Training and Education of Child Care Workers

Discussing the training and education of child care workers can be tricky. First, there is the stumbling block that a lot of people still are not convinced that people working with children and young people need to be trained at all. They realise that neuro-surgeons, engineers and lawyers need training – but child care workers? Parents look after their children without training, don’t they? Baby-sitters don’t need to be trained either, do they? So why do we need to train people when all they are doing is the same sort of thing?

The facts that parents are often terrified to have responsibility for babies because they know so little, and that they often make a mess of parenting, and that looking after other people’s children needs more sensitivity than looking after one’s own, and that professionals are often having to cope with the children who have suffered poor parenting – all these facts get overlooked.

Secondly, there is the question as to what child care workers should be taught. There is obviously similarity between many syllabuses, but there are also some dramatic differences. Consider Maureen O’Hagan’s article in this issue which demonstrates how recent training has been for most early years workers, and compare it with Robert Shaw’s digests of historical documents referring to training for residential child care workers, considering issues such as the (un)suitability of the social work model, and the differing needs of microsystem, mesosystem, macrosystem and exosystem workers. They are talking different languages, with very different concepts.

Thirdly, there is the perennial problem of budgets. Training is always vulnerable to cuts. Staff sometimes cannot be released because they have to look after children. Or for some child care workers, such as childminders or boarding school staff on split shifts, finding the right time to train is hard.

We are clear that training is vital; working with children and young people is complex and difficult work, and it requires a wide range of knowledge and a whole battery of skills. Child care workers not only need induction training to survive, but ongoing career-long training as they develop as professionals.

Most of all, child care workers need education as well as training. They need the opportunity to reflect on their practice. They need to develop broad understandings based on allied disciplines such as sociology and psychology. And they need to consider their own experiences of childhood, development and maturation, partly so that they can understand the viewpoint from which they are forming judgements about other people’s childhoods.

What is more, child care workers need not only introductory training to survive, the provision of a knowledge base and training in skills, but also continual opportunities throughout their career to develop new insights, pick up the latest thinking, recharge the batteries, and renew their motivation to help children. Learning is not just to do with facts and practical matters but morale, enthusiasm to meet children’s needs and commitment to maintaining high standards.

Learning is not a matter of being fed pelleted skills in a factory farm; it is a free-range activity, where workers need to select what they need for themselves. Insights can come from literature, drama, personal experiences, observing human behaviour, researching for theses, or facing the discipline of writing things down. Child care workers need to be rounded, mature, insightful people who have a broad grasp of life and its problems if they are to meet the needs of children.

Training and education are not expensive add-ons, which can be cut when the budget gets tight. They are a vital component of the child care service, and we need to value, protect and nurture them.

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