2020 has been a difficult year for so many people, and particularly so for those working in childcare settings. So many childcare services have gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic, including the staff at First Steps, a not-for-profit childcare organisation, who worked tirelessly alongside Rhondda Cynon Taff Council to provide emergency care for key workers and those who needed it most during lockdown.
Lisa Thomas, CEO of First Steps, reflects on the early stages of the pandemic and how they supported staff. “Understandably, one of the biggest worries for staff was the thought of contracting the virus and passing it onto their families,” she explains. “So we did everything we could to mitigate that risk and alleviate those worries. From keeping staff involved in safeguarding discussions about PPE and risk assessments to ensuring they were informed of any policy and procedure changes, ensuring safety and peace of mind was our priority.”
As well as keeping staff up to date with relevant guidance and training, First Steps made it a priority to regularly checked in on staff’s wellbeing. “The senior team offered high levels of support, guidance and kept staff involved in all developments,” explains Lisa. “They invited all staff to join a COVID-19 health and safety discussion group where concerns were shared, problems were overcome, and solutions were offered. This has been integral to us creating a better and more positive working environment.”
In order to cope with all the changes, First Steps opted to minimise the amount of paperwork for staff to complete and instead focused on ensuring that staff had the time to truly engage with children and their families. They provided parents with regular video calls and got children involved in the new daily routines such as temperature checks on the doors and handwashing on arrival. Lisa tells us, “each member of staff played a key part in helping children to overcome what must have been a scary and strange time for them, especially for those children who had never met them before. The motivation of our workforce cannot be put into words.”
As well as providing care for the children of key workers, First Steps also supported other families as they tackled home schooling. Despite never really using social media previously, staff were quick to take it in their stride. Parents were kept updated and given opportunities to communicate with nurseries via private Facebook pages. On these pages, parents could also access online activities, games and storytelling videos as a way of staying in touch. Social media became an important resource and lifeline to many families. Staff even found a way for parents to enjoy the special moment of nursery graduations by uploading materials for children to make their own graduation hats and submit photographs for a digital graduation book.
In summary, Lisa said, “our team members are heroes without capes. They have provided valuable opportunities without compromising on children’s play experiences, all whilst ensuring that the robust cleaning and safety protocols were adhered to.”