In 2017 Children’s Links a national charity, established in 1993 and based in Lincolnshire, secured a contract with Hampshire County Council’s (HCC), Services for Young Children (SfYC).

Children’s Links mission statement is “To improve the life quality and experiences of children, young people and their families”.

The contract with HCC was to undertake a project to provide online training for registered childcare providers and to develop existing or new Early Years (EY) provider networks.

I was pleased to be part of this work.

I had worked within EY in Hampshire for nearly 30 years: running my own nursery business; working for the council as a Childcare Development and Business Officer for 14 years; and for the last 2 years had worked as an independent EY advisor.

During this time I had set up or helped to set up many EY networks, including one of my own.

Being aware of my knowledge and experiences in this area of work, HCC had put the Children’s Links project leads in touch with me. I was happy to share this with them.

Children’s Links had already identified leads for networks and had set up closed Facebook groups for each area, as a starting point, with the leads acting as administrators, but there was much more work to do.

The brief:

Children’s Links needed to include consultations and coaching and mentoring training within the project work, with the aim of having self-sustaining networks by the end of March 2018.

With the financial constraints of the County Council’s support functions the aims and objectives of the project was to ensure that childcare providers would be able to sustain themselves as top quality businesses.

Children’s Links put out a formal outcome specification for the delivery of the mentoring and coaching skills training and I was invited along with other interested parties to submit a proposal for consideration.

I am pleased to say that my proposal was selected, and work began in earnest!

The Offer: 

My programme of work was focused on the coaching and mentoring skills required by the leads as well as HCC’s desired outcomes of the project.

The benefits for using me for this piece of work were: I knew Hampshire well; I had been a nurseries business owner/manager myself; I had worked with many of the EY providers before; I had the experience of setting up EY networks; and I was a qualified Personal Performance Coach (see also Coach in the Spotlight – my personal story here) with The Coaching Academy.

My proposal included the rationale for the strands of work and success measures which assisted Children’s Links with the council’s monitoring of the contract.

I included the following:

  • Option to attend information giving events – to ascertain the current position;
  • To hold face-to-face meeting with all leads: use webinar for group discussions/meetings/training – to brainstorm, ascertain leads experience and knowledge of coaching and mentoring techniques;
  • An introduction of the coaching GROW model: elements and use of – to raise awareness and understanding for those less familiar with this model;
  • To hold 1-to-1 support sessions (coaching and mentoring) with individual leads via online meetings – to develop their personal skills;
  • To request, collate and provide reports to Children’s Links project leads on key issues/problems/solutions presented to me by the leads through evaluations both written and verbal – to be better able to respond to needs of leads;
  • To identify perceived strengths and weaknesses of leads through coaching and mentoring sessions – to support them more effectively with their task of developing their local networks;
  • To identify the needs of the targeted membership (EY providers) through 1-to-1 support sessions with leads – to assist THEM in meeting the needs of their members;
  • To hold regular review meetings with Children’s Links project leads – to be able to update on the progress of my work and to agree any need to focus on other elements to ensure success of the project overall.

The Solution:

Early in the project I established that holding group webinars with all the leads would be just as difficult as holding face-to-face meetings.

I sought views on best days and times, but it was impossible to secure a mutually convenient time.

Difficulties included some leads, being childminders, were only available in the evenings outside of their normal work hours; others, being nursery or pre-school managers or administrators, were more available during the day but not consistently due to the reactive demands of their role; some also had difficulties with the technology too.

Having the time to fully engage with the proposed programme of support was the biggest problem for the leads.

I had been clear early at the start of my work in October 2017 that I would deliver the offer and could be flexible on the methods to meet the needs of the project.

Once the main issues for leads in taking their work forward to develop their networks was established the solutions became more apparent.

There was a need to be more creative and pro-active in getting the support right.

It was clear to me that changes were needed. These were agreed with the project leads and the solutions provided included the following:

  • Opportunities for leads to phone or email me at any time;
  • Timed telephone support sessions for the leads that wanted these every 2 – 4 weekly at their convenience so as not to interfere with the demands of their ‘day job’;
  • Access to the leads ‘secret’ Facebook group to post relevant information and pre-recorded webinars. Topics included:
    • Methods of engaging EY providers (using marketing strategies);
    • Developing the leads’ presentation skills;
    • Information on EY organisations that offer support and email subscription;
    • Access to professionals willing and able to provide input on ‘hot topics’ and bite-sized training at any EY network meetings held;
    • Quick and easy read blog articles covering a range of relevant topics;
    • ‘Top Tips’ relevant for EY professionals and running a network;
    • Tools to support coaching;
    • Time management strategies.

This enabled access at the leads convenience.

The Outcome: 

Leads completed evaluations providing positive feedback.

They said that with my support they were able to:

  • Identify some of the barriers to developing self-sustaining networks, seek solutions, share problems and take their work forward;
  • Identify their personal strengths and use these to the benefit of the project and in their role as leads;
  • Address and work on any weaknesses that they had for their role as a lead;
  • Gain more tips and ideas for developing their networks and strengthening the support that the network would offer members;
  • Set themselves goals and SMART actions to achieve their goal of having a self-sustaining network.

The real evidence of success came at the end of the project with Children’s Links reporting back to HCC that nine individual provider networks had been established with over 400 members (childminders and settings’ management) and a total of 360 childcare practitioners had engaged through another closed Facebook Group.

The admin role for this latter ‘closed group’ was transferred to HCC’s Services for Young Children to enable the Council to have a new communication channel with practitioners.

There was also an established, closed Facebook group for the leads: like-minded, pro-active and motivated individuals willing and able to support each other and provide coherence in the sector.

“Debra’s knowledge of early years settings in general and the world of early years in Hampshire in particular was very helpful to us in delivering our project.

She was contracted by us to support Early Years managers through coaching and mentoring with the aim of developing their skills and encouraging them to, in turn, support their peers where needed”.

Jane Robinson, Children’s Links Business Development Coordinator, April, 2018

Additional Benefits:

I was able to improve the offer having worked ‘at grass roots’ in the sector and within Hampshire for many years as I was able to use this experience and knowledge and adapt my programme of work to better meet the needs of those involved in this project.

I produced a guide for existing and any new leads to use beyond the end of the contract (31/03/18) entitled ‘How to be a Lead of a Self-sustaining EY Network’ leaving a legacy for the project over and above the initial requirements of the contract.

“Our contract required us to work with childcare providers in a particular way. When that didn’t fit with the needs of providers Debra was flexible, and devised different ways of working to suit them.

At the end of the contract Debra produced a guide which left a legacy that providers will be able to use into the future”.

Jane Robinson, Children’s Links Business Development Coordinator, April, 2018

If you are seeking support with a project and require a person with the experience that I have with taking a lead in a specific area of work such as: coaching and mentoring; developing the skills of individuals through personal development/performance coaching (for example confidence building, presentation skills, time management, goal setting) or leadership and management development please contact me for an informal discussion or to arrange an initial meeting with no obligation to take up my services.

Client Testimonial

I would recommend Debra to other organisations as she is reliable, honest in what she can and can’t do, is flexible in her approach, listens to what she is asked to do and comes up with alternatives where necessary.
Jane Robinson, Children’s Links Business Development Coordinator, April, 2018