The role of the key person

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By Sue Cowleyeducational author, trainer and presenter

The key person approach has always been good practice but it is now a requirement of the EYFS. Sue Cowley explains the benefits and examines the practicalities of making it work on a daily basis

Photo © Laura Heffernan

In this article:

  1. What is a key person?
  2. The benefits of a key person approach
  3. Making it work
  4. Role and responsibilities
  5. Communicating with parents
  6. What happens if?

One of the joys of working as an early years practitioner is the chance to build up bonds with different children. Taking on the role of key person for a group of children at your setting means developing special relationships with them, so that you can help each one settle in quickly, feel happy and secure, and make progress with their development and learning.

You’ll sometimes find the term ‘key worker’ being used to describe this role, instead of ‘key person’. Although the terms are often used in an interchangeable way by practitioners, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) uses the term ‘key person’ in its EYFS guidance.

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Attachment theory

John Bowlby’s theory of attachment argued that a young child needs to develop a bond with a primary caregiver. This bond is based on the child’s most basic needs for safety, security and protection. The quality of attachment, he said, has implications for the child’s social and emotional development and their capacity to form trusting relationships. The key person approach is a way of replicating the attachment a child would normally form with parents at home, within the childcare setting.

What is a key person?

Imagine you’ve just arrived at a party, and there are lots of people milling around, most of whom you’ve never met before. Then suddenly, from across the room, someone calls your name, hurries across to welcome you, makes sure you know where to put your coat, and introduces you to a couple of people. This is a bit what it’s like having a key person – someone to welcome you, show you around, help you out if you need it, and just generally be there for you.

As a key person, you’ll make your children feel welcome in the setting, whether you’re working with young babies, toddlers, or pre-school children. You’ll help them with their individual needs and care, for instance with eating, dressing and toileting. You’ll also be a point of contact for the child’s parents or carers. In larger settings, where there may be lots of different staff around during the course of the day, the key person gives the child an individual point of contact. Both child and parent know that there is ‘someone looking out for me’.

The key person approach is a requirement within the EYFS theme ‘Positive Relationships’, Principle 2.4. The EYFS states that the key person should ‘form a genuine bond with a baby or child and form friendly, supportive relationships with the family’.

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