Valuing Family Connections

Relationships Matter.

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

A study to determine if our families value having their perspectives included on our Children’s Policies and how we can best support our families to contribute – if they wish to do so.

Introduction

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was reduced partnerships between the setting and our families compared to previous years. As a result, we highlighted the need to build on family connections.

Inspired by Froebel support visit, we began to create our Children’s Policies for core provisions. Following Froebel’s principle of “Unity and Connectedness” we felt it was important to have our families’ perspective on these. Unfortunately, when asked, there was no uptake from our families, therefore creating a “niggle” as to why there was no family feedback and if there was anything we could do as a team to support engagement.

Context

Together with our children we created ‘Children’s Policies’ for each core provision ensuring our policies captured children’s perspectives. By doing so, we supported our ethos of a child centred approach and their right to give their opinion and the team to take it seriously; evoking Article 12 UNCRC (UNICEF UK, 2019).

Initially there was no uptake from our families regarding sharing their perspective on our core provision policies. We questioned why – was there a barrier preventing our families from voicing their perspectives, especially when other family engagement experiences/opportunities on offer were having such positive uptake?

Feeling conscious of Froebel’s principle of “Unity and Connectedness”, and the belief we hold regarding the relationships of families and the setting working together. “As the child’s first educators, parents and carers are key partners in supporting their child’s learning. As pedagogical leaders, it is essential that we develop positive relationships with parents and carers and work closely alongside them and value their contribution” (Scottish Government, 2020). We began to ask questions and explore further as to why this may be the case and what could be done to support family engagement and a connected approach in the context of policy development.

References

Scottish Government, (2020), Realising the Ambition. Available at https://education.gov.scot/media/3bjpr3wa/realisingtheambition.pdf

UNICEF UK. (2019).  The United Nations convention on the rights of the child. UNCRC_summary-1_1.pdf (unicef.org.uk)

We decided to approach our Family Focus group, to gain an insight into our families’ thoughts/feelings around our Children’s Policies, enabling us to have a relaxed open dialogue regarding this and answer any questions they may have. An invitation was sent to all families detailing what would be discussed during the meeting.

Information on the research project was shared along with our Children’s Policies on Offsite Experiences, Marvellous Meals and Woodwork. In addition, information was presented to explain the benefits of having Children’s Policies where we emphasised the key Froebelian principle of “Unity and Connectedness”. We also provided our families with a questionnaire which had both open ended and closed questions to allow us to gather data on their thoughts from before and after the presentation – supporting us to analyse why our families were reluctant to be involved and how we can support families to engage with Children’s Policies

Ethics

Children’s Photos being used in the presentation – we had to receive parental consent beforehand to ensure the parents and children were comfortable to allow photos of their children to be used in the presentation for the Family Focus Group as well as in future on our website; allowing us to provide the information for all our families now and in the future.

Viewpoints and opinions from our Family Focus Group – consent was gained from each of the participants in the Family Focus Group allowing us to know we could share their views and opinions from the research with our staff team and as part of our research project.

I found considering the ethical views through the project a valuable and positive action on my research. It made me consider points such as anonymising the questionnaires, to allow our families to feel more comfortable to answer freely, and consider safe data storage and Data protection.

“I really love the way that the nursery involves families so much and I’m sure our views can be gathered during organised events within the nursery. My child talks very highly of things he has been doing and I would be confident about his understanding of the areas”

Anonymised Participant

Findings

The baseline data gathered through questionnaires highlighted it was not an unwillingness to participate with our Children’s Policies but more a need for further understanding. “Having more understanding gave me more confidence to contribute” – Anonymised participant. By answering questions on their thoughts/feelings from before the presentation it allowed us to gather information on reasons for lack of participation. Four participants out of the six scored three and under to show their understanding of what Children’s Policies were on a scale of 1-10. When asked how likely they were to add their perspectives to the Policies, four out of the six selected unlikely or somewhat likely with only 2 saying they likely would. These results, especially from the first question, highlighted to us that enabling families to understand what our Children’s Policies could take away a barrier for our families to participate.

After this, the presentation was shown, with time for families to ask any question regarding Froebel’s Principles and any questions they had about Children’s Policies. The selected Policies (Marvellous Meals, Woodwork and Off-site Experiences) were shown, allowing families to see how we plan to use them within the setting, furthering their understanding.

After the presentation all participants scored seven and above to show their understanding on what Children’s Policies were. This proved to us that the presentation was successful in supporting families understanding of what the policies were and why we were creating them within the setting. “The term ‘policy’ has been discussed and the importance of looking at the children’s viewpoint has been shared. This makes it much more appealing for families to be involved” – Anonymised participant. 4 out 6 of families highlighted their opinion had changed, meaning all 6 families were now happy to add their perspective to our policies. All 6 recognised their views/perspectives are valuable. Investigating this change in perspective, one participant replied, “Having more understanding has given me more confidence to contribute”. This highlights to us that further information would be required to enable our families to contribute to shaping policy moving forward.

This research revealed our families would like to see our core provision Children’s Policies in action. This has prompted us to think of further ways we can bring our families into the setting to allow them to see our Children’s Policies implemented within each of our spaces – ultimately empowering our families with a greater understanding to make effective, quality contributions to shaping our policies.

Conclusion

To conclude, our research has shown us that for our families to be involved and have their perspective on our core provision Children’s Policies (or any policy creation or review) we need to be more proactive in supporting their understanding of the purpose/impact of policies. Furthermore, we need to explicitly promote the value we as a setting place on having family views/perspectives when shaping policy. As a team, it falls to us to support our families actively promote family participation.

For our next steps we are looking to arrange ways for the presentation to be shared with families including; in our welcome information and sharing via our website. In addition, we have future plans for families to come into the setting with a specific focus of seeing how the Children’s Polices work within the different spaces. From a place of knowledge, we will then seek further family feedback/input.

Research implications

Through undertaking this research inquiry project, our team has been able to reflect on and
deepen our understanding of the Froebelian principle of Unity and Connectedness. The ethos of
our setting places great emphasis on developing relationships and a partnership approach with
our families and by undertaking deeper reflection and asking challenging questions, we are more
conscious of enabling rich family engagement opportunities as opposed to regular family
involvement experiences.
We have benefitted from the support network afforded to us through our ‘Froebel Family’ at local
authority level. A support visit early in the session prompted reflection on our policies – ultimately,
they are for our children so why is our children’s perspectives (previously referred to as children’s
voice in our setting) not central to our policies? This proved the catalyst for a whole team project
to develop ‘Children’s Policies’ for our continuous provisions with our children’s perspective (and
literal voice) fundamental to the content; enacting Article 12 of UNCRC – Children must be included
and listened to in matters that are important to them. We co-created Children’s Policies centred
on what matters to them; taking their perspective and ensuring this is reflected both in policy and
in practice. As a result, staff confidence in meeting ‘what matter to our children’ has grown; as well
as their understanding of how to fully involve our children in decisions around their learning
experiences. In addition, we sought family consultation on our new policies as we recognise the
value of gaining family perspectives. In doing so, we discovered our ‘niggle’ and our research
journey began – exploring why our families were reluctant to express their views on our Children’s
Policies’.
Ultimately, through careful questioning, reflection and analysis of data/feedback, we now
appreciate more fully the needs of our families and our role in enabling our families to have the
knowledge and confidence to engage more readily with policy development. The legacy of this
research and inquiry project is a change in our practice in the way we share information with our
families and more significantly, our approach to family learning – creating more in-setting
collaboration opportunities.

Practitioner enquiry

I have endeavoured to foster a climate where staff feel empowered to lead, support and learn from
each other in a fundamentally Froebelian way. Staff are supported and encourage to undertake
‘tests of change’ and self-evaluation has shown that we require to be more structured in our
approach e.g. planning for assessing impact and becoming more data literate – using
data/information to make informed improvements. By undertaking this course, we have a greater
understanding and knowledge of research methods /ethical implications. Moving forward, we need
to support our staff team with research methodology and practice in a more considered, measured
way.

Leadership learning

Through my role in this research programme, I have developed my capacity to coach/mentor my
colleague, supporting and challenging them to work through difficulties. It has been extremely
rewarding to play a part in empowering my colleague to develop greater self confidence in their
leadership ability.
On a practical note, I have benefitted from a greater awareness of the ethical issues linked to
research projects and how to suitably meet those ethical requirements. In addition, I have gained
a deeper understanding of the importance of the clarity required around the research question to
make the research most impactful/successful.

Author and role

Stacy Black Acting DHT

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Ashleigh Gunn
    Ashleigh Gunn
    12 Jun 2023 at 7:48 pm

    Fantastic read! It is clear that through this research you have been able to support your families to have the knowledge and understanding to be able to share their voices/ perspective. This was a great idea to help build relationships and develop and wonderful partnership with your families.


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  2. Kristine MacGilp
    Kristine MacGilp
    12 Jun 2023 at 8:46 pm

    What a wonderful project creating partnerships and involving families in Children’s policies. It is great your research shows that your families want to be involved and see the policies in action and that you are looking at ways to involve the families so that they can see the provisions and policies first hand.


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  3. Kellie-Anne Fairbairn
    Kellie-Anne Fairbairn
    13 Jun 2023 at 9:35 am

    This was a very interesting read and given me food for thought regarding our families and our children’s policies


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  4. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    16 Jun 2023 at 12:50 pm

    Well done. I think your niggle and inquiry to look deeper has unravelled through the findings that we need to enable further explanations and definitions to support family involvement particularly when the expectation is not clear and generalised.
    It is great that you have done this and I am very keen to see where this goes in the future to embrace participation and perspectives from the whole early years community within policies where the name in itself ensures these are children’s policies if they are for children therefore the involvement of children and families is a crucial part.


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