Candid Camera
Increasing numbers of nurseries are investing in CCTV security systems and webcams. Karen Faux looks at the pros and cons
Published by Nursery World Supplement, Nursery Business Autumn 2006

Seeing is believing as far as many anxious parents are concerned, and on this basis webcam and CCTV are becoming a big selling point for nurseries.

While the two systems often go together, they have different functions. CCTV is installed for security purposes and involves erecting cameras inside and outside a building. Its value lies in protecting against intruders and any other external factors, while it can also be used to record what goes on indoors for training, management and accountability purposes.

Webcam, on the other hand, provides a new dimension to nursery life by allowing family or carers outside the nursery to log on via their home or work computer and see their child going about their day. How long an individual can log on for and where in the nursery they can view their child will depend on the capability of the system and what the nursery manager deems appropriate.

The Manor Tree Group, part of CfBT, was recently the first of the largest 20 chains to install webcam at its Cherry Tree Nursery in Slough. The nursery already had CCTV in the baby room, which director Sally Eaton says was set up for parents' peace of mind when they were settling the children in. Installing a webcam was a natural progression from this.

Using a system installed by NurseryCam, parents use a password to log on and are only able to access the webcam on the days when their children are in the nursery. The nursery manager is able to see which parents are logged on at any time and the cameras are switched off at the beginning and end of each day.

Sally says, "Since installing webcam over half of our parents have signed up for it and everyone has been positive about it. They appreciate the fact that they can touch base at any time with their child. It also helps to capture special moments. If, for example a child starts to walk, we can phone a parent and tell them and they can see for themselves."

'Big Brother' House
One might think that some staff would react negatively to a camera in every room, making them feel much like being in the 'Big Brother' house, but according to Sally they have been great for motivation.

"We have excellent staff and practice at Cherry Tree, and the webcam means that parents can now appreciate what a great job they do. There are also more opportunities for the manager to observe and praise staff," she says.

Another NurseryCam customer, the Bronte Nursery in Gravesend, Kent, testifies to the fact that both parents and staff have fully embraced a life on film.

Owner Peers Carter says, "I suspect that all the good nurseries-those which have well-paid, committed staff and high standards of childcare will generally be more than happy that their parents are able to double-check those high standards and reassure themselves."

Whitesmore Neighbourhood Nursery in Solihull made security a top priority when it set up as a neighbourhood nursery at the beginning of this year.

"We spoke to installation company and they were very supportive," says manager Gina Godwin (see box). "So far we have been very pleased with the webcam and the way it works."

Parents can only watch children for a maximum of five minutes at a time and can only access the nursery from either a home or work computer. We feel the shorter viewing time means that if the link accidentally gets left on at work, no one else will have the opportunity to view the child. New parents to the nursery tend to use if more.

She adds, "We pay a monthly amount for the combined CCTV and webcam system and because it is so reasonable, we don't have to pass this on to the parents. We've found that webcam has in fact boosted the relationship between staff and parents because the latter feel more involved in what goes on in the nursery."

Positive feedback
"Far from going against trust in the nursery, the technology increases it," he says. "Nurseries find themselves on the receiving end of more positive feedback, because there is always something to talk about. It can speed up processes such as a child's settling in period, because a parent can see their child is happy when they have gone and become more confident in the nursery."

Another advantage of webcam is that it can help chains to have a clear overview of what is going on across their different sites. Paula Walton is a nursery director for the three-strong Cherubs chain in East Yorkshire and says the combination of CCTV and webcam has delivered unforeseen benefits in terms of helping to boost good practice at each of its nurseries.

"Managers can access what is going on at all of the sites and recorded footage is used at staff meetings and on training nights," she says. "The management application is a bonus as far as we are concerned."

Even though webcam may have some detractors, it seems that it is an unstoppable force. Manor Tree's Sally Eaton, for one, believes that its usage will accelerate. "On the spot inspections have geared nurseries up to being scrutinised and accountable. Webcam is a natural part of that development and it is here to stay."

The Case for CCTV
With such an emphasis on child security, few nurseries these days can afford to be without CCTV. Melissa Kao, director of NurseryCam, says, "Five years ago a modest system would set nurseries back by anything between 10,000pounds and 20,000pounds, but now prices have come down and a complete system - often including webcam as well can cost as little as 3000pounds."

Outdoor cameras are very important for making parents feel confident about the safety of their child. "Cameras around the entrance to a nursery are perceived as being a deterrent," says Melissa. "Meanwhile, the use of them inside means that everything is accountable and any allegations can be resolved far faster than it takes for Ofsted to come in and report back."

Feedback from nurseries that NurseryCam has fitted out suggests that CCTV has lots of applications for staff training. "Nurseries with different branches can use footage of good practice to boost standards across the chain. If, for example, there is one particularly talented member of staff who has a special way of dealing with situations, it can be shown to other teams."

"By the same token, parents who are placing their child in a nursery for the first time will benefit from the extra reassurance that CCTV provides. These parents tend to get less anxious with subsequent siblings," she says.