Why is the future of childcare management digital?
When it comes to the number of nurseries and childminders embracing technology to help with the management of their practice, the sector is extremely varied. While some have migrated their daily operations over to a more digitised approach, others are still pursuing the traditional way of doing things.
Less paperwork, more efficiency
Perhaps one of the most debated ways in which technology can help childcare staff carry out their day job relates to time.
As most people in the industry know, there are often never enough hours during the working window to get everything done. And it is no secret that the sector – even before the pressures of the COVID-19 outbreak – has been under the strain of a staffing crisis.
So, how is – and how can – digital solutions help to increase efficiency, reduce stress and maximise the time dedicated to child development?
From billing and funding, to observations and assessments, the inner workings of a nursery are complex. Like any machine, the parts and processes need to be well oiled if it is going to run smoothly and successfully.
Technology, in the simplest sense, can automate many of the previously paper-based tasks – such as registrations and permissions – to reduce admin time, minimise room for error and increase the level of child security.
All too often, the practices which don’t have digital operations are still working from overcrowded filing cabinets and long-form spreadsheets, which, if not correct and up to date at all times, can cause all kinds of admin and data protection issues which require additional time to remedy.
For instance, if a parent has told room leaders they would like to change their child’s session bookings, this will likely be noted on the register at the time of conversation. But within a busy, fast-paced environment, this is not always directly – and immediately – communicated with the office team. As a result, the parent is then billed on what the original bookings were. This means the team must then reverse-engineer the bill – amending it on the system and redoing the fees – taking up further time and resource, which could have been avoided if the billing was digitised.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that when it comes to the administrative side of childcare, while documentation should undoubtedly be completed fully and correctly, it should not feel like a burden to busy staff. Instead, it should be quick and time-friendly.
After all, the professionals within this sector are there because they are passionate about working with and developing children, not because they love paperwork.
Enhancing child safety and security
Communication plays a vital role in the effective running of a nursery practice on all staff-to-staff, staff-to-child and staff-to-parent levels. And, technology can enhance this dialogue between all parties, ensuring everyone is on the same page – at exactly the same time.
So, when it comes to keeping children safe within the childcare environment, technology can help make record-keeping more accurate and reliable. Taking children’s dietary requirements as an example, if a toddler has recently developed a food allergy, in a more antiquated system this information may be kept in the footnote of a paper file – which arguably is easier to overlook. If all child records are digitised, however, this crucial data is front-and-centre on their profile, enabling staff to see this without having to scour lots of pages.
This also ties significantly into the data security element of nursery operations too. If all records are filed away manually, there are no encryption or password protection measures in place to prevent non-authorised employees, or even people from outside the organisation from accessing confidential information.
So, how can tech help nursery staff unlock more time in their day?
Simply embracing digital change is the first step to achieving a working balance that is more heavily weighted in favour of the children. It is vital that staff do not feel that tech will replace them, because truly effective solutions will actually work in tandem with their knowledge and expertise.
Looking at this contextually, if a child has an accident or is not feeling well, without parental contact information being stored in a cloud-based system, practitioners would usually have to search for the contact manually through on-site files. With the help from a tech-based childcare management system, it can be rapidly retrieved via tablets without leaving the room – ensuring maximum time efficiency and child safety.
Also, there is an added advantage that digital allows for more succession planning. If a designated member of staff, who has access to child data spreadsheets, is off ill, other colleagues may not be able to view them – so are unable to update data or answer parental queries. Whereas a more centralised cloud-based solution would enable all colleagues to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ and provide a more real-time service.
Daily observations are another key area of focus for practitioners. While in past times, nappy changes, mealtimes and activities were all recorded in a small paper logbook – and given to parents at the end of every day – this model proved to allow greater room for error or disjointed records, if parents forgot to bring them in the next day, for example.
And this more convoluted approach still takes place in some childcare settings.
Modern app solutions also allow parents to play a more active role in supporting their child’s learning journey – being able to upload photos of home-schooling tasks – and as a result, bridge the gap between practitioner and parent. This insight into what activities an infant responds well to at home then gives nursery staff the power to carry out more ‘in-the-moment’ planning to aid further development.
The wider role of technology in the Early Years setting
Yet, while digital solutions unlock time to spend with youngsters, it is worth recognising the part that these tools also play in elevating staff wellbeing and retention levels.
If employees can spend more time doing what they love, on activities which prioritise a child’s learning development, they are more likely to feel happier and fulfilled at work. This, of course, then has a knock-on effect saving childcare providers more time from an HR and recruitment perspective, as they perhaps do not have to fill vacancies as often.
Put simply, it could be that the future of childcare is digital because this method favours staff-child relationships. However, on a wider scale, it not only allows learning to extend outside the classroom and continue at home, but empowers staff to carry out their jobs more effectively.
And, given child development should be at the heart of what the country’s childcare providers offer, it’s vital that tech is considered when looking at how to optimise a nursery’s current operations.