Is Your Key Person
The Key To Stronger Parent Relationships?

How to build long-lasting relationships between key people and families.

This article explains why, as the two groups who know the child the best, information-sharing and regular communication between parents and key people is in the best interests of the child.

Starting nursery as a little tot can be very overwhelming… mummy and daddy aren’t there, you’re in a totally new environment and there are bound to be lots of unfamiliar faces around. For some children it’s straight in at the deep end, attending childcare full time from a young age.

That’s why, to a child, a key person is arguably the most important person in your setting.

So why don’t they have closer relationships with that child’s family?

Often, parent communication is dealt with by management at a nursery. And yet, they’re rarely the most informed person when it comes to each child. Fostering stronger key person to family relationships will help to give the key person more knowledge about the child they’re looking after, and give the family more understanding of what happens at your setting.

What is a key person?

A key person is someone that takes on the role of the main carer at the setting. They provide a secure base for the child by being a kind, responsible, and trustworthy figure in the life of that child.

This base comes from a key person ensuring the child’s emotional and physical needs are met. Various environmental factors feed into providing this secure base, but the key person is at the forefront. When children feel secure, they are able to:

  • Develop both socially and emotionally.
  • Explore their nursery environment.
  • Build relationships with other children and adults.
  • Gain new skills and knowledge.

Your key people undoubtedly have a very important job. We are all well aware that at nursery, children can often be in groups, be it small or large, for prolonged periods of time. To have someone that’s always there to answer questions, cuddle with, and laugh or cry to, can reduce stress levels significantly. A child’s overall wellbeing and development will be positively affected by this close, secure adult–child relationship.

“We can never remind ourselves too often that a child, particularly a very young and almost totally dependent one, is the only person in the nursery who cannot understand why he is there. He can only explain it as abandonment, and unless he is helped in a positive and affectionate way, this will mean levels of anxiety greater than he can tolerate.”

Goldschmied & Jackson, 1994

So, why not trust in your key people?

There are countless reasons why close parent partnerships are important for everyone involved in the childcare experience…In fact, that’s exactly why Ofsted often require evidence that parent partnerships are taking place. You never really stop looking for ways to improve the communication between ‘home’ and ‘nursery’.

If your key people have ‘tuned in’ to their key children, understand their interests, and are generally fulfilling their role, perhaps they could thrive under a little more responsibility?

Empowering your key people by giving them more responsibility could be the catalyst for more information, communication and stories being shared between management, practitioners, children and their families.

Top tip 💡 Why not refer to a ‘key person’ as a ‘family person’ to emphasise the importance of working with both the children and their families.

Key person or nursery management

Inside your nursery, it’s the key person who protects the physical and psychological well-being of the child. Equally, they are also the adult that the child knows best, the one who they trust and respect.

It’s much easier for a parent, or couple, to get to know and trust a select person as opposed to the entire nursery staff team. Making your parents feel comfortable will bring lots of benefits; they are more likely to get involved with the nursery, attend events, and spread positive feedback

Since the key person works alongside parents and carers to ensure that there is a continuity of care, they are in the best position to be the main communicator between home and nursery. The key person will care for the child all day every day, and there is certainly value in the sharing of knowledge directly with one another, rather than through a third party.

Don’t kick managers out altogether

The idea in all of this is to take some of the pressure off you as a manager. It’s not about you knowing any less.

You can parents in the loop with everything that’s going on, while simultaneously improving the efficiency of how information is shared between the setting and home. Have confidence in your key person, give them this responsibility and with sufficient time and the right tools – watch them thrive!

Of course, like anything, it is important to have a process and set policies in place. It is crucial that key workers know how to behave, what they need to accomplish, and what you expect of them.

As well as this, if you find yourself in a situation where a key worker isn’t quite grasping it, you have documentation to refer back to. Having clear roles and responsibilities allows you to more effectively manage your entire nursery.

Top tip 💡 Consider the sensitive feelings of the parent and think carefully about how you communicate, particularly when you have important and/or difficult things to say.

How important are the parents in this?

Of course your primary concern is for the children, but their parents are very important too. With parents often having to spend prolonged periods of time away from their little ones, it’s vital that you help them to avoid feeling as if they’re missing out on their child growing up.

Big milestones can be reached at your setting, and it’s important that parents feel reassured that this is normal and nothing to worry about. A strong relationship with regular communication also has the benefit of making them feel more involved in these special moments too.

As a parent, you want the best treatment and care for your child. You, naturally, will want to be in touch with someone who fully understands their individual learning, development and care.

Top tip 💡 Key people should be flexible in their approach to communication with parents. Adaptations may need to be made to suit different parents, particularly those with English as an additional language.

This two- way relationship is crucial for both you and the parents. Firstly, it creates a shared level of expectation which reduces the risk of any misunderstandings. At the end of the day, parents know their children best, so the key worker can benefit by learning:

  • What the child likes and dislikes, which may change frequently.
  • New levels of development at home, such as new skills.
  • Their behaviour in the home environment.
  • Whether there are any concerns being noticed at home (the key person could help families engage with more specialist support if appropriate).

Parents might know their child best, but if done correctly, the key person can play a crucial role in helping to improve the parent’s knowledge of their own child too.

How to improve parent-key person relationships

Looking for some ways to improve the relationship between parents and their child’s key person? Here are a few quick ideas:

  • Don’t let parent communication be a rushed, ‘get it out the way’ kind of job. Ensure your key people have enough time to plan, communicate and then reflect. All of these steps are important for a well-structured and consistent relationship with the parents.
  • Suggest the key person participates in and plans ways of getting parents involved. This may be coffee mornings, parents evenings, stay and play, themed weeks, trips – the list is endless.
  • Utilise software that can save time without reducing quality. A key person can share updates, photos and videos with the parents as well as message them about upcoming events and parents evenings, saving those all-important face-to-face conversations for the stuff that matters.
  • Don’t only allow practitioners to assess the child’s development through observations and checks, but involve them in the higher-level assessments too. Training for this should be regular so the key person is confident, and is providing the parents with sufficient information on the child’s progress. The key worker can take the leading role in this, getting to a stage where upper management plays a more supervisory role.

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