NURSERIES, childminders and playgroups in North Yorkshire are continuing to help babies and young children get used to being outside the home and around new faces, as more parents in the county prepare to return to work.

Early years providers in North Yorkshire have provided a safe, happy environment for babies and young children since the start of the pandemic.

As well as ensuring the wellbeing and learning of young children, they supported parents as they were called on to fulfil key critical roles, train or continue with other work. Those providers that couldn’t remain open during the lockdown, often remained in touch with families by providing home learning packs, online story times or other support.

More parents are expected to return to the work place as indoor hospitality potentially reopens on May 17 and further restrictions will potentially be lifted in June, meaning nurseries, childminders and playgroups will welcome even more children and families.

Director of children and young people’s services, Stuart Carlton, said: “Now that ever more parents are returning to work, they have an important role in helping children get used to being around other faces.”

As parents continue to return to work, nurseries, childminders and playgroups are continuing with their safety and hygiene measures, supported by the County Council’s Early Years team, and distributing home testing kits for coronavirus to staff and families. They are also supporting the council’s distribution of holiday food vouchers for families who may be struggling to cover the cost of food or other essentials.

Many of the county’s early years settings are now almost back to the attendance levels they had prior to the pandemic, and are now gently getting babies and young children used to being outside the home and around people again.

Owner of Little Rainbows Nursery in Whitby, Lydia Sythes, said they were now back at their own site and almost full to capacity, as more parents returned to work.

The nursery temporarily moved to a nearby school early on in the pandemic last year and was turned into the childcare hub for children of keyworkers in the Whitby area for several weeks. Little Rainbows are now back at their original site and have carefully reintroduced their children back into the setting.

“When children came back we could tell they had spent a lot of time at home and many children had separation anxiety, as they had not had any interaction with anyone outside their home,” said Lydia.

“All the baby groups had stopped and visiting family members or friends wasn’t permitted. A lot of parents/carers said that their children hadn’t met anyone other than themselves over lockdown.

“We responded by increasing our settling-in practices, especially with our youngest of children. We took the lead on how confident the children were at being back in the nursery setting.

“We also made sure the children were cared for by the same members of staff during each session. Our children were looked after in smaller groups in a homely environment to make the children feel more comfortable instead of being in a big, overwhelming place with lots of new people.”

Parent Danielle Zecca, found nursery care invaluable during the height of the pandemic last year, when she had to find childcare for her four-year-old daughter, as student midwives were needed to work in hospitals.

“I’m a keyworker and a student midwife, and when the pandemic began we got pulled from theory to practical, so we were working in the wards constantly. It meant my daughter had to go to nursery,” she said.

“It was scary; we were in a global pandemic and nobody knew what was happening.

“The nursery I sent her to – Jigsaw Childcare in Catterick – were absolutely brilliant. They took her on mid-term.

“You could see there was a lot of work for a nursery caring for children during the pandemic – they needed a lot of toys as they had to be rotated and cleaned and there had to be a lot of other measures such as special drop-off and pick-up arrangements in place, but my daughter loved it and it gave me peace of mind as well.”

Jigsaw Childcare in Catterick Garrison, owned by directors Caroline Ovenstone and Paula Woolridge, provided childcare for many keyworker families, including doctors, care home staff, nurses and military families.