When we speak about “continuity of care” in ECE, we are usually referring to continuous care from one provider over several years. For infants and toddlers, it is generally thought best if they remain with the same caregiver throughout this segment of the lifespan.
Now we know that practically speaking, this isn’t always the case. Often, providers come and go (less so at Home-Based Child Care – Yeah!!!!) or children are expected to transition from room to room when they reach certain milestones, i.e., walking requires a move into a toddler room.
The “continuity of care” I want to talk about here, is the kind of seamless care we can encourage between home and care outside of the home. Very young children are capable of forming secondary attachments. This happened historically with close family members such as grandparents or aunts and uncles when extended families shared living arrangements. These attachments provided a foundation for the establishment of trusting and caring relationships outside of the home later when the child went off to school.
Nowadays infants as young as 12 weeks are often in care outside of the home. Naturally, their secondary attachments are often with their child care provider. This is a very important part of the child’s early development as they offer emotional continuity and provide the same foundation for the development of healthy relationships as extended family used to.
In addition to providing emotional stability for infants and toddlers, healthy relationships between parents and caregivers is also stabilizing for the children. You might think that all parents want their child to fall in love with their teacher, but some parents resent it and worry that this emotional connection may take something away from them. They may already have guilty feelings because they have to go off to work and thus leave their children at child care. They may worry that the provider is “better” at caring for their child than they are. Parents are equally conflicted when their child doesn’t want to go to child care (What is wrong? Why doesn’t she like it? What don’t I know?) as when they can’t wait to get there (My child seems to prefer her house to ours. What is so great about her? Why is my child so excited about getting away from me?). You may even find parents reluctantly dropping their child off, coming late, or skipping days because they feel threatened by this emotional tie to someone outside of the family.
The job of allaying those fears lies with you, the child care provider. You are the expert about development and you are less emotionally tied to the situation. You can always explain that when given a choice, infants and toddlers will usually choose their primary caregivers (often, the parents) over their secondary caregivers and that regardless of how connected they become to their provider, it does not take away from the parent-child relationship. The continuity of loving adult-child relationships is an ideal we are striving for. Children should feel loved by the adults in their lives and in turn love them back. This is good.
We make room in our hearts for more love- we don’t split a finite amount of love between people. Our love grows, it doesn’t diminish.
Andrew Solomon, in the epilogue to Far From the Tree says, “I do not accept competitive models of love, only additive ones….love is a magnifying phenomenon…that every increase in love strengthens all the other love in the world.”