Childminding Groups – A matter of choice but also maybe a bit of a professional dilemma   1 comment

I suppose because of my blogs and my very public shouting from my soap box about various things to do with childminding, I should not be surprised that people contact me for advice or to use as a sounding board.

And contact me they do – hundreds of people – mostly about More Great Childcare related issues – but also about general childminding related things. The people who contact me include, parents, childminders, other professionals, local authorities from across the country and so on.

One subject that keeps cropping up is childminder groups / toddler groups that childminders attend

Before I start my personal reflection on childminding groups – I need to make it very clear that my comments are not directed at the groups in my area, or the groups that I supported when I worked for the LA – nor are they targeted at any one area.

They are a combination of points from discussion with many people over the last year or so.

The aim of this blog is to look at the advantages of attending childminding or toddlers groups and to consider the professional dilemmas.

So first the advantages;

Childminding can be very isolating and so it is good to get together on occasion so can chat to other childminders

Groups often provide equipment and activities that are difficult or too expensive to provide in individual home settings.

It is good for the children to socialise in a wider group, mixing with other children and adults

Groups often arrange training events to meet their members needs

Other childminders attending the groups are knowledgable about childminding related things such as policies, fees, provision of food, general behaviour issues, recommendations for pushchairs and other equipment

Some groups run toy libraries

More experienced childminders can support newer childminders

Some groups organise social events outside of childminding hours such as quiz nights, meals out, day trips near and far

Attending a group can be a good way of passing on information about own vacancies, as those childminders who are full may pass on your details to parents who are looking for childcare

As a group it is possible to apply for funding for specific projects

All really positive aspects of childminding groups – and all good reasons for being members of such groups.

From discussions with others it seems that those groups that only meet in the evenings have fewer ‘professional dilemma’s’ than those groups that run drop ins / play sessions for children. However with all types of groups there are  some aspects that may cause those professional dilemma’s – and ultimately for decisions about what to do, to be made.

I think it is worth saying that I am not suggesting that the professional dilemma’s that I am going to describe – occur in every group, or that my suggestions are the only possible solutions to what are often difficult situations ……

……. however I hope that by raising the issues, that those who attend childminding / toddler groups will reflect on their own practice in private within their heads – and reflect through  discussion with others  …….. and if changes to practice are felt to be needed that these changes can be achieved professionally, without causing upset or attributing blame but with acceptance that sometimes things do need to change in the best interests of the children and also to ensure that childminding is perceived by others to be outstanding in terms of high quality care and education at all times.

So what are these professional dilemma’s?

I am going to describe the aspect of practice, the professional dilemma associated to it – and then one or two suggestions for possible changes that could be made – and certainly could be starting points for reflection that may then lead to a completely different change being implemented because as with all things there is not one  ‘right way’.

Discussing confidential aspects of childminding practice – There are times when all childminders will need to discuss confidential issues – or be asked to give advice on confidential issues.  Although other childminders attending a group / meeting are often the best source of advice – it can be difficult to speak to just one person without others over hearing. It can also be difficult  to maintain the confidentiality of the children and families in your setting – due to fact that even if you don’t use names and are very careful about what you say, that the person you are talking to (or those within earshot) can work out which child or family it is that you are talking about.

Therefore the professional dilemma’s questions are:-

1. How can this important aspect of peer to peer support be facilitated?

2. What should you do if you overhear something confidential?

Possible solutions are;

1.

Have a A4 note book where people can write their questions / worries / concerns – and others can then write their advice. The advantage of this is not only by writing things down there is less chance of accidentally giving personal information about the family or child, and also that over time the book will provide answers to common questions that in the future other with similar issues can read and therefore not have to write their question – as it has already been answered via the responses in the book. Also over time people will be able to add to the responses as they experience similar issues and come up with different solutions. For this reason it is best to allow  2 or 3 pages between each question.

 And / or

Ask experienced group members to form a working party to produce a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ leaflet – so the question and some solutions – ie ‘ I am worried about a child in my care who always seems hungry when they arrive’ or ‘ A parent has paid by cheque and it has bounced’ or ‘ One of the children in my care keeps biting other children’

And / or

Make up a booklet of advice sheets from different organisations – such as on biting, potty training, recovering bad debt  and so on.

And /or 

Seek support / advice from those not connected to the group – some childminders contact me personally for support.

2. 

If you hear something confidential you have two dilemma’s – one is about making people aware that you have overheard – and the other what to do with the information.

Possible solutions;

First you do need to make people aware that you have overheard them – it maybe they have not considered this or the difficult position it puts others in, it maybe that due to emotions their voices have become louder but they are not aware of this. So a polite, ‘ Just to make you aware I can hear what you are saying’, or a ‘ I am just going to move further away so you can continue this conversation without me over hearing’ maybe all that is needed.

And / or

Bring up the issue at the next committee meeting so the group can decide on the best way forward

Second – it will depend on what you heard. It is possible that you over hear something about aspects of practice that you personally feel are not appropriate. In these situations you have to decide if what you have overheard is just a difference in personal opinion about practice or if it actually  breaks the statutory requirements of registration as set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage 2012.

So;

If it does break the statutory requirements then really you do need to do something about it – hard though it is. If of a serious nature you should phone Ofsted to report it. If of a less serious nature and you know the person well you could signpost to support services that may be able to help resolve the underlying issue – for example the person may benefit from some training on a particular aspect.

And / or

My personal opinion is that it is because of the difficulties in people over hearing things and the difficult personal dilemma’s that the person over hearing has to deal with – that it is actually better if a group is able to discuss the situation and draw up their own policy on discussing confidential issues- so that everyone understands the groups reasons for the policy and the appropriate ways in which that important peer to peer support can be achieved.

Witnessing poor practice in a group you attend It can be very difficult if you witness what you consider to be poor practice because not everyone will have the same opinion – some may even think  it is  good practice. There have been some ‘common’ issues raise with me about what some consider to be poor practice by others but who do not know how to raise the issue sensitively and without offending others.

So I am going to list some of the things that have been brought to my attention;

  • Leaving children in pushchairs crying – sometimes facing the wall
  • Not supervising children on climbing equipment
  • Not monitoring the children’s play and not supporting turn taking – for example one child could be ‘hogging’ the favourite ride on all morning
  • Not shutting / locking the external door (either to corridor or building exit)
  • Allowing children to go to toilet areas away from main room on their own
  • Not encouraging respect for the toys and equipment and allowing children to ‘trash’ the place
  • Leaving the main room – maybe to support a child with toileting but not telling anyone that leaving the room / asking them to keep an eye on other children in your care (subject to ratio limits)
  • ‘Popping out’ to buy milk or other things for the group and leaving the children in the care of others – maybe without specific permission from parents and maybe causing that person to exceed ratio limits.
  • Not responding if child that minding, bites or hits or take toys from another child, or pushes – either because have not noticed or have a ‘they will sort it out themselves attitude’
  • Expecting a ‘new child’ to cope with a group situation during first week or two of settling in – and not picking up when upset – saying to others ‘ leave him / her – they will get used to it’
  • Not being aware that for some children large rooms such as community halls are frightening due to size, number of people, acoustics in the room – and again not supporting the child to overcome those fears.
  • Leaving hot drinks where children can reach them
  • Leaving handbags where children can reach them
  • Thinking that the main purpose of a childminding / toddler group is for the adults to socialise
  • Not being aware of other children’s dietary needs and not checking before giving out snacks / drinks
  • Allowing children to take in sweets or crisps or other foodstuffs and to wonder round the room eating – without any consideration for the dietary needs of others – or the upset caused to others by seeing others eat.
  • Not supporting the children to tidy up
  • Shouting at the children – or shouting across the room to others
  • Swearing
  • Openly breaking ratio requirements – with a ‘well it does not matter here as so many children who will know who is looking after who’
  • Refusing to sign in / out or not putting true numbers to hide over minding
  • Talking negatively about colleagues and / or the children’s parents
  • Spending the whole time on the phone texting or making calls
  • Changing children on tables or the floor without a changing mat or even a towel under the child
  • Not noticing when a child needs a nappy change or a nose wiping
  • Continuing to chat to others during story time, or singing time, or when information being given out
  • Always leaving others to put out the toys, prepare drinks. tidy up – in other words not taking an active part in helping the group to run smoothly

As you can see this is a very long list of actual issues that have been brought to my attention – and I could add more things if time allowed  – but I think this list gives a powerful message.

Of course not all of these things will be happening at once in any particular group, some things may never occur in particular groups but the possibility is there, that one or more of these ‘poor practices’ could be happening in groups all over the country – but that due to the sensitive nature of challenging colleagues – it is never discussed or improvement to practice supported.

The professional dilemma is – do you just ‘keep your head down’ – maybe mutter to yourself – but do nothing about it?

The problem with doing nothing is that when others – (and by others, I mean other people using the the same building, visitors to the group including ‘officials’, new childminders attending for the first time, parents who may be dropping children to their childminder – or collecting their child to take to appointments ) – see this sort of practice it lowers the public perception of childminding, it gives childminders a bad name – and you can be sure if one person witnesses any of the things on the list above, they will tell other people.

By ‘doing nothing’ when witnessing poor practice – you are by default – accepting it and supporting the historic public image of childminders as ‘babysitters’, and to be frank the governments opinion that childminders are of a lower quality than other early years settings. – and in fact damaging your own professional reputation, as childminders end up all ‘tarred by the same brush’

AND THIS IS NOT FAIR – OR EVEN TRUE, as the majority of childminders are professional and have good / outstanding practice.

Possible solutions;

A good way to bring up the subject with others would be to say ‘Did you see the blog about childminding groups written by Penny Webb?’     ‘ What do you think – does she have a point?’ Might be enough to start a discussion between individuals or at a committee meeting without having to mention a particular persons practice within the group

And / or

Use the list above to write a policy about appropriate practice within the group – just turn the negative statements from the list into positive statements. It can be difficult to challenge practice if it is just one persons opinion against another persons opinion – but if there is a policy that has been written and agreed on by all members of a group then it is much easier to challenge.

And / or

Provide a training session for group members and set scenarios to be discussed – is it poor practice and if so why (should lead to debate due to difference in personal opinion) – then discuss if the group want to challenge this aspect of practice or not.

And /or

If group members believe practice in the group is always good – ask an independent observer to observe and report on practice seen – then discuss. Sometimes those closest to the situation – ie the group members can not see what is happening – simply because it has always been like that and so ‘normal’ – and accepted.

It is very important that childminders – who are  all are members of a community – portray themselves as professionals at all times and ensure that their practice is of high quality at all times, to ensure the public image of childminders is that childminders are professionals who provide the highest quality care and education – which of course most childminders do.

By working together to challenge poor practice and to report breaking of the requirements of EYFS – we will ensure that our own reputations and the collective reputations of childminders are as we all want them to be.

I have to say that this has been a difficult blog to write and I hope that I have achieved the right balance and not offended anyone or upset anyone. Hopefully those that attend groups where they personally feel there is poor practice – will feel supported to ‘do something’ positive  professionally and without causing upset or attributing blame but with acceptance that sometimes things do need to change.

And those who know that not only is their own practice excellent but also the practice within the groups they attend, can congratulate themselves – and maybe post some ideas about practice guidelines or policies that their group has and that work – or some further suggestions to support colleagues in other groups.

One response to “Childminding Groups – A matter of choice but also maybe a bit of a professional dilemma

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  1. A well thought out piece Penny well done, I think you have set out and summed it all up very nicely and sadly you have noted many concernes I have seen myself over my 22 years of registered childminding, which is one of the reasons why I do not go to these groups if held during the day.

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