Jean Rockel answers your questions on primary caregiving for infants and toddlers

Do we need a primary care system for our centre?

A lot of people say you’ve got to have primary care. Well it depends on the group. If you’ve got six in a group, you know you’ve only got two teachers anyway, and so it’s not a big issue. It’s only when you get these very large groups of say, 15, 20, 25 children that you need primary care because the child could possibly get quite lost and wander around quite aimlessly not knowing who’s who…. In Māori pedagogy you don’t have primary care, it’s the whānau group that’s important.

“It takes a village” you know, in other settings there are some people who are excellent at that particular thing, and somebody else who is excellent at taking them for a walk, or putting them to bed. They’ve got the advantage of having so many different people, as long as obviously it’s not overdone but parents actually do want their children to get on with others. It’s interesting – I suppose it’s down to having some discussions with families about early childhood practices and about how they can be beneficial.

Then there’s issues like settling and I think that can be very stressful for children when they’re not given an opportunity to be staggered, when a whole lot of babies start at the same time … and so that idea of settling is something that needs to be really thought through as well and talked about.

Do I need to be consistently available to an infant or toddler in order to develop strong attachment?     

I’ve always thought that primary care involved two people. I don’t know how we get around that discourse, because we don’t use the term primary care as much now – it’s usually key teacher. We’ve had a co-teacher in terms of primary care but co-key teacher doesn’t sound quite right.

People can get hooked up on attachment, and they think in quite a narrow way, whereas I think, when you look at holistic development, there’s different ways different cultural and family groups feel that they’re attached, that I think it just boils down to attention. Children seek attention, it’s an innate drive isn’t it? It’s a little bit like if we have a relationship with our partner we certainly want their attention – we don’t want to be ignored.

What do parents think about primary care?

I did my Masters’ research on primary care and I found, I interviewed teachers and I interviewed parents, mostly the parents didn’t know what primary care meant. They didn’t know that notion of primary care, they didn’t know what that meant. There’s an awful lot of things I think that we take for granted that parents understand, and in fact they don’t – why would they?


Jean Rockel

Jean Rockel is an Honorary Academic at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Auckland. She is a passionate advocate for the rights of very young children for early learning.