In my previous blog, I shared some tips to help you to identify delays in a child’s development and I stressed the importance of partnership working with parents. But, once you have identified these delays, how can you raise your concerns with parents? You might find this Identifying Needs and Action Sheet a useful starting point for discussion with parents and colleagues.
1. Who, where and when?
Think very carefully about who should meet with the parent. In most cases, it would be the child’s key person and ideally, concerns should be raised as part of a regular progress meeting (rather than an additional meeting which could make the parent feel anxious). Make sure you have somewhere private to meet within the setting, and if possible, arrange childcare so the parent is free to listen without any distractions. What is the best time for the parent to meet, at the beginning or end of the session or is another time more appropriate? Have the observations and assessments you have gathered to hand and if you are nervous, practice what you are going to say with a trusted colleague before the meeting.
2. Begin by asking what they think
Your conversation should be guided by the parent and where they are in their awareness of a possible delay in their child’s development. By asking them “How do you think they’re getting on?” you can begin to judge this and adjust your response accordingly. Always start with the positive and gradually introduce your concerns. For example, “They’ve settled really well and enjoy story time and being outside. We’d like to work more on their listening skills because they don’t always follow an instruction. Do you find that happens at home and have you got any ideas of things we could both do to help?”
3. Use parent-friendly documents
The “What do expect, when?” guide gives a good overview of all aspects of typical child development and will help you to share the child’s strengths and areas for development. Remember that many parents do not know what children should be doing at particular ages so you will need to explain this sensitively and give examples of things the child does and doesn’t do at your setting, sharing specific observations you have gathered.
4. Give control to the parent
Parents will become anxious if they think you are putting pressure on them to make a decision about possible referrals or interventions. Give them a number of suggestions of things they could do and suggest they spend time thinking about this, then ask them to let you know what they would like to happen next. A useful starting point could be to arrange a hearing test for the child as this is essential if there are concerns about speech and language or behaviour.
5. Think about the school starting date
If parents do not share your concerns, it can be helpful to say that although their child is making progress within your setting, you are concerned about the increased ratios and different routine when they start school and want to make sure you have done all you can to make sure they have a smooth transition. Explain that the waiting lists for many professionals are long and that if you make a referral now (for example to Speech and Language Therapy) and at a later stage the child does not need an appointment, you can always cancel the referral.
It can be a huge shock for many parents when you raise your concerns and this can understandably lead to many different reactions, including denial, anger and acceptance. If you are frustrated because a parent doesn’t share your concerns, this short film clip of the poem “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley may help you to understand how they might be feeling. Remember that you have a statutory duty to raise concerns, but these should be shared and discussed with all practitioners who work with the child before you meet with parents. If this is the case, you will be confident in your observations and assessments and can work with the parent to meet the child’s needs.
About the author
Kathryn is a specialist early years teacher and trainer who has worked with children for nearly 25 years, including 10 years as an Area SENCO. She is a licensed Tutor for ICAN Talk Boost as well as an ELKLAN Speech and Language Trainer. She regularly writes and delivers courses for early years practitioners on all aspects of SEN. You can follow her on Twitter @kathrynstinton, find her on Facebook or visit her website for more information.