A few questions for those who are going to running childminder agencies   2 comments

It seems the government are going to push ahead with childminder agencies – without proper consultation and as it were slipping them in through the ‘back door by including in the Children and Families Bill ( I have to ask why is this step needed if the government intends to listen to the views  of childminders,  membership organisations and early years experts  – surely the consultation should come first?).

So far there has been very little information about agencies and how they will work in practical terms. So far we know;

  • Childminders will have a choice if they join an agency or not 
  • Each agency coud potentially be different as they will be able to set their own working practices.
  • There will be opportunity to remain self employed or to be employed by the agency
  • Agencies will offer support, training and be able to register, inspect and de register childminders.
  • Ofsted will inspect a small number of childminders in each agency for quality assurance reasons.

And that is it at the moment – many childminders are frustrated with this lack of information and want to be given further information either from the government or from those who pln to run the agencies.

Therefore I have jotted down some of the questions that I want answers to  in the hope that someone will provide the answers.

General agency questions

With the possibility of childminders with different current grades joining the agency – will you differentiate in level of support and recognise the expertise, knowledge and understanding of those with Outstanding grades.

If so – as those with current Outstanding and  good grades will need less support than those with current satisfactory grades, or those just registering as childminders, will the agency fee be the same for everyone or will it be dependent on grade both on joining and once inspected / assessed by the agency?

If not what incentive will there be for a childminder in an agency to improve or maintain their standard of practice?

If as a result of an agency gaining a lower grade than the childminders in the agency had previously – how will you compensate for this loss of grade and reputation?

Self employed model agencies

Will you providing support / training to assistants and co minders?

If so will they have to register with the agency and pay a fee themselves? Or will the childminder have to pay a higher fee if he / she employs an assistant or works with a co minder?

Will childminders be given any credit for having  additional resources?  – because some childminders have just the basics, some childminders have extensive resources – and of course those registering may not have any resources to start with.

Will the agency fee be based on per childminder or per child  space?

If a childminder wants to joins the agency and has no spaces available – and even has a waiting list, will that childminder still be able to join?

Employed model agencies

Will you be ‘buying’ each childminders existing resources – because if employed it is not the norm to provide free of charge the ‘tools of the trade’ – teachers for example may supplement resources available but that is their choice – and they do not supply the basics in the classroom like tables and chairs, the whiteboard, the pencils and paper. And if so who will set the price paid?

If I was going to join an agency – I would be very tempted to sell all my resources myself at a price I set and bank the money – and start from scratch with resources supplied by the agency- as at the moment I provide extensive quality resources to ensure the success of my business – I will not continue to provide them to ensure the success of an agency business. The same with my car, my pushchairs, car seats and all the other equipment – it is mine paid for by me, for use in my business, not to for use in someone else’s business.

What will happen if my co minder chooses not to be part of an agency – will she still be able to access training through the agency (even if cost involved) ?

How will paying a co minder work, would I still be responsible for this – and if so would you pay me more because of my co minder?

Same for childminder assistants – will you pay me more to cover their wages? – especially on the days when numbers of places are not increased but an assistant is use to ensure safety and needs of children being met – for example on day trips, or if caring for a child who needs extra support.

Will you cover the extra costs of day trips, home cooked food, craft activities, transport to and from the children’s home or school?

As each childminder is different and offers a different service, will you have a pay scale so that extra costs involved in providing that service are covered? If not what will be the incentive to continue to provide all the extras?

How will you compensate parents who might faced a fee increase from what their current arrangement is with their self employed childminder,  if that childminder becomes employed by an agency?

How will you ensure that standards are maintained / improved in a employed model – without incentive (such as personal reputation, being able to charge for services actually provided) childminders in an agency may well have a ‘It does not matter attitude – I will still get paid if I do the statutory stuff – why do more?’

At the moment childminders often use their discretion to charge some parents less than their normal rate to support families through difficult times – will this be an option once agencies are responsible for fee setting and payments?

Personal Summary

The above questions are not all the questions that I have, but there seems little point in asking more questions until the ones above have been answered. My professional opinion is that the answers to above questions – if provided – will provide the evidence that agencies will not work in practice.

Each childminder is a unique person offering a unique service. Each childminder is responsible for the success of their business – and their Ofsted grade. Take that away and there will be no incentive for any childminder in an agency to improve practice, to support parents, to offer any extras such as extended hours, discounts, quality resources and so on.

There are much better ways to achieve the government aims – such as a higher Ofsted fee, charging for services provided by the local authority, supporting those with lower grades to improve practice, using peer support / volunteers more effectively, and so on.

Proper consultation and effective listening to those who are qualified to express professional opinions – would have  led to further improving the excellent progress made so far

2 responses to “A few questions for those who are going to running childminder agencies

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  1. Thanks Penny for your blog. This has highlighted some of the problems we face and there are questions here that I hadn’t even thought about.

  2. I’ve said before that the only childminders I envisage joining networks will be new childminders and those struggling to fill vacancies themselves (which could be for a number of reasons). You can read more about the issues raised on PACEY local. My main concern is good or outstanding childminders losing the incentive to remain that way as members of an agency. This initiative will lower quality rather than raise it so my interpretation of it is that the Government wants parents to pay less for childcare, which in turn means they pay less via childcare tax credit) rather than to get better quality. Those registered with agencies are bound to charge less than independent childminders to take the work away from us. This will create a tier of childminders where only the more better-off parents can afford to pay independent childminders. Why should poorer parents have to settle for poorer quality childcare? In my opinion, Every Child does not Matter under the coalition Government.

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