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Policies We All Hope to Never Use

TNL Founder and CEO Sam Green reflects on how having proper policies, structures and procedures in place can prevent the worst from happening, even if we don’t even want to think about ever needing them.

At least once a year a story hits the headlines about an incident at a nursery. The latest, published in various national and regional press, tells of a three-year-old boy who was able to leave his nursery’s garden through an unlocked gate and make his way to a nearby park where he was found by a stranger.

Fire alarm security button on a wall
Fire alarm security button on a wall

Quite correctly, the setting involved has had their registration suspended by Ofsted pending an investigation and remedial actions. As anyone who has spent time in a group setting knows, a catastrophic situation like this example can only come about as a result of a series of failures. Doors & gates should, of course, be locked, but with appropriate supervision and vigilance alongside the regular counting of children during transition times, a single mistake shouldn’t lead to that sort of outcome.

Whilst we would all naturally read a story like this and think “nothing like that would ever be allowed to happen in my setting”, we should be wary of complacency. The reality, which is all too often lost in the hustle and bustle of any given day, is that caring for dozens of other people’s children is a colossal responsibility, and an inherently risky situation to boot. We all make mistakes, but when those mistakes happen in the process of caring for young children their consequences can escalate quickly.

I am still haunted by a somewhat similar experience when running a nursery of my own. When coming back inside from the garden, a member of the team failed to take a last look around behind her before coming inside. That simple mistake meant that a child was left in the garden, playing happily on her own.

Thankfully the other protective measures such as properly secured gates and regular counting meant that the team were able to retrieve the child quite promptly, and she was quite content with her extra outdoor time. Investigating that incident brought home to me the fact that our entire organisation’s reputation hinged in that moment on a pretty modest mistake by an otherwise excellent member of the team.

Document binders with POLICIES and PROCEDURE words on labels place on blank process flow charts with pen
Structures, policies and procedures properly implemented can save the worst from happening.

Safeguarding the children in our care depends on having systems and structures in place so that a series of modest mistakes like that are not able to line up and create the potential for a disastrous outcome, as in the recent news story. For me, there are three key elements to building a system for your setting which mitigates the consequences of the human errors in care which can’t ever be completely eliminated:

1- Realistic, robust, and detailed policies covering Safeguarding, Health & Safety, and elements of your operation which involve heightened risk such as trips, drop offs and collections, and sleep times.

2- A set of “Policies We Hope to Never Use” which cover circumstances, such as a child going missing, so that in the midst of a crisis your team have a clear and effective process to follow step by step.

3- Seriously and diligently investigating every incident that results from a mistake, whether anyone else finds out about it or not. (In my example above, that incident led us to introduce an abacus-style system for counting children outside and inside again)

If you are in a leadership position in your organisation, you might like to make use of the customisable policy templates available in the TNL Premium Resources store. In a matter of minutes you can produce a new Safeguarding & Child Protection Policy, Lost Child Policy, and Sudden Death of a Child Policy, customised perfectly to your setting.

Only by accepting that our teams are human, and that mistakes will happen, can we properly establish the policies, systems and processes that ensure the unavoidable mistakes never lead to entirely avoidable outcomes such as a three-year-old boy making his way to the park alone.