Constructions of Intimacy in ECE

In recent years, a small but growing number of early years practitioners have been convicted of child abuse, and the continued media exposure of abusive clergy and then of various ‘celebrity’ entertainers has led to a climate of wariness, and even suspicion, that has grown around adults’ professional relationships with very young children; and it is extremely likely that this wariness increases the reservations often felt around male early childhood practitioners. A difficulty for those who work in early years settings is thus how to express the affectionate and caring behaviours which the role demands of them in their loco parentis, and which very young children need in their development of healthy attachments.

The Professional Love in Early Years settings (PLEYS) project was led by Dr Jools Page and was funded by the University of Sheffield Innovation, Impact and Knowledge Exchange (IIKE) as Constructions of Intimacy in Early Childhood Education and Care: practitioners’ experiences.

There were 5 project aims:

  1. To explore practitioners’ definitions of care and of love in the context of early childhood;
  2. To examine the relationship between policy definitions, practitioners’ views, and parents’ expectations;
  3. To explore expressions of love, fear, suspicion and prejudice in the context of care and love in early childhood settings;
  4. To describe what ‘professional love’ looks like in settings, and show whether it enhances the child’s experiences;
  5. To build all this information into professional development materials (Attachment Toolkit) to help provide safe, appropriate and loving intimate practice in professional relationships between adults and young children.

The project used a range of methods (an open online anonymous survey; individual interviews with volunteer early years practitioners; focus groups with participants from across Fennies – the external partner group of nurseries)  to capture the views of early years practitioners on constructions of love and intimacy in early years settings.