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OPINION

Why the government’s integrated review for two-year-olds is good news for families

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Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, explains why the new single, integrated review for two-year-olds is an opportunity we have to get right.

Turning two is a big milestone for children developmentally – and emotionally. During a child’s second year, their physical and language skills can leap forward; and while the fabled “terrible twos” aren’t necessarily “terrible”, most people with experience of caring for two-year-olds would admit that it can be a challenging time.

What is vital during this important year is that children are supported to develop those core skills that will set them on the right path for becoming school ready and the challenges beyond.

So making sure that there is a comprehensive framework to monitor and support children’s wellbeing at this age is critical. This is why the recent news that all children will receive a single, integrated review aged two, with the input of both health visitors and childcare professionals, is great news for children and their families.

Whilst a child’s first educators are of course their parents – nursery workers, childminders and pre-school teachers also provide essential early support for children at this age. They too have a unique and valuable understanding of that child’s development and wellbeing. The integrated review recognises their contribution and is building on the already effective review and assessment of children’s development that happens in childcare settings.

Childcare professionals will now be able to play an even greater role in assessing young children’s early development and wellbeing alongside their health visitor colleagues.

With the integration of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) progress check with the Healthy Child Programme (HCP) check, the new review is straightforward in its ambition. The professionals most in touch with that child at this stage of their life come together with their parents to collectively assess whether a two-year-old is on track and, if they are in need of support, work together to agree a plan to address their needs.

The real secret to success will be ensuring childcare professionals and health visitors have a mutual understanding of each other’s expertise and a shared language to support this important integration. Health visitors will need to value the insight of their childcare colleagues as well as recognise the strong partnership childcare professionals have with parents using their setting.

This will help to avoid duplication of work and ensure everyone supporting two year olds – parents, childcare professionals and health visitors – are fully involved in the review.

From the pilots of the project that took place during 2013, we know that there have been encouraging signs of these partnerships already, with childminders and nurseries welcoming the opportunity to work together. One childminder told me: “I found it a very positive experience, both the health visitor and I got a much fuller view of the child than we would have done doing a review alone – and the parent felt it was worthwhile too.”

This collaboration will only grow in importance as more and more two-year-olds enter registered childcare settings, as the free entitlement is extended to 40% of the most disadvantaged two year olds. It’s an opportunity we have to get right so that families receive the advice, guidance and, no doubt, reassurance they need to support their two-year-old’s progress.

We know that it is often the smaller, more straightforward interventions early on which can make a real difference and avoid the need for specialist help later down the line. Therefore a comprehensive framework that helps spot development needs and addresses them early is key. Last month’s figures from the Department for Education showed that the gap in achievement between children with SEN and those with no identified SEN had risen to 47 per cent in 2014. We hope that the integrated review will mean speedier access to the right support that children need at the right time.

At the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) we know that childcare settings are reviewing the development of the children in their care regularly but, for some, translating this into the integrated review may be daunting. It will be important for local authorities to provide support so that childcare settings can contribute fully to the review process. How local authorities provide this support and organise the reviews still poses significant risks to success. For instance, health visitors will need to be flexible so that settings can rearrange care for other children for the duration of the review. Coordinating a single meeting between parent, health visitor and childcare professional will also be difficult, particularly in those areas where there is already high demand on health visiting teams.

Whilst obstacles to success remain, we know from the pilots that integrated reviews can happen locally and can make a huge contribution to the early intervention agenda. We know that childcare professionals are committed to making them work for families and we will be doing our part to supporting our members – nursery workers, nannies and childminders – to be ready. We will also work with our partners in the health care sector to support health visitors to embrace the assistance they will receive from childcare settings.

A fully integrated review marks a big step forward for children and families but also for the changing status of childcare professionals, working in partnership with the health sector. Health visitors and early years practitioners have specialist understanding of children’s progress that complement each other. Together they will help ensure children get the best start in life.

Liz Bayram is chief executive of PACEY, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years

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