All this talk of Agencies – can some one explain what was wrong with Children Come First Networks?   2 comments

I have touched on this subject before in a blog – but this week my attention was re focused on the Children Come First Childminding Networks (ccf networks) because a couple of colleagues have informed me that their childminding networks are being closed.

The people concerned are very upset and angry, they feel they have put a lot of work and effort into meeting the criteria of assessment and maintaining the high standards of care and education required.

Although they understand the need to enable more childminders to be able to offer the free entitlement, they have concerns that without any independent assessment or regular monitoring that the quality of practice and therefore the quality of the care and education provided through the free entitlement places will at best be variable and at worse of poor quality.

So it as as a result of my colleagues getting in touch, that  I have revisited the network idea and reflected on my own experiences before writing this blog.

A little background to start

Back in 2003 I took a post with the National Childminding Association as a part time Network Coordinator. The post was paid for by Worcestershire Early Years and they in turn received funding for the post from the government – who at the time saw childminding networks as the way forward – the way to increase quality and the method to enable childminders to offer what was then called Nursery Education Funding.

In November 2003, the local authority employed me directly to co-ordinate their second network.

My role was to set up the networks, assess and monitor the quality of the network childminders – and ensure the network was approved by the independent assessor and so could be called NCMA ccf Childminding Network. All of this was achieved – as was re accreditation 3 years later , and 3 years after that.

So a huge success story and one that was being repeated all over the country.

Of course all was not plain sailing, particularly from the funding point, as the specific funding stopped and local authorities had to budget for their networks within their ‘normal’ grant application – in other words funding from the government.

In addition many local authorities could not continue to afford to pay the fee required by NCMA for coordinators to be employed directly by NCMA and so many coordinators were taken ‘in house’ by the local authorities – but the networks were still accredited through NCMA and so remained ccf networks.

As a coordinator I know how much work went into getting a childminder assessed as a network childminder – both from a childminders viewpoint and a coordinators viewpoint. I also know that the ‘system’ worked – my policy was that no childminder was told that they could not be a network childminder provided they kept reflecting on practice and making changes. For some childminders this process was still happening 3 years later because of personal circumstances preventing more rapid progress – and this was fine as it meant only those who fully met the network criteria were able to call themselves network childminders and therefore able to provide the NEF places.

But then in 2009 cracks started to appear, the NEF code of practice was up for review (in fact over due) rumours were that the criteria for networks would be ‘slimmed down’ , meanwhile local authorities were under pressure to enable more childminders to provide NEF – and within that lay a huge problem for the LA’s – the ccf networks had a requirement for one coordinator per 40 network childminders.

LA’s could not at that time afford to take on more staff, NCMA made changes to the ccf Networks allowing ‘a lighter touch’ so numbers of childminders per coordinator could increase- but still this did not manage to bridge the gap between the very valid quality criteria of ccf networks and LA budgets – and so the decline in number of ccf networks gathered speed – with just a few LA’s having both the confidence and budget to continue to have ccf networks and even fewer with coordinators employed by NCMA.

Roll forward in time to today – the new code of practice for NEF – now named Free Entitlement is in place – expectations for huge numbers of funded two year old places are  having to be planned for – and so LA’s are – on the whole- dropping formal assessment of childminders for the free entitlement purposes and using their own quality assurance methods to enable most childminders to offer the free entitlement. In Worcestershire it is called the WER – and a variety of things add together to give a childminding their WER score.

And of course this also brings us back to the point in time, of my colleagues contacting me to tell me their networks are closing.

What lessons can be learnt from the Children Come First Networks – and more importantly have opportunities to review this excellent model been lost? Could in fact the agency model actually have been achieved through a revised ccf network model?

Lets look at the similarities

Ms Truss would like (in bold)

Support for childminders with paperwork

ccf network coordinators did this

Matching service for parents to childminders

ccf networks worked in close partnership with their local Family Information Service

Assessment of practice

ccf networks had a rigorous assessment process

Training

ccf networks provided training and there was a requirement for continuous professional development

External assessment of  the ‘scheme’

ccf network were assessed to become approved and every 3 years after that – with criteria that unannounced assessment visits possible at any time

Accountability

ccf networks were accountable to NCMA and the LA providing the funding

Of course I do know the big difference between Ms. Truss type agencies and the ccf networks – which is costs to the childminder and parents

Ms Truss agencies – unknown cost to childminder or parents  but agencies will be business model so will be looking to make a profit.

ccf networks – free to childminder and parents

I am also aware that (even without a maths GCSE)  that the NCMA ccf model was far too expensive to maintain with costs in excess of  £1,000 per childminder per year

So the model would have needed a lot of changes to make it a  cost effective model for childminders to buy into – but  it appears it is too late, as  most ccf networks are closed or under threat of closure, the expertise of the coordinators may still be there but many like myself now have other employment, the toy libraries have been sold on, or given to other organisations or even given via a free raffle to local childminders.

But worse of all , all the hard work of coordinators, childminders and NCMA has been simply binned – in all but a few remaining ccf networks.

Such a shame, such a wasted opportunity, and such a waste of time, effort and government money.

Of course there are some remaining positive legacies from the ccf network experience – certainly it helped shaped who I am, I learnt a lot, developed as person a lot especially in terms of confidence – and I know it helped to establish the ethos under which I currently operate my childminding setting.

I also know that the childminders who were in the network that I coordinated took some valuable experiences from it.

I hope this will be the case for my colleagues who are currently going through the loss of their childminding networks.

2 responses to “All this talk of Agencies – can some one explain what was wrong with Children Come First Networks?

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  1. I have been a member of my local CCF Network for nearly 10 years now and found the support and training I have received invaluable. I am very concerned that with all the proposed changes, the Network would close and the very experienced and committed Network Co-ordinators would lose their jobs and their expertise would be lost too.
    I am very fortunate that I live in an area where the LA is excellent with regard to childminding support and I know that an agency would never be able to replicate the work the LA does for us.

    • I do hope that you keep your ccf network Laura – I think a lot of people value the networks – both those who still have them and those who have lost them. I only experienced the networks as a co-ordinator and not as a childminder

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