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A complete guide to trauma-informed practice for nursery managers

Dispelling 5 myths about the practice with expert advice
14 min of reading
05 December 2023
Trauma-informed practice for nursery managers

In the early years, we are nurturing hearts and minds,” says Sally Pearse, our expert contributor for this article. Of course, nurturing children’s hearts and minds is not a one-size-fits-all approach – all the paths that have led the children to the point they are now are different, and some are unknown. Ensuring your setting adopts trauma-informed practices helps give the children the best start by being as inclusive as possible.

For this article, we spoke to Early Years expert and trauma-informed specialist Sally Pearse to gather all you need to know to develop your setting’s provision.

Jump ahead to:

    Meet the expert: Sally Pearse

    Sally Pearse

    We teamed up with Sally Pearse, a valued Trauma-Informed Schools UK network member, to bust some myths about trauma-informed settings and offer practical guidance for nursery managers.

    An expert in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), Sally has an impressive early years background. She is the Strategic Lead for Early Years at Sheffield Hallam University and the Director of the Early Years Community Research Centre (EYCRC). Paving the way for trauma-informed nurseries, Sally and her team are passionate about offering families the nurturing environment they need to heal and process trauma.

    The main message is a hopeful one. Children begin their journeys with us in EYFS, and once they leave us, it is never the end of the story. We have the privilege to start those foundational blocks that will set children up for life. In early years, we are nurturing hearts and minds.

    What is trauma-informed practice? 

    Trauma-informed practice is understanding the impact trauma has on a child’s development at the heart of all actions. Extending to the family, trauma-informed schools and nurseries will strive to provide a safe and nurturing environment for all. The approaches used in the school or nursery aim to help children process and heal from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

    There are experts available in trauma-informed practice. Trauma-Informed Schools UK is a national training provider for schools, communities, and organisations. Their team helps improve provision and practices to make the learning environment safe for all.

    We know how important early identification is for supporting children’s needs. Trauma-informed nurseries champion approaches that recognise the importance of early identification of unmet needs—working as a collective team to provide children with the chance to catch up on missed experiences. Studies show the more ACEs a child experiences without a supportive network, the more detrimental impact this will have on positive outcomes.

    How do children respond to trauma?

    There is no one-size-fits-all approach to responding to trauma. Each trauma case is different depending on the severity, frequency, age and development of the child. The network of support around a child significantly impacts the response a child will have to trauma.

    Dr Charlotte Dunster-Page explains the importance of PSED EYFS activities for all children, but especially for those children with attachment and trauma experiences. Helping to reduce their barriers to interaction, learning and communication.

    Children can display behaviours that may be a trauma response; they can also mask their emotional responses (even at an early age), and the tell-tale signs may be noticed through physical symptoms. Physical symptoms to record and monitor may be sleeping or eating difficulties, illness or feeling sick, skin picking or anxious repetitive movements, and inconsistency with movement development.

    You must immediately contact your designated safeguarding lead if you have any safeguarding concerns for the children in your care. Building a picture of any concerns or behaviours using a secure online platform can be helpful in collating evidence and observations from all staff, not just the child’s key worker.

    The common trauma responses are fight, flight and freeze. All these trauma responses may present differently, making it challenging for nursery practitioners to recognise behaviour as a communication of unmet needs. Sally explains the need for connection between key workers and their children (more about this later). The connection and visibility each child experiences in the nursery will allow practitioners to know what that individual child’s response will look like.

    It is important to note that every trauma response is valid. Children who outwardly display their needs are often noticed easier than those who internalise their feelings. A meltdown and a shutdown are equally as damaging. Strong relationships with children and their families can help practitioners to offer the correct support needed for that child. But first, we must know what trauma-informed practice is and is not.

    Let’s unpick some myths surrounding trauma-informed practice.

    5 Myths about trauma-informed practice

    The potential benefits of having trauma-informed approaches underpinning your nursery’s ethos are immeasurable. We discussed with Sally the common misconceptions and myths surrounding trauma-informed approaches in EYFS. We unpick the following:

    Trauma-informed practices are wishy-washy

    Trauma-informed practice can be wrongly interpreted as having no boundaries and allowing the children to process and heal in their own way and own time. Although the latter cannot be rushed or dictated, trauma-informed approaches in nurseries offer children the safety of expectation.

    Clear and consistent boundaries allow children to feel safe knowing what is and is not expected within the nursery. Removing the guesswork and anxious processing that comes with inconsistency.

    One person needs to be trauma-trained

    Sally explains that the training and message must be shared for a setting to adopt trauma-informed practices successfully. From the nursery management to practitioners, the cleaning team and site managers, all nursery members should understand the vision and reasons for your setting’s approaches.

    Sally does highlight the benefit for all staff to have a baseline understanding of trauma-informed practice. She also recognises the importance of nurturing practitioners with natural interest and talent in this field. Additional in-depth training is available through Trauma Informed Schools UK, including an 11-day diploma.

    This training can be something to consider if staff retention is high on your priority list. Investing in training in an area of expertise or interest can motivate your staff and help with the recruitment crisis.

    The child is the only person impacted by trauma

    When a child experiences ACEs, it can easily be forgotten about the family, who may also be processing trauma. Sally is passionate about providing all family members with a supportive place of belonging. Trauma can come in many different forms – postnatal depression, for example, can be isolating for new parents.

    Making the nursery setting a vital place for positive interaction and communication. Discussing how your setting can help promote positive parent partnerships can be the first step to creating a supportive family environment.

    Severe cases of abuse warrant trauma-informed practices

    Cases of abuse, neglect, and reoccurring unmet needs will undoubtedly impact a child’s development capacity. Sally reminds us that ACEs can affect all children differently; it is essential to recognise the impact a house move, the loss of a pet or the separation of parents can have on a child’s development.

    Remember, trauma is the emotional response to an adverse event. There are no set parameters that define what a reasonable response looks like when a child is exposed to an event or incident that impacts them emotionally.

    Trauma occurs only in disadvantaged areas

    Although correlations can be made between disadvantaged areas and the number of ACEs a child may experience. This is by no means the rule for trauma being present. Postnatal depression does not discriminate due to economic positions, and family deaths can occur within households of both wealth and poverty.

    Similar to the viewpoint we must adopt with safeguarding children, it can happen here. Regardless of your nursery’s economic and social demographic, your children will benefit from having trauma-trained staff and empathic intentionality driving policies and procedures in your EYFS setting.

    5 ways to create a trauma-informed nursery

    With Sally’s help, we have unpicked what trauma-informed practices are and the associated myths surrounding their application to a nursery setting. The next step is for us to share guidance on creating a trauma-informed nursery.

    Sally is the Director of EYCRC, and she is pivotal in applying trauma-informed practice in the early years in her setting.

    She shares five ways to begin your trauma-informed journey, but it is not a quick fix and will take time and vision to implement. But the benefits can be life-changing (not only for the children).

    Staff training for trauma-informed practices

    Whole-staff training is essential, as we’ve mentioned earlier. Having management and leadership team members who have a more in-depth understanding of the approaches can help to ensure future EYFS policies and procedures are trauma-informed. Look into adding staff training to your bespoke CPD plan for your setting.

    Ensure connection for every child

    Sally uses a connection mapping tool for every child in her setting. Every nursery member participates in a collaborative process to identify their connections with children and their families. This process ensures no child or family is missed.

    The nursery team uses this mapping tool to assign key workers to children intentionally. The intentionality behind the tool helps to ensure a child has a key worker who can meet their needs. To learn more about the mapping tool for your nursery setting, contact Sally via Linkedin.

    Promote curiosity of EYFS staff 

    When implementing your positive behaviour strategies, your EYFS team should be curious about the behaviours they are observing. Understanding that every form of behaviour is communication, Sally recommends staff consistency with what curiosity observations look like across your setting – giving staff confidence to question the why behind the behaviour builds a strong working team, collaborating for the benefit of the child.

    Assess your current EYFS policies and procedures

    Trauma-informed approaches should be non-punitive. The children need to feel connected to their key worker and belong to the nursery setting. Having a naughty step, time out, or a warning card system reduces the possibility of repair and reconnection.

    Children should be supported to calm down, regulate, reflect and talk about their feelings and encouraged to try new strategies.

    Promoting mentally healthy habits should underpin your PSED provision, assess your current policies to evaluate if they are trauma-informed (even your parent complaints procedures) and reach out to experts for guidance if you are unsure.

    Build a safe EYFS environment

    Encouraging parents to have their say and belong is a large part of creating a positive family nursery environment. In Sally’s setting, they handed the reins to the parents to ask what they felt would help them. The parents now run their own breakfast club for other parents, building an important community for new parents and strengthening a supportive network.

    A safe environment also extends to the nursery staff. Trauma is not limited to children. Many of your nursery staff will have experienced or are currently experiencing traumatic events. Ensure your policies promote staff well-being and recognise the practitioner’s mental load when supporting a family through trauma healing.

    How Blossom can help

    Blossom is designed by EYFS practitioners for EYFS practitioners. The easy-to-use software is created to simplify the daily responsibilities of running a nursery. We recognise the need for parent communication to build strong working relationships. Our award-winning Parent App allows multiple family members regular access to their child’s achievements, milestones and progress. Building positive communication avenues between practitioners and parents, especially those healing from trauma. Having all the information about a child in one place can also help to build bigger pictures of the child’s needs, interests and family background.

    To learn more, book a no-strings chat with one of our UK-based customer service team; we’re happy to help you find the right price package and features to fit your EYFS setting’s needs.

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