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Staff of Care and Learning Alliance praised for their successes over past year

By Alan Hendry

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CALA chief executive Jaci Douglas.
CALA chief executive Jaci Douglas.

Staff of the Care and Learning Alliance (CALA) have been praised for working tirelessly and making it a successful year despite the difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The largest third-sector early learning and childcare (ELC) organisation in the north highlighted some of its achievements at its annual general meeting, held virtually for the first time since it began more than 40 years ago.

The AGM heard that despite the Covid-19 pandemic and associated challenges there had been a big expansion of services and support to children and families in 2019/20. Six more of its ELC settings will be offering an increase to 1140 hours of funded care within the next few weeks.

CALA has a strong presence in Caithness, delivering ELC services in Reay and Watten. At Watten, 1140 hours of funded ELC is being provided, while the Reay under-fives group is currently only commissioned to offer 600 funded hours – although CALA says it is working with Highland Council to be able to provide the increased hours as soon as possible.

The organisation also supports 10 local toddler groups and is looking to develop PEEP (Parents as Early Education Partners) classes in Wick.

CALA's work covers Highland and Moray, with almost 260 members of staff including the temporary relief practitioners working in its staff bank to support nurseries and out-of-school care.

Some of the high points from the past year include an almost 90 per cent satisfaction rate from members for the quality of CALA’s support, including payroll for a wide range of early-years organisations as well as processing the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme for Disclosure Scotland to ensure a safe workforce.

Children in the north have benefited from project packs thanks to the Care and Learning Alliance.
Children in the north have benefited from project packs thanks to the Care and Learning Alliance.

CALA's work in supporting a strong ELC workforce was also evidenced by a large growth in training activities – now a blended approach of e-learning and face-to-face, in response to need – and 93 per cent of users rated these as good to excellent. Its e-learning modules had been accessed over 4526 times up until the end of March, a doubling of their use compared with last year.

The growth in CALA’s online learning and virtual support sessions to over 17,000 since the start of lockdown was highlighted too. This includes the accessing by more than 7000 users from 31 local authorities during the Covid period of the Keeping Children Safe child protection-related modules that were developed in partnership with the Highland Child Protection Committee.

Margaret Kinsella, chairwoman of CALA's volunteer board, said: "The statistic and anecdotal comments really speak for themselves and we are delighted to have developed and diversified our services to provide a wide range of support that meets the needs of children and families across the area.

"We have been able to build on the strong foundation of skilled and dedicated staff during the Covid pandemic. We opened six key worker hubs as well as a range of support for parents, children and staff across the sector via our website or through direct work such as deliveries of play activity parcels. On behalf of the board I want to pay tribute to those staff for their ongoing work and positive approach."

Chief executive Jaci Douglas said: "While it has been a challenging year in many respects, and we have had to make some difficult decisions, we have all worked tirelessly to make it a success and I want to echo the board's thanks to all our hard-working and dedicated staff and to our partners, without whom we couldn't provide the quality services that make such adifference to families and communities.

CALA has a total of 26 ELC and out-of-school care settings across Highland and two in Moray. It supports 55 parent-and-toddler groups across Highland, although that number is much lower than usual due to Covid. Family practitioners can also provide a range of activities in the community.

CALA also offers 19 free or low cost e-learning modules – details are at www.calaelearning.co.uk

During the lockdown period CALA secured funding from the North Highland Initiative to deliver 80 planting play boxes as well as 75 "treasure basket" packs to families in Wick, Thurso, John O'Groats, Dunbeath, Lybster, Castletown and Reay. CALA said it had received "numerous positive comments and lovely drawings and photos of the activities the children had enjoyed together with their families".

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