3rd National Early Years Safeguarding Conference   Leave a comment

3rd National Early Years Safeguarding Conference   –  3rd November 2018

 Pre Amble                                                                                                                                            

I have been lucky to have been supported in various ways to attend all three National Early Years Safeguarding Conferences, and from the show of hands at this year’s conference, I am one of a few who have attended all of them, although many had attended 2 out of 3. I was a speaker at the first conference, and supported to attend both the second and the third by Laura Henry for which I am very grateful because my current situation as a disabled non-working person means I would not otherwise be able to attend. I know Laura considers that I support her in other ways, and that support should be a two way process, and I agree. However at the moment I think Laura supports me a lot more than I support her – but I hope that in the future the balance will tip the other way.

Laura is one of those amazing people, who despite her worldwide reputation in the Early Years field, keeps her feet securely on the ground, remembering not only her friends and colleagues, but her personal ethos, values and practices. These days conferences are very expensive to put on and time consuming, and I know (because Laura has publically said so) she does not make any money from these conferences but still thinks it is worthwhile (and the right thing to do) to put them on, and will be putting on the 4th one in 2019.

All of the conferences have in fact been a reflection of Laura’s ethos – the importance of bringing people together to network and share information; to widen participation by offering Saturday conferences, providing discounts so those with limited budgets (or large teams) can attend; widening the safeguarding debate by including diverse speakers and subjects outside the 4 main areas of safeguarding. And all designed to support personal and professional reflection.

This blog is slightly different from my usual blogs; as my journey details, my conversations with people, and what I did are just included as part of my personal and professional reflections about the day.

This blog is my personal recall and my personal reflections, others who attended the conference will have a different recall and different reflections.


This did not go to plan, despite prearranging Travel Assist. I think when arranging travel for disabled people (adults or children), the safeguarding aspect needs to be considered, because when things do not go to plan, the disabled person is very vulnerable and at risk of harm in a number of ways. At the very least the stress caused and impact on emotional wellbeing should not be under estimated, but physical wellbeing is at risk if they cannot get on or off transport (and then try to do it themselves; or seek support from fellow passengers who may be willing to assist but who have had no training in such things). Finally lack of assistance can lead to neglect if the persons toileting needs, medication needs, or diet needs are not met – which can be the case if stranded on trains, or platforms, or miss connections to where going and timelines go astray.

So as Early Years Practitioners (and in our general support for others) we really need to think things through and have back up plans, and back up plans for the back up plans!

In my case, I did the planning, and so can only hold myself responsible, although West Midlands trains have received a complaint for failing to provide the agreed Travel Assist on the part of my journey that used their trains.

The last part of my journey went to plan, my colleague Sally met me at Euston and walked me to the venue; another colleague Sue, took me back to Euston at the end of the conference. These seemingly small details in my planning are actually very important when travelling alone, and although Early Years children are unlikely to travel alone, parents may need support at stations or even just reassurance that someone will be there for a handover chat. Older children / young people may want to travel alone and their independence must be supported, but sensible safeguards must also be put in place – such as meeting at / taking to stations and ‘handing over’ to Travel assist staff, or colleagues who will assist with next part of the day.

NB I have only discussed disability in relation to my own needs, and this particular journey, but I am very aware others have differing needs for journeys and other occasions, and these must also be considered so the person is safeguarded in every aspect.


The Conference                                                                                                                                   

On arrival, I was pleased another aspect of preplanning had worked. My colleague Brita had brought refreshments to the table for Sally and myself because it was very close to conference starting time, and after a long journey refreshments are often vital.

Various people in the room came up to say ‘hello’, to ask how I was, and to ask if they could help. This not only made me feel valued, it also reflected the fact that people recognised getting my rollator around the room would be difficult, so best they came to speak to me; but also that they realised they should ask if I needed help – not assume I did, or that they knew what was best for me. Back in the 1990’s I did some excellent equality training, which highlighted the difficulties of people treating disabled people as ‘non people’ – that is they assumed the disabled person cannot look after themselves, cannot make decisions or even know what they want to do. I find it shocking that over 20 years later some people still make these assumptions, and although mean well, take over and treat disabled people with disrespect. Linking this to safeguarding, this can lead to abuse (of all types) as people can assume that ‘over help’ is good and not look deeper at potential safeguarding aspect, if a disabled (or indeed any child or young person) does not have a voice.

If I feel this as an adult – imagine how disabled children may feel. Yes offer help, but don’t assume help is needed or wanted – and don’t just ‘take over’ no matter how good your intentions.

Laura opened the conference and told a few reflective stories – I think it is important that we all share these stories, so we can all learn from them – and in my opinion, due in part to Laura setting the scene with her reflective story, throughout the day, other stories were shared, within the boundaries of confidentiality.

Christina Gabbitas – Share some Secrets – The Voice of the Child                                  

The first speaker was Christina Gabbitas – someone I had not heard speak before. Christina spoke about her book ‘Share some Secrets’ which aims to support children to have a voice and to speak up about things bothering them, especially things that adults have told them are ‘secrets’ and that they will get in trouble / bad things will happen if they tell anyone.

We were showed an animation of the story, and I could see how useful this would be in supporting children. It was good to hear about the national organisations supporting the project.

However, I would have like a little bit less about the process of getting the book recognised and used, and a bit more about how it was being used and the positive impact it has already had on children.

Nevertheless a good resource and I saw that lots of delegates were buying copies to take back to their settings.

My reflection was, as I no longer work directly with children (other than my grandchildren) rather than buying the book, it would be more beneficial to others, if  I shared the link to the animation – which I have done, by social media and email.

Inspector Jack Rowlands – My work and Metropolitan Police Key Areas              

Inspector Rowlands is one of those people I instantly felt connected to – he spoke my language. He was honest, he was realistic about the challenges – and he had suggestions for solutions. Working in the Met in London, Jack see’s first-hand the continuing cycle of crime, brought about by drugs, drink and poverty. He spoke about young (men mainly) involved in crime but doing so to support their families, particularly their younger siblings. Jack said that he is now seeing some of those younger siblings and even the children of those he arrested 15 years ago now entering a life of crime.

Jack is keen to support these young people into education and employment, so that crime is not the only option. However Jack knows this will take many years if not generations to bring about, and a commitment from many organisations to work in partnership to support these young people and families. He spearheads an organisation called Divert.

One of my personal reflections, is, ‘Here is another professional in a completely different field to myself who has suggestions around the changes needed, and projects he is personally involved with to try and make a difference BUT like me, is banging his head against a wall, where people don’t listen or just pay lip service’. I am left wondering, how can we all effectively come together? How can we join the dots in the different services? How can we share resources and information effectively? And not just Jack and myself but all the other individuals and organisations who are trying to overcome the barriers.

Another personal reflection is – In working in partnership, we need to give everyone an equal role – no, ‘them and us’, no, ‘I am better than you because of my title’. When inviting people to meetings consider who is not there, as age, gender, role, and anything else that might be a barrier to working in partnership needs to be overcome. As a childminder, as a foster carer and as a grandparent, I have often been frustrated at my lack of involvement, and dismayed at decisions made due to decision makers not having the information I hold.

My takeaway from Jack’s presentation is – We can do better, we must do better.

Morning break                                                                                                                            

During the morning break, I was able to speak to colleagues and catch up a little. I also spoke to Jo Fitzgerald about her books and to obtain a signed copy of her book. Thank you Jo, as I now have signed copies of ‘Cold Toes at Christmas’ and ‘How to keep safe’.

I noticed that Inspector Jack Rowlands had a queue of people waiting to speak to him, a sign that he meant what he said about connecting and sharing.

Keynote by Alfie Kohn – ‘Unconditional Parenting’                                                              

As trialled successfully by Laura at the second conference, this was a recorded keynote with Alfie answering set questions. There was silence while we watched the film, and lots of note taking by many. Alfie was talking complete sense as far as I was concerned and my reflection was that this was confirmation that my childminding practice had been on the whole on the lines of what Alfie was saying – but it had not always been so, as like many I developed my understanding over a period of time, and as a result reflected and changed some of my practice. I hasten to add not the ‘big things’ around listening to the child, believing and trusting the child, and unconditional love, but some of the smaller things like less adult direction, not using reward stickers and so on. I think we are all on a journey of discovery and all should be continually reflecting and making changes as our knowledge deepens. We should not feel bad about the past because each and every one of us will have done our best at the time with the knowledge we had at that time. When I think back to my early carer and indeed my early days of parenting, I more or less went on ‘gut feeling’, as there was no internet, not much available research in an everyday readable format, or many accessible training or qualification courses.

Alfie said a few things which stuck in my mind (I was not taking notes), so my understanding, rather than Alfie’s actual words.

Short term it is easier to control children through empty praise, rewards and punishments, but this does not support children to understand why it is in their own interest to do certain things, or to question things. Controlling children is not the answer

 Carrots and sticks not only don’t work – they are an easy option

Talk less, ask more

Rewards and punishments makes children think what is in this for me – and may choose punishment as a negative, easier to get reward

The problem is not the children, it is the environment they are placed in

 Round Table Discussions                                                                                                          

Laura asked us all to discuss on our tables the impact of Alfie’s Keynote on ourselves.

I was the ‘Table Lead’ and so had the role of taking notes and feeding back the tables thoughts to the room. Two people on my table had strong views and a lot to say – nothing wrong in that, but I did have to speak up to ensure everyone on my table had opportunity to speak – although we actually ran out of time before everyone had spoken. I was pleased when at the end of the day, one of those with strong views took the time to thank me for the professional way I had tried to ensure everyone could express their opinion.

The overwhelming thought was ‘Wish I had known all this years ago’, this is not to say that those on the table had no knowledge about the things Alfie discussed because they did but they were all at different stages on their personal journeys. In my opinion that is why it is important to attend national conferences were your personal thoughts are challenged and extended, and so after the conference reflection can take place.

One setting represented at our table spoke about how in September they had completely changed the focus in their setting from Adult led to Child led. They were honest and said at first it was not easy but now after only half a term the children are self-motivated and far more engaged than they were before. One of the key changes was making resources accessible to the children all the time. Childminders on the table spoke about how they had always been mainly child led, and said allowing time and listening to the children was key.


By lunch time I was tiring from my early start and long journey, my painkillers were less effective, and my ability to focus was reducing. However, I enjoyed a nice lunch that met my dietary needs, had a bit of a move about, and spoke to several colleagues, some of whom I had not seen for several months, and some who I knew from social media but was meeting for the first time.

Panel Session                                                                                                                                  

Laura had invited 3 people to sit on the panel, to give short presentations and answer questions from the room.

The people on the panel were

Andrew Ellery who spoke about ‘The Role of Social Workers in Early Years’

Joss Cambridge- Simmons who spoke about ‘My experience as a child and domestic violence’

Dr. Eunice Lumsden who spoke about ‘CPD for staff regarding safeguarding and child protection’.

As you can see 3 totally different but connected subjects.

Some Personal Reflection before continuing with conference feedback                         

I have to admit that I was not really ‘on the ball’ during this session, and if I had been at home, I would have had an afternoon nap! This is not a reflection on the speakers, more of a reflection on my current health. It can be hard for others to understand the impact of long term health issues, and long term pain – but the impact is huge and although ‘mind over matter’ does help, as does keeping busy, actually there is only so much you can do to overcome the difficulties you face day in and day out.

I know from situations faced by family, friends, and colleagues the same can be said for any long term difficulty you face from poverty to domestic violence; from abuse to mental health difficulties and everything else in between. Anything that is long term takes a toll on your well-being and at times you cannot cope as well as you can at other times – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want to do something. That applies to walking away from situations, asking for help, making plans, attending school or work and staying on task – and although not the same at all – attending and staying awake at conferences.

It is true that our personal experiences can help us have empathy with those in totally different but equally traumatic circumstances. I think we all need to try and put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to try to understand just how hard it is, that they are not weak or useless, they are actually doing their best. If we all then listen, all support in whatever way we can (knowing we do not have a magic wand) we can make a difference, we can start to turn things round and start the process of stopping the cycle of damage. As someone who has had over 16 years of medical people not believing me because what I was telling them was not the norm, not what was expected, I can tell you how much difference it makes when someone listens, someone understands and believes you, and says ‘I can’t make any promises but I am here for you. I will do my best to help’

Back to the Conference Feedback                                                                                       

Andrew spoke about the often difficult role of social workers, and the boundaries around what they can and can’t do, due to rules and regulations, time restraints and budget cuts. (There was more but as already stated I was not taking it all in)

Joss told an amazing personal story about how he had used his life experiences positively and also taken up unexpected opportunities that had led to him becoming a Manny (a male Nanny). Joss displayed a wide range of emotions during his talk, and I was personally quite emotional just listening to his story. He is simply inspirational. And an excellent male role model within Early Years – we need more like him.

Eunice spoke about the importance of ongoing staff CPD and qualifications, and the impact on safeguarding and child protection. However, the thing that struck home with me was about personal baggage. We all have personal baggage but it is how we deal with it that is important, because if we carry it around with us, it impacts on our work with the children, and on our colleagues and therefore the setting as a whole.

Eunice made the point that your baggage should be contained within a virtual suitcase and you should be able to shut it without things sticking out, and to be able to leave it in a safe place while you are working or studying and same applies to work baggage as should not be taken home). If you can’t shut your suitcase or can’t leave it in a safe place, then you need to take a break from things, to go on holiday if you can, to deal with the overflowing suitcase, so that on your return, you can shut it and leave it in a safe place. If that does not happen – really you need to find other employment.

Strong words but on reflection so very true. I realised that I actually have a lot of baggage that I need to find ways to deal with. A flawed Ofsted inspection – now 4 years since it happened; my inability to safeguard foster children 2 years ago from a flawed system, that did not give myself or the children a voice; my ill health just when all my years of work were about to come together and lead to a new career – oh yes a lot of baggage and that is without family ‘stuff’ that will not be mentioned here, but still has an impact.

Just imagine if everyone working in a setting or a professional specialist team has as much baggage as I do (and I am sure many do – different baggage but still baggage) and are unable to leave it in a safe place? I like to think that I do leave my baggage behind most of the time, but sometimes, subject matters within my campaigning or voluntary work are a bit too close to my heart, and it is hard to stay objective.

NB Since the conference I have reflected a lot about my baggage, and realised in each situation there was nothing I could have done differently, and nothing I could have done since  each situation, over and above what I have already done in raising awareness of the flawed systems. Therefore, as I was not, (and are still not responsible ) for flawed systems and individual / organisational actions the baggage is not mine and can be not only put down but securely stored. Yes, I still wish these things had not happened, yes I wish systems were not flawed but hanging onto that baggage serves no purpose at all.

In the future I will be using the suitcase scenario, described so well by Eunice, to help others (especially children and those who work with children) to deal with their baggage

Round table discussions                                                                                                              

After the panel session we had another round table discussion, with some set questions. My table thought the baggage issue was the one thing they would ‘takeaway’ and do something about it. One manager said that on the following Monday she would be talking to her staff about this issue, and may even have a place (maybe a basket) by the door to the setting where staff could visualise leaving their baggage.

Dr. Prospera Tedam – Identifying children at risk of witchcraft labelling in schools: Research and Practice                                                                                                                      

All I can say is I have led a very sheltered life! Yes, I knew a little bit about witchcraft. Yes, I knew there were elements of witchcraft in the Victoria Climbie case, but actually I had not taken on board the full impact of witchcraft in Victoria’s case or in several other cases in England. I was shocked at what was (and is) going on in the country I live in – and not just in the big cities.

During the round table discussions after Prospera’s presentation, we discussed other practices that we had heard of such as ‘cupping’ or ‘breast ironing, and the things we needed to be aware of so we could spot the signs, and then do something to safeguard the children.

Priscilla Joseph – Poet                                                                                                                       

To conclude the conference Laura had asked Priscilla to read two of her very powerful poems, which following the lines of the whole conference were a personal reflection.

End Conference  Personal Notes                                                                                             

There were refreshments available for those who could stay a little longer, a last opportunity to network and buy books. I purchased Eunice Lumsden’s book ‘Child Protection in the Early Years. A Practical Guide’. I have yet to read it, but when I do, I will write a blog about it.

I asked Eunice to sign my book, which she did with the following inscription ‘We are all part of jigsaw’, which I think sums up the conference, all the speakers, all the delegates, Laura and her admin team Juliette and Kinga, – and indeed safeguarding as a whole.

In my opinion safeguarding in the widest sense of the word is about anything and everything to do with the child – and anyone who has any connection, no matter how small with a child. We are indeed all part of the jigsaw


 If you are interested in attending the  4th National Early Years Safeguarding Conference on 2nd November 2019, you can find out more or reserve your place by emailing admin@LauraHenryConsultancy.com



Posted November 16, 2018 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

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