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Last year, Helena Meineck became our first ever Famly Children’s Champion. From hundreds of nominees, she was crowned the winner for the incredible work she does, every single day.
And what’s the Children’s Champion? It’s an award we started last year to celebrate Early Years professionals. We gave Helena £5000 and a year-long subscription to Famly software, and spread the word as to why the Early Years is so vital in nurturing the adults of tomorrow as widely as we possibly could.
But we didn’t want to stop there. This year, the awards are back - and to celebrate the reason we launched them in the first place, we caught up with Helena to discuss what winning has done for her and her practice. From changing her perspective to giving her a huge boost of confidence, being crowned the winner has meant a lot more for her than just winning a prize.
Read on for why being crowned the Famly Children’s Champion changed Helena’s entire outlook, and gave her a boost when she needed it the most. And if you’re thinking about nominating your nearest and dearest for 2021, Helena’s got two golden rules at the bottom for you!
For Helena, this award is a chance to show how important practitioners and Early Years professionals are. Especially when, financially, their role and impact on a child’s life isn’t usually reflected in their wage packets.
“It’s tough working in the Early Years,” admits Helena. And not just because of the wages. “Think about the responsibility of taking someone’s child at the age of 2. Or those settings who take babies - the responsibility is huge.”
Parents entrust their children to practitioners, and a lot of settings are a home away from home - they help children build the foundations they’ll need every single day in later life. Having an award to celebrate the work that goes into the Early Years profession both recognises and celebrates that responsibility, and shows the world how crucial good practice really is. And that really helps when the going gets tough.
“The more positive things we can do, the better for everybody,” says Helena. “It does help you keep going. You keep going anyway because of the children - if you’re in Early Years it’s because you love doing what you do,” she says. “However, times are hard.”
For Helena, positivity goes a long way. Even one award can make the world of a difference, as it shows practitioners how much they matter, and how important the work they do every second they’re at a setting is.
There are a fair few awards out there directed towards the Early Years sector, but, as Helena mentions, the Children’s Champion Award isn’t like any other. It’s all about celebrating the individual people within the sector.
“What’s lovely about this award is that you look at tiny little settings like mine. You don’t look at just the big nurseries,” she says. Where you are doesn’t matter in the slightest - it’s about what you do that counts.
And that’s exactly why we’re bringing the Children’s Champion back for a second year - to find dedicated practitioners from all four corners of the UK and Ireland, and show them how much they’re valued by their peers, their children and their community.
“It’s about all those people out there who work silently, who love their job - but the only people that know they’re there are the families that use them,” says Helena. “It’s easier to have more support when you’re in a bigger setting or a big city. Whereas if you’re out in the sticks, recognising the people like me or the people up in the moors that no-one knows about - that’s what I think this award is all about.”
Whether you’re big, small, city-based or alone on a remote island - it’s all about the work you do, what that means for the children you care for, and the passion and love behind it.
It’s no exaggeration that the award has changed Helena’s outlook and approach to her work. Being crowned the Famly Children’s Champion gave her a boost of confidence, right when she needed it most.
“It has changed my life because it has changed things - the way I see things and the way I do things,” says Helena. “It’s revitalised me; it’s given me a bit more oomph and confidence in myself.”
Helena mentions that, as an Early Years professional, it does get tough when you’re trying to talk and no-one seems to hear you. Whether that’s battling to make higher powers listen to how much funding is needed, or trying to explain to staff that trying out new methods uniquely tailored to your setting isn’t going to scare Ofsted when they come visit.
“You do get to a point where you think - am I doing the right thing? Why is no-one listening? Am I actually saying the right thing?” Helena admits. “I know I am, but the self-doubt does creep in.”
For Helena, that feeling of self-doubt has completely gone. Winning the award gave her that boost and vigour to continue marching on, forever putting the children and their needs first. Having her work recognised has given her the energy and determination to continue battling for the sector, and to continue showing the world how vital those first few years really are.
The Children’s Champion award is all about celebrating outstanding Early Years care. But what does that mean? For Helena, the key to being a great Early Years professional comes down to the passion, the drive and the dedication practitioners continuously give to their work.
“Love for what you do. You’ve got to love what you do so much,” she says. Say, for instance, you have a splitting headache, a bad day at home, or you just can’t figure out why a child keeps crying. You can’t really clock out and go for a walk, or take a long coffee break - with little ones all around you needing attention and care, you just have to keep going.
“You do have to be so passionate, because it is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world,” she says. “It’s like one of those huge puzzles and you’re [slowly] putting the pieces together, but it’s the children that are putting the pieces together. You’re just there to give them the pieces to make the puzzle.”
For Helena, a great practitioner gives children the puzzle pieces they need in order to thrive - they provide children with those essential pieces that will help them learn, develop and explore as they grow. That’s exactly what she does on a daily basis, and for her that lies at the heart of helping our youngest children flourish.
As a little sneak-peek, we asked Helena what she’ll be on the lookout for from this year’s nominees. Much like helping children connect those puzzle pieces, for Helena it’s all about putting care and huge dedication into your work in order to help the children in your care and the surrounding community.
“It’s the dedication, the passion, the love, innovation - and I think holding something together for a community,” she says.
Those principles lie at the core of her outstanding Early Year practice, and she’d love to see stories rich with the passion that practitioners put into the incredible, rewarding work that is Early Education.
Thinking about nominating someone close to you who consistently goes above and beyond for the children in their care? Helena gives her two must-haves when you’re filling out that nomination form.
Want to nominate an Early Years professional, and put them in the running to receive £5000? Nominate your Children’s Champion for 2021 right here. If you want updates on how it’s going, go ahead and sign up for our weekly newsletter!
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.