Continuing our series looking at people who work in the care sector, we look at the role of a nursery manager.
Jacqui Kempa recently celebrated her 25th anniversary working at the Cardiff University Daycare centre on Cardiff’s Park Place. Starting out as section leader in a team looking after 3-5 year olds, she is now nursery manager.
It’s hard, demanding work at times, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Nursery nursing, she says, is not a job, it’s a vocation, and you have to be really committed to it to make it work.
That said, you don’t need to have always known you wanted to be a nursery nurse to be successful. That certainly wasn’t the story with Jacqui.
“I grew up around children, but I didn’t have the confidence when I was young to go further and leave home and study to become a teacher. I wasn’t that way inclined,” she admits.
Seeking a fresh start after the end of her marriage, she studied to become a nursery nurse, despite having two young children at the time.
“It was tough going but well worth it. I got to find out a little of what made children tick, how they develop, and it was fascinating, knowing that even from birth this tiny baby you see is so perfect, but so different from any other.”
A surrogate extended family
It’s that connection with the children that makes nursery nursing such a rewarding job, Jacqui says. You’re a part of helping them develop, watching them learn something you taught them. Many of the parents who bring their children to Jacqui’s nursery are employed by the university and may not have any extended family in Wales or even the UK. Consequently the staff at the nursery become part of a surrogate extended family, developing close relationships with both children and parents.
“I don’t see it that I’m just here to make sure I’ve got the right staffing levels, and that I’ve got everything in place, I’m here to support the parents. If they’re struggling with anything they will come to see me, and we are here to advise; and if we haven’t got the answers, I find out where to get them and I know where to guide them. But it’s an absolute privilege to know that parents are trusting us to look after their children, even now with Covid-19 going on. I have their complete trust, and I cannot be put into words how much that means.”
The impact of Covid
Covid necessarily has had an impact on the nursery and how it works. The daycare centre is allowed bubbles of up to 8 children, with babies having a maximum ratio of 3 infants to each 1 staff member, toddlers 4, and pre-school children 8. The number of children allowed in is governed by the need for staff to be able to socially distance, and for the time being the nursery cannot allow in as many children as it would like. The centre does a thorough deep clean every morning before opening, and continues to clean touch points, boards, kitchen and bathrooms every two hours throughout the day.
The precautions are thorough, but the children haven’t noticed the difference, says Jacqui.
“They haven’t got the freedom of movement they used to have, they have to stay in their bubbles, but we’ve made it fun, even though we’ve had to take some toys and soft furnishings away, and there’s no sand and no water. But they are so happy to come back, we’ve had one or two with tears but nothing like I was expecting.”
It’s the children that keep her going through all the challenges of managing 23 staff and up to 80 children.
“The moment you open the door to those little ones and they come running in with their arms up, nothing can replace that,”
Every child has an individual development plan, but Jacqui and her staff are always trying to give them more, pushing them that little bit further while keeping their interest and making it fun. Pre-schoolers will learn to read at least three-letter words by the time they go to school. If you catch them when they’re ready the learning is amazing, says Jacqui.
For all the satisfaction she gets from her work, she is frustrated by the lack of recognition for the nursery profession. Nursery nurses are professional and dedicated, and highly qualified within their field, she says.
“People think we play all day, but we have to understand development stages, we have to help those children and plan them to. We spend a very significant amount of time with the children and are role models for them. We are teaching them a lot. We are privileged to do that and watching those children develop and learn something you’ve taught them, nothing can ever surpass that. It’s the most rewarding job you will ever have, and whatever you put into it you will get twice as much back out,”