Co-producing Knowledge and Ideas for Action

Repost from the Scottish Co-Production Network. Original post: https://www.coproductionscotland.org.uk/2021-activity/co-producing-knowledge-and-ideas-for-action

Mick Doyle, Head of Programme, from SCDC shares learning from a new project centred around childcare and wellbeing in times of Covid-19. Coproducing Crisis-resilient Care Solutions.

SCDC has worked with the University of Edinburgh to bring different approaches to collecting and collating experiences of families during the Covid 19 pandemic. The project sought comprehensive evidence on the impact of Covid-19 on families’ childcare arrangements and their wellbeing and to involve participants and other stakeholders in co-producing policy and practice solutions for crisis-resilient childcare.

Research often fails to include communities in its design and implementation. Co-produced research seeks to provide communities with greater influence over the research process and can make use of findings in communities in real time. The timescales for bidding for funds and the need to conduct our co-production sessions online in the midst of the emergency with hard pressed parents and childcare services, reduced the time we could spend with people co-designing the sessions. Despite this we have succeeded in helping participants shape our approach, explore the issues and make policy and practice proposals for further discussion about service development.

What we were looking to explore 
High-quality early childhood education, care and after-school services are crucial for children’s equal opportunities, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are also crucial for supporting financial security and providing the kind of services sustainable communities need. The closure of schools and childcare facilities and social distancing rules, while vital to reduce the spread of the virus, created a national ‘childcare crisis’ with severe effects on family and community wellbeing. Since these impacts are likely to be persistent, there is an urgent need for crisis-resilient childcare for all families.

What we mean by childcare
Our main interest was in registered childcare for the 0-12 age group. This could be in the community or in school, breakfast, after school or homework clubs. It includes key worker childcare hubs during the pandemic and services which contribute to child and family wellbeing like; parent, baby & toddler groups and holiday clubs.

What we did
Our project collated comprehensive evidence on the pandemic, childcare and wellbeing. This included new data from in-depth interviews with parents and experts, identifying the specific childcare needs and challenges of families in different socio-economic circumstances and geographical areas. It was used in conjunction with a wide range of other data on Covid-19 impact (including nationally representative surveys). For more information on the emerging findings of the study see this blog  and online presentation by members of the project team.

So did we do co-production?
Yes we did, we brought parents, childcare staff and service planners together in remote rural communities in the Highlands in recognition of the need. We wanted to improve understanding of family’s experiences of Covid-19 and gather ideas for the future which local participants can use in further dialogue if they want to. We planned to run local co-production training, then workshops in rural and urban settings, but due to the  pandemic, we were only able to run two online workshops in one remote rural location in the highlands, though more are planned in a further phase of the work.

We raised awareness of the co-production concept and then used a process of structured discussion to turn insights from the research and a local storytelling process into policy and practice proposals. We worked with mixed groups of parents, providers and planners over two workshops with the second reflecting on insights from the first to generate ideas for future policy & practice. We encouraged participants to try to be needs led in their thinking and forget about the usual power differentials to let evidence of need from the research stimulate an open dialogue about the challenges and potential solutions.

What people told us
Even with the challenges of, online discussion and the pressures on families and staff, people listened to each other and raised issues where there seemed to be a lot of agreement and scope for further discussion. Many issues which are magnified by Covid-19 already existed. We can not do them all justice here they will be published on the project website in the coming months. A flavour of these is included below:

Existing provision was often expensive and didn’t fully meet parents needs. Low expectations of what was possible sometimes suppressed demand for services making a funding model requiring guaranteed levels of use by fee paying parents hard to sustain, where services couldn’t provide breakfast or after school care in line with working parents needs. The challenges of remoteness and rural transport could make access to services very difficult and create inequalities of access. Therefore family support was a crucial alternative to scarce and often expensive services and this was largely unavailable during the pandemic.

Childcare is part of community infrastructure linked to housing, rural schools and economic development. People felt strongly that more must be done to ensure its funded appropriately by core funding beyond what could be raised in fees. So many of the solutions identified emphasised the need to involve communities, funders and policy makers in addressing these issues and test new approaches in the light of new policy thinking on place making and rural sustainability, as well as child and family wellbeing.

These issues raised needs for investment that will not be resolved quickly, but they also included other solutions like local training for childminders and potential childcare staff and more creative use of public and community resources for childcare purposes, including school buildings and school transport to increase access to childcare.

Helping local providers overcome challenges of regulation and procurement rules was also suggested to increase the supply of childcare wherever possible as was local community based childcare peer support, especially for those who did not have family locally to fill gaps created by gaps in services.

On crisis resilient services and well being
Pressures on staff and the value of Covid-19 childcare hubs were recognised as helping those with access to work and deal with their isolation. Day to day running was difficult due to rapidly changing guidance as were the fear of outbreaks, access to PPE and the challenges of communicating who was eligible for support. Suggestions were made on how to improve communication about these and the need to clarify that services could be more flexible than some parents believed. The same challenges of distance and transport issues prompted people to suggest that the solution in remote rural areas was keeping a more dispersed network of local services open with mitigations in place, rather than concentrating it in locations which added distances of 30 miles to use these.

Other examples of issues included key workers having to take children to work and some children affected by lack of essential socialisation, with the life skills impacts this created. These were powerful messages from the workshops. The impact on school transitions and challenges of online learning in composite classes in remote rural schools highlighted other important local experiences.

Some households were balancing carer, parent, teacher, key worker and taxi driver roles in long stressful days during the lockdown. The workshops concluded that there was more that could be explored in responding to this and that resilient childcare – and new services to support home learning and combat family isolation should be a key part of future pandemic planning linked to building back better as whole.

What happens next
The sessions were a starting point not the end of the story. We are planning a follow up workshop in another highland location and one in an urban setting affected by multiple deprivation. We hope further conversations might flow from this, both in follow on research projects and within children and families planning arrangements in Highland.

If you want to know more about the work contact:

Paul.Nelis@scdc.org.uk or Mick.Doyle@scdc.org.uk

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