My mother, Denise Hevey, known as Denny, who has died aged 72 of cancer, was a pioneering educationist in the field of early years and child protection. She worked in public policy as well as academia, and was a passionate advocate of the importance of early childhood and the rights and wellbeing of young children.
A committed feminist, she also championed the undervalued and underpaid – predominantly women – who cared for, educated and protected young children. In 1977 she wrote to the Guardian on the poor recognition of childminders, which resulted in a meeting of more than 300 practitioners and led the way for the establishment of the National Childminding Association (now Pacey), of which she later served as president.
The daughter of Raymond Edwards, an electrical engineer, and Doreen (nee Hudson), a community volunteer, Denny was born and grew up in Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk and was educated at Great Yarmouth high school for girls – the first in her family to go to grammar school and to university.
In 1969, she eloped to Dublin, where she married Seamus Hevey before returning to complete her BSc and then PhD in social psychology at the University of Southampton.
She then spent 18 years at the Open University, from 1983, as a social science staff tutor and in the school of health and social welfare, producing training packs for childminders and early years practitioners and creating groundbreaking courses and training guidelines on child protection and safeguarding.
From 1992, she was founder and director of the OU’s Vocational Qualifications Centre – vocational qualifications, she argued, were as worthwhile as academic degrees and helped to create professional and social mobility.
In 2001, she moved into key roles in Whitehall, as the first head of policy on early years in Ofsted, then quickly seconded as a senior adviser into the department for education, where she worked in the flagship Sure Start unit, leading the consultation and development of the 2004 childcare approval scheme. She then led the government’s response to the Bichard inquiry into the Soham murders, overseeing legislative changes to the vetting and barring of people planning to work with children.
Denny returned to academia in 2005 as the inaugural professor of early years and director of the early years professional status programme at the University of Northampton, where she established international collaborations with centres in Kazakhstan, Japan and China, among others, and retained a hand in shaping national policy through close involvement with the Children’s Workforce Development Council. She notionally retired in 2013, remaining as emeritus professor.
Renowned for her fierce intellect and indomitable energy, she will also be remembered for her warmth and kindness.
Denny was looking forward to an active retirement, pursuing passions for travel, gardening and as a keen naturalist, and she could usually be found dancing around the kitchen, entertaining friends and family, a glass of wine in hand.
She is survived by Seamus, her children, Ciaran and me, and her granddaughter, Frances.