VIP Childcare

Posted by editor 27/03/2014 0 Comment 1165 views

VIP Childcare

Jenny McBain discovers a social enterprise that provides a holistic childcare service.

A very special pre-school nursery is operating in Elgin in the north of Scotland. In the baby room at VIP Childcare, carers spend a considerable amount of time carrying their charges around in baby slings because that is known to enhance feelings of connection and attachment.  Similarly, during outdoor excursions small children are conveyed in inward facing prams, so they benefit from the security that comes with sustained eye contact.

Katie Ralph, senior childcare worker at VIP Childcare, sheds light on the underlying philosophy at play. She says, “We are aware that we are looking after children who are the most precious people in the world for their parents.  So we try to harness that energy and provide the best childcare possible by being in tune with the children’s needs; whether it is a baby who cannot speak or a toddler who can.”

There is potential profit in the provision of essential services such as childcare.

This is an interesting arena for social enterprises which can offer an extra special quality of dedication and devotion.  And because all profits are reinvested in the business, claims of an underpinning idealism are rooted in fact rather than marketing hyperbole.

At VIP Childcare, parents pay £35 a day to have their child looked after.   This sum covers  all food, drink and activities. Any parent of a young child will recognise what a bargain this daily fee represents.  But of course quality of care is the overriding consideration for young families and good care depends on the personal qualities of carers. So recruitment is key.

At VIP Childcare all staff are well qualified on paper but at interview, the panel is looking for that extra special quality that sets candidates apart. It is not a straight forward recruitment system; rather it is a person centred approach based on a gut and heart connection.

Manager and co-founder Therese Shorthouse says, “We look for passion and a sense of connection with the children. We want to make sure candidates have got common sense and that they fundamentally love and show warmth and respect to our little people as well as our parents. If someone came for interview and said that not much could be done with babies they would be out the door.”

Quite often a new employee will start out as a relief worker so that both worker and management can gauge whether a long-term working relationship is a viable proposition.

Research and innovation play a big role in the running of VIP.  Staff are encouraged to take an experimental approach to finding out what approach has a positive impact on their charges.  Katie says, “Awareness is growing that early years childcare is more than a babysitting service; it is about care and development. Our aim is to provide innovative research and practice.”

It was discovered that when deciding on a topic for a learning project, taking the lead from toddlers and building on their existing interests, ensures that they get maximum benefit from their learning experience.  So, a recent focus on pets lead to a visit from a local vet and lots of positive spin offs.

Parents recognise that their children benefit from their time at VIP Childcare.  Katie says, “The majority of our parents are working and that is why they are using our service but some of our parents actually pop their children in for extra sessions because they realise that we are helping them to realise their potential.  We are helping the children to be socialised and to have valuable experiences from an early age.”

Crucially, this social enterprise is able to make enough money to keep on providing a service to the community.  In fact, a recent revamp of its premises, which are situated in a local council owned community centre, has been undertaken.  New child sized furniture has been purchased and the staff are wearing brand new uniforms.  These investments have been paid for out of profits and a panel of parents were involved in making decisions about how the money was spent.

Now the team at VIP childcare is setting out to appoint a healthy living co-ordinator who will advise on all aspects of nutrition and activity at the centre.  Interestingly, staff and parents will have access to that person’s expertise too, so the children will benefit from the enhanced health of those looking after them.

So could other social enterprises focus on delivering pre- school care?  Therese thinks this is a viable proposition and sincerely hopes that organisations similar to the one in which she is involved, will begin to catch on throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK.  Typically, she is backing up her ideals and aspirations with a generous offer to share expertise.  She says, “We are more than happy to share all our policies and how we set up and the knowledge about how to overcome certain challenges.”

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