Majority of nursery workers encountering challenging and complex backgrounds

A new survey reveals that a high proportion of nursery workers have experienced working with children facing complex backgrounds and challenging emotional and behavioural needs – with many feeling under-prepared for the task.

A new survey reveals that a high proportion of nursery workers have experienced working with children facing complex backgrounds and challenging emotional and behavioural needs – with many feeling under-prepared for the task.

A majority of early years staff have reported working with children with complex issues – usually the realm of social workers and mental health professionals – including domestic violence, parental substance use, abuse and bereavement, according to a new survey by the Anna Freud Centre.

The survey, which received responses from over 900 UK nursery staff, highlighted challenges facing early years staff working with children with unexpected emotional or mental health needs.

More than two-thirds (69%) of nursery staff who responded said they had experienced working with babies or children affected by trauma or abuse, while 71% said they had worked with babies and children affected by domestic violence.

More than nine in ten (91%) said they had dealt with challenging situations that involved children who potentially had mental health issues, or social or emotional difficulties.

In addition, 60% reported that they had worked with babies or children from families affected by substance usage, while almost half (48%) said they had worked with children who had experienced the bereavement of either a parent or sibling.

Head of the Early Years Programme at the Anna Freud Centre Dr Camilla Rosan said: “The early years are the most important in terms of a child’s development, and the results of this survey are truly eye opening.”

“When most of us think about who will be directly supporting our most vulnerable children and families, we normally think of social workers and mental health professionals. But we forget that our nursery workers are engaging with vulnerable children on a daily basis.”

“Aside from their own families, these children probably spend more time with nursery workers than anyone else during their early formative years. This research should fundamentally shift the way we view the role of nursery workers within our society.”

The survey also looked at the impact that dealing with these challenging needs was having on nursery staff themselves, and how equipped they felt to dealing with them. 71% of staff said they had become stressed or upset when dealing with these situations, whilst 74% said they felt confused and unsure of best way to deal with them.

Dr Rosan explains: “At times, nursery staff are clearly feeling under-prepared and under-resourced to manage and support children who are experiencing challenging emotions or have mental health needs.”

“It’s clear we need to prioritise the development of these skills and give nursery staff the support and training opportunities they so want and deserve about early years’ mental health.”

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