can be due to their age or previous experiences of being away from their main carers. It is important for parents to remember that it is a very normal part of a child’s development to be anxious, nervous or angry about starting a new childcare provision. If a child experiences difficulties, the key person can work with the parents to try different settling techniques. These might include:

  • bringing in a comfort object

  • leaving photographs of family or articles of clothing that smell of the main carer

  • engaging the child in favourite activities

  • putting a time limit on the handover as children often get more distressed if they see parents lingering anxiously

  • asking the father or another family member to do the drop off as children are sometimes more anxious about leaving their mothers.

It is not uncommon for a child to settle very easily at a provision, and then unexpectedly a few weeks later find it difficult to come in. The staff and key persons can provide support if this happens and it is quite normal for children to experience anxieties at some point until they have been at the provision for some time.

Communication with parents

It is often said that the transition to a new childcare provider can be more traumatic for the parents than the children involved. Children are very sensitive to their parents’ feelings and any uncertainties will be noticed by the child, making it more difficult for them to settle. Parents should be reassured that most children stop crying within minutes of being left but they will be contacted if there are any problems. Parents should also be made welcome to call at any time if they want to check on their child’s progress. Effective communication is vital and parents should have confidence in the staff and be made to feel active partners with the provider. Communication with parents could include:

  • daily verbal updates on settling-in progress

  • daily diary sheets to record events and basic care routines

  • individual records of achievement and development including a settling-in report

  • regular newsletters to inform parents of past and future events

  • folders that contain examples of art and other work carried out each week

  • regular parent evenings to exchange information and assess all-round development.

Key persons and parents should meet on a daily basis but if the key person is unavailable, he or she should ensure another person in the team passes on any relevant information.

Effective management practice

All early years providers should implement a settling-in policy and this should be made available to parents before their child starts at the provision. The policy could include:

  • offering a home visit before the child starts at the provision

  • arranging pre-start visits

  • providing parents with all relevant information including the provider’s prospectus, policies and procedures

  • allocating a key person

  • arranging settling-in sessions

  • producing a settling-in report.

Managers should ensure that:

  • all staff receive training on the settling-in policy and procedures

  • they monitor the success of the settling-in process and review policy and practice in group and staff meetings

  • they provide ongoing support and supervision for key persons

  • up-to-date information is always available and accessible to all parents

  • they provide ongoing support to children and parents if key persons change, or children transfer to a new provision or school.

Further information