By Dr Alexander
This article provides an easy-to-read discussion about primary caregiving in early childhood centres. It covers some common questions and concerns relating to a primary caregiving system.
The main reason why early childhood services go for this particular organisational model of staffing is they are concerned for the emotional well-being of children and are keen to ensure continuity of care.
For parents with an infant or toddler, a centre that implements a primary caregiving system is often attractive to them. Passing a child to strangers can be stressful and having an in-centre primary caregiver reduces stress from the very first separation occasion.
In the following sections of this article the terms 'primary caregiver' and 'primary caregiving' are defined and common concerns about primary caregiving are discussed.
"Primary Caregiver" in the context of an early childhood centre means a child's special teacher/ educator/ caregiver.
"Primary Caregiving" is the label applied to a practice in early childhood centres whereby a teacher/ educator/ caregiver assumes individual responsibility for the child's care and education, including nappy changing, meals and other routines, observing and planning to meet the child's needs, getting to know the child's family and working with the family to ensure the best experiences and the best developmental outcomes for the child.
Children get to develop a strong sense of trust and a secure attachment with their early childhood centre primary caregiver. This is the person the child is most likely to go in times of distress, and the person who they find understands them best.
When starting at a centre, or during pre-entry visits, the centre supervisor/manager will let the family know who will be their child's primary caregiver. And the family, child and primary caregiver will be introduced to each other. Or - a teacher may find during the pre-entry visits that she/he and a child get along well together or she/he might be keen to help the child and will put in a request to be the child's primary caregiver.
Primary caregivers work with the support of other staff in the centre. Best practice is for a second staff member to be assigned to be the 'buddy' - or the back-up. The 'buddy' gets to know the child too and participates in routines, so he/she can easily step in when the primary caregiver for what ever reason is not available.
Issues and Solutions
Question 1: Can't the child be cared for by other adults at the centre?
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