EYE Early Years Educator · 19 Mar 2024  Copy link

Safeguarding well-being despite ratio changes for two-year-olds

It is no secret that the early years sector in England is facing its biggest crisis in decades. With the average staff turnover reported to be around 18 per cent in group-based providers and nursery closures across England increasing by 50 per cent on last year, parents, campaigners and early years providers are imploring the government to recognise the needs of the sector and make meaningful changes.

With the growing pressures, recruitment challenges and the continued impact of the pandemic, we know it is not an easy time to work in the sector. At Spring by Action for Children, we value the well-being of our staff team and the children and families in our care. In April 2023, when the government announced the intended changes to staff to child ratios for two-year-olds, from 1:4 to 1:5, there was an outcry across the workforce. Our staff, and many others, were worried about the impact this change would have on the well-being of the team working with children, and on the children in our care. These factors, along with the current sector challenges of recruiting qualified and experienced practitioners meant that more than ever, at Spring, we needed a programme of support aimed specifically at our teams working with children aged two. This is when our ‘Thriving Twos programme’ came into being.

What is ‘Thriving Twos?’

In a post-pandemic world, the experiential evidence from our workforce and organisations, such as Ofsted and the Centre for Research in Early Childhood is that the needs of two-year-olds are more complex and diverse than ever. The 2022 Annual Ofsted report evidenced that children need a higher level of support in communication, language, and personal, social, and emotional development. ‘Thriving Twos’ is a programme designed by our team to support the staff working with this age group. It recognises the amazing journey these children are on and helps staff to feel equipped to manage some of the potential challenges along the way. At Spring, we know that when children feel secure and understood, they thrive and meet their potential, giving them the best possible start in life.

Keeping children at the heart of all we do while supporting our staff means we need to constantly adapt and ensure our teams have the skills needed to support children at this crucial time in their development. Working with two-year-olds is an absolute joy, however, it is also a dynamic time in these children’s development. We want our teams to feel confident that they have the tools to nurture children’s sense of self, while also caring for their own emotional well-being.

The Thriving Twos toolkit aims to upskill our staff and increase expertise in supporting positive behaviour, building children’s emotional regulation skills, and nurturing good communication and language skills. Alongside this toolkit we have also created a strong network of experts in each childcare setting, with four roles in place designed to promote the health and wellbeing of staff, children and families and keep it at the heart of all activity: Mental Health First Aiders, Forest school leaders, Wellbeing Champions and PANcos.

Strong early years provision consists of positive interactions, enabling environments, high-quality resources and routines that support learning. We have created this programme with the view that well-being sits at the heart of the strategy supported by emotional security, communication and language, physical health, and physical play. (Appendix 1)


We know well-being is about more than being happy to see your friends and taking part in nice activities. Physical and emotional well-being can set a child up for great future mental health and this, in turn, improves outcomes for children’s whole lives. Research from the University College of London in 2019, shows a clear link between happy childhoods and happy adult lives. Additionally, a 2019 report from the Sutton Trust states, ‘Research has shown that children’s early development of self-regulation is highly dependent on the quality of their early social interactions, on their oral language development, and on the opportunities they have had to play with other children.’

With this wealth of evidence, we must double down on our commitment in the sector to fully understand and implement the most effective ways to support children’s emotional security and well-being.

Emotional security

Emotional well-being relies on us being able to form good social connections with the people and world around us. Two-year-olds are learning who they are, and how they fit within the world. They are learning about their own emotions and need high levels of support from adults to start to make sense of and manage these feelings. A recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Learning (2023) showed nearly half of parents questioned (47 per cent) reported their child had more socio-emotional difficulties in 2021 than in 2020. Children aged four to seven were 10 percentage points more likely to have seen their social and emotional development worsen than 12 to 15-year-olds (52 per cent compared with 42 per cent). The work we do to support children’s emotional development in these earliest years is essential to ensure they have the best possible opportunity for well-being and good mental health throughout their lives.

For our staff this has taken the form of supporting positive behaviour training and workshops across our settings. Bespoke sessions aimed specifically at staff working with two-year-olds have allowed us to reflect on what children need to thrive emotionally and how we, as early years practitioners, can best support that emotional security through strong relationships and positive interactions.

Communication and language

Being able to understand and to make oneself understood is an essential skill. Two-year-olds are constantly gaining new skills in this area. Research from the National Literacy Trust (2019) shows that children’s language skills at the age of five is a strong predictor of their reading, maths and writing achievement by the end of primary school. As a prime area of learning, we must place a high level of focus on supporting children’s communication and language in our everyday practice.

We want our workforce to understand how to best support children’s language development at each age and stage. As a result, we have worked with our teams to identify and implement training schemes that support children’s language development, such as Wellcomm, Elklan, Early Talk Boost and Boogie Mites. This work has already started across many of our nurseries and will continue, encompassing interactions, routines and language-rich environments.

Physical health and physical play

At the age of two, children are still relying on their senses to understand and navigate the world around them. Their fine and gross motor skills are rapidly changing and they are excited to try out the new things they are learning. We understand the innate need of two-year-olds to be physically active. We want our teams to celebrate this and place it at the centre of the opportunities we offer children.

Children’s sensory development is integral to making sense of the world we live in, and also to managing and regulating their emotions. Supporting this area of development strengthens the consistency of children’s actions. For example, when a child trusts the messages their body is receiving from the brain, they will be able to move around the environment safely, manoeuvring their body in the space around them.

The Thriving Twos programme contains Eat Better, Start Better accredited menus, environmental audit tools, forest school training, outdoor play training and child development training to explore how children develop their physical skills at the age of two and beyond. This part of the programme will continue into the new year and our teams will receive tailored training to develop their knowledge, our environments, and the opportunities we offer children in our nurseries.


At Spring by Action for Children, ‘thriving’ means growing, flourishing and reaching one’s potential for development and overall well-being. We know every child is unique and comes to us with their own rich and diverse experiences. Our joy is found in nurturing our staff, to enable them to meet children and their families where they are, celebrating the unique strengths children have at this dynamic time in their lives. Thriving Twos is a strategy that will continually develop to meet the changing needs of our children and amazing staff team. With the right support, training and knowledge, we know that our staff and children have the potential to thrive.


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