As you know, my dietetic interest makes me continuously look at the way our children are fed and cared for in Britain. But the last few months have brought me "up close and personal" with a world of Child-Minding which I'd never come across before. And the fantastic work that they do.
The first thing to bear in mind is that, for decades Home Child-Minders have been in the shadow of their Nursery counterparts. Child-Minders are professional Child-Carers who work from their own homes. They must be registered with the Care Inspectorate and offer high-quality care in a home-from-home environment. The biggest benefit for parents is that, unlike the traditional Nursery setting - children have a very low adult-to-child ratio in Child-Minding as well as a variety of important developmental experiences. But, in the past, Child-Minders have been excluded from most Early Years training - all too often costs and logistics of training make it inaccessible to most individual Child-Minders. More importantly, Early Years Child-Care training is usually focused on the Nursery provider and may not be appropriate or relevant to Child-Minders. As you know, my main interest is in nutrition with most Child-Minders working on gut instinct when it comes to the food they serve!
So, I went to meet a Child-Minding Association in Northamptonshire with over 8oo registered Child-Minders providing essential care for up to 24,000 children. They are also responsible for an innovative project to set standards of excellence in Food and Nutrition for Early Years Home Child-Care.
Northamptonshire Child-Minding Association (NCA) has developed a Food and Nutrition training programme as well as a full range of comprehensive written resources to specifically support Child-Minders and other home child care providers. The first of its kind, this project is being supported by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
Elaine Pitteway, Executive Director of NCA told me, "Our members are professional and devoted to their vocation. As an Association we have provided support and training for our members for some time, but until now we have been unable to source any Child-Minder specific nutrition training. We now have a 'Nutrition Project' to help us bring our food and nutrition knowledge up to the same standards of excellence that we have in children's education and safety". She added, "Parents choose Child-Minding over nurseries because of the personal care and attention we can provide. We believe those parents and our members deserve the very best in training and support too."
"We are now going to develop our menu planning options, recipes and nutrition reference material specific to home Child-Carers and Child-Minders in mind- the main difference is accounting for all the different permutations in the way food might be prepared and served in the home setting. We also need to maximise and encourage the freedom the Child-Minder has to include children in food related activities and food preparation. There is so much scope for children to learn about food, it's really exciting! Food is an essential part of the Child-Care day- we want Child-Minders to be 100% confident that they are getting nutrition right from the very start.
Now, I do declare an interest as Grub4life supported NCA in applying to the Big Lottery for funding to run the project. Personally, I praise the Big Lottery who recognise the contribution that Child-Minders make to society.
Over the coming months the NCA Food and Nutrition working party will design resources to guide Child-Minders around:
- early years nutrition
- menu planning
- recognising and supporting children with problem eating
- managing food allergies and intolerances
- teaching children about where food comes from, how to prepare, grow and shop for food- there will also be a whole range of cooking activities for children to join in with
- Child-Minders will be able to celebrate a wide cross section of cultural festivals throughout the year
Elaine Pitteway, added "we know that a lot of the families we work with don't have a network of extended family to support them in feeding their children. We want this project to help our members become that very support for the families they work with. That might include sharing recipes, helping parents through tricky times like fussy eating or weaning when children refuse to eat. It's as much a part of our role as helping children to read, or perform everyday tasks like tying their shoelaces!"
NCA are an incredibly professional and determined organisation - see their work at their website and I've already learnt a lot about how special and specialist this form of child care can be. We know there are literally thousands of Child-Minders out there caring for hundreds of thousands of children. Where nutrition is concerned imagine what power they hold? If they could be empowered across the UK, like the NCA in Northamptonshire, they could make an impressive impact on the health of a massive proportion of our next generations. - This opportunity just can't be ignored any longer.
Does your child go to a Child-Minder? Or are you a Child-Minder yourself? Either way we'd love to hear from you to understand your needs better?