Part THREE – We are all saying ‘NO to childminding agencies   1 comment

Yet more letters to Truss about childminding agencies

From Alison Donohoe – Parent using a childminder

Dear Ms Truss

I write to you as a concerned user of a childminder services.  I have been using an Ofsted Registered Child Minder for 2 years now.

I would like you to know, that as a parent, I wholly reject the implementation of Childminder Agencies, being introduced in September 2014.
A Childminder has a huge influence on the children in their care. Therefore I visited and asked questions until I was completely satisfied before making my decision to place my child in their care.
Also tely I also needed to bear in mind that as the Childminder would be looking after my child in their home that I needed to satisfy myself completely that the person I chose was worthy of my trust.

I carefully selected my own childminder through research, finding a childminder with a home from home atmosphere and one with whom myself and the children ‘connected’ with.  A childminder with a similar way of thinking.  Something I believe can only be achieved through visiting several minders for myself and not through some unseen ‘matching’ service.  I have built a close relationship with my childminder over time, supported through her flexibility and mutual respect.  One size does not fit all in this case. I do not understand how Agencies – a 3rd party, will REDUCE costs to myself.  It appears that not only will I get a wide choice of minder but I will have to pay for the privilege of a service that is not needed.  There is a lack of information available to parents about these costs and what a user would get for their money, quite frightening considering you intend to implement your ideas in less than 8 months time. To clarify, I do not agree with Agencies and I for one will not be using one!

From Debbie Charnock Jones

For the attention of Elizabeth Truss

I suspect from the tone of the policy you have proposed and manner in which you have proposed it that you initially misunderstood the nature and underestimated the dedication, professionalism and passion of most child-minders. I suspect the calibre, intelligence and tenacity (both individually and collectively) of child-minders have come as somewhat of a surprise to you.

The introduction of the EYFS had the effect of driving up quality in child-minding in a number of ways. Those who were committed to providing quality childcare rose to the challenge and have mostly continued to improve their provision year upon year, those who couldn’t or wouldn’t rise to the challenge left the profession in the knowledge that any lack of quality would be exposed during inspection and that they would struggle to compete when so many others were not only committing themselves to the provision of exemplary childcare and education but were going further, practicing reflexively  with the aim of continuing to improve on already good, and often outstanding, practice. These child-minders have never once rested on their laurels or become complacent about the need for ongoing professional development and many have pursued higher education, often at degree level, provided extended hours childcare (meaning early starts and late finishes to each day) aware that the working day doesn’t end there and that batch cooking, administration, visits from potential families will inevitably eat into earlier mornings, later evenings and weekends if provision is to continue to achieve high standards.  I and my family have so far managed many sacrifices and challenges during six year’s degree level study which has demanded most of my/our weekends and holidays as I work to achieve a BA (hons) childhood and Youth studies. I don’t suppose it will come as a surprise to find therefore, that I will most certainly want to claim my achievements as my own and to use them to demonstrate my level of commitment to my profession and to the families who use my services because as I am sure you have now discovered that child-minding has now become a profession which we take utmost pride in.

Providing quality childcare in our own homes is much more than a job, it is a way of life and much time is spent on building, nurturing and maintaining the complex, sometimes challenging relationships between child-minder and families. Much of my work has revolved around providing family support during countless difficulties, responding urgently to phone calls asking me to take their children to hospital, providing emergency overnight care when mum went into labour with another child and had no family on hand to help out, providing support and mediation between separating/divorcing parents and persuading them to act together in the best interests of their children and lending a sympathetic ear for hour upon hour to parents struggling with ill health and depression.  I regularly receive text requests for advice as late as 11.00pm at night and it is not unknown for me to be telephoned or text whilst trying to forget work on of my four weeks per annum holiday.

I have to admit that most business comes to me through word of mouth and recommendations once a good reputation has been established. New parents, (unknown to me) however, always attract my sympathy being in the unenviable position of lacking choices regards  leaving their child in childcare whilst they work, but they also have to agonise  about who is most suitable to entrust their child to.  For these parents the OFSTED inspection report provides the only source of information and potential reassurance as a starting point to the initial confidence a parent must place in a child-minder which will help to provide firm foundations for quality relationship building which is absolutely necessary between child-minders and families who will often have to manage a wide range of sensitivities during the course of their relationship.

Under the agency proposals it is hard to believe that potentially dangerous safeguarding issues are being disregarded. Agencies are simply going to provide the ‘perfect storm’ for unscrupulous individuals to not only make a return to child-minding, but for them to remain beneath the radar. There is no guarantee that all individual childminders will be visted/held to account regards their practice. I’m sure you don’t need me to point out how potentially dangerous and disastrous this is. In all honesty I sincerely hope that we never have to say ‘we told you so’ because safeguarding has gone disastrously wrong, however unfortunately I suspect this is exactly what will happen and I would be interested to know you how well you have risk assessed this decision/policy and whether you can, in good conscience, take risks not only with your own reputation but on behalf of the thousands of children and families who may potentially experience substandard, neglectful and sometimes dangerous provision. I hope you have adequate insurance in place.

I hope it will not come as a surprise therefore, that I want to be able to speak as an individual (through inspection) to my potential customers; I want them to be able to make an informed choice about how well the services I offer meet their needs. Choosing a childcare provider, especially a child-minder is such a personal matter, that it is highly inappropriate and arguably even cruel to parents to deny them the opportunity to make an informed choice. Hopeful that you are now more knowledgeable about the nature of child-minding I don’t expect it to come as a surprise to you that I and many others urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your proposals. Your agency proposals are about to damage and depersonalise what is probably the most personal profession in the UK. For the benefit of children, families, and child-minders you absolutely must reconsider your proposals.

From Natasha Cross

Dear Ms.  Truss
 
I would like to express my concerns regarding your ideas for childminding agencies.  It seems that there is the assumption that all parents find childminding expensive and inconvenient.  However I believe that this is not a true representation of parents’ perception. If parents felt that an uninterrupted service in was important they would have the choice of a nursery.
 
I feel that the true reason for the introduction of agencies is to reduce costs to parents.  There will undoubtedly be a cost to childminders in being part of an agency and to achieve the goal “More Affordable Childcare” there will need to be a cost reduction to parents.  At the moment I charge £4.20 and I should imagine that after the introduction of agencies, once the agency have had their fee and the cost is reduced to parents I will earn roughly half of what I earn now. That will make my job no longer viable as I struggle to pay my bills with my current rate of pay.
 
I am a highly qualified childminder with 10 years of childcare experience.  I have helped families with all sorts of difficulties such as children with special educational needs, shift work and teen parents.
 
I graduate in June with a BA (honours) in Education Studies with Early Education and can sadly see me being forced to leave the profession that I have loved for the last 10 years if I am co-erced into being part of an agency.  I feel there will be no alternative to agencies as we are bound to be charged for our ofsted inspection;  as yet you have neglected to reveal how much we will be charged for an inspection.
 
This will be personally very sad for me as apart from providing an invaluable service to a large number of families I was able to stay at home with my oldest son,  my youngest son is only two and I will be sad that I will be forced to leave him in his early years when with my oldest I have not missed that important stage.  I will find this so hard to deal with and I hope that you will consider this aspect of your proposal.
 
As far as I can see the agency model has the sole purpose of reducing costs for the government but I fear that there will also be a reduction in quality as an agency will not be as thorough as individual childminding inspections.  This is surely a bad prospect as the focus should firmly be on the safety of children.
 
By making the profession untenable you will also lose an experienced and qualified workforce.  This will also have a direct impact on the quality of the profession.  I am entirely against childminding agencies.

From Karen Peachey

Dear Ms. Truss,

Thank you for your letter of 3rd February addressed to all childminders.

A bit of background information about myself.   I am a childminder in Fareham, Hampshire and have been so for almost 10 years.  I feel I am a dedicated and committed childminder, giving many hours of unpaid time so that the children attending my setting can receive quality care and education during their impressionable Early Years.

Your letter states that Government reforms will make it easier to work as a childminder.  To be truthful, I do not feel it is particularly difficult for anyone to register as a childminder at the present time.  Why should it be ‘easy’.  Surely , if the Government wants a workforce who is passionate about the care given to young children, time and effort in setting up such a business is surely a step in that direction.  Children deserve the best.

I will put my comments regarding the issues you feel need addressing as below:-

Early Education Funding – this is already in place – as your letter states from 1st September 2013 all good and outstanding childminders can access such funding.

Childminder Agencies – You state that the number of childminders has decreased – do you not see any direct correlation with the increase in nursery places.  In my area there is an abundance of choice of childcare for working parents – numerous nurseries, pre-schools, childminders, before/after school clubs, holiday schemes etc.  As an example the local school my daughter attends has two after school clubs – one run by the local nursery and the other by the local Children’s Centre, a holiday scheme operating on site and childminders.  Childminders at this school rarely have the opportunity to look after school children as the school promotes the local nursery and Children’s Centre and provide an extremely cheap holiday scheme, which I cannot compete with.   By saturating the market with even more childminders  working for childminding agencies you are in danger of losing experienced childminders such as myself.

I feel registering as a childminder has never been complex – certainly not with the support of the Local Authority.  How difficult is it to register with Ofsted, visit a GP to arrange and pay for a medical check/paediatric first aid training etc.   However, I can see, with your Government reducing the support of the Local Authority then maybe it will become more difficult for new childminders.   What is the reason for this?  Is it so that new and existing childminders will have no choice but to use your Agencies? As an example, in Hampshire our training, for existing childminders, used to be subsidised with a £35 subscription fee.  I realise we were fortunate with such a scheme.  However, this  has now been withdrawn and we will have to pay £70 per course, and have to find our own paediatric first aid training provider.  As you are aware, Hampshire is one of the pilot areas for childminding agencies.  I cannot see that it is a coincidence that our support has now been substantially reduced.

‘Agencies are designed to make it easier for parents to find a childminder to suit their child’s needs.’  I am sorry but surely a parent is the best person to decide the right childminder for their child, not some middle person.  I realise that it may take a little time and effort for a parent to visit a few childminders, but surely this is time well spent to find the provider that is best for their circumstances.  You state that agencies will provide emergency cover.    I am able to put parents in touch with other childminders should they need emergency cover – not that this is often needed as you will find that we build our businesses on reliability.

‘Parents will have confidence in the quality of care and early education offered by childminders registered with an agency.’  I cannot see how this can offer parents more reassurance than that of a childminder who has been individually inspected by Ofsted.

It is stated that joining an agency will be entirely voluntary.  I can see how the Government may make it very difficult for childminders to remain independent.  This is a real concern to me.  I would like to see specific details of how agencies are going to operate – they will probably have a major effect on my business and yet it seems we will not know anything about them until they are operating and in competition with ourselves.

Local Authority Networks and Support – Hampshire have had an excellent childminder network.  However, with funding cuts childminder training and support has been substantially reduced.  I cannot understand why the Government hasn’t built upon the existing successful childminding networks instead of creating agencies.

Working with Schools – Schools opening more hours of the day and more weeks of the year as this is what parents want.  Where do children feature in this concern.  My youngest daughter is 9 years old and I certainly wouldn’t want her at school for longer hours and more weeks of the year.  What are you doing to their childhood?  A home setting is best for most children at the end of a normal school day.  As stated previously, in my case, childminders have approached the school about a joined-up service for parents – however the school actively promotes the local nursery and clubs in preference to childminders.

You state that the Government know that childminders are important in improving outcomes for children and supporting parents.  It certainly does not feel that way.   The Government are interested in reducing their costs with no thought to the consequences on the next generation or the childminders whose businesses they are ruining.  Childminder Agencies will not reduce costs to parents – why will another level of bureaucracy result in cheaper fees.  As far as I know the agencies will be run for profit – in which case their costs+ will need to be covered.  I would imagine this will be passed onto childminders and parents.  Of course if the market is saturated with childminders then I suppose fees may go down.  Should this be the case the Government will be faced with having childminders who do not regard this as a profession but more as a job as I certainly will not be putting in extra hours for little reward and will leave a professional I love.    Why is it not possible to see the dedicated workforce you have already and use the successful childminding networks as a model to help childminders.  This could be non-profit making and I am sure most childminders would be willing to pay an appropriate fee for this service.   The services of people who understand the childminding profession could be utilised with local area knowledge.

I have written this letter to be handed in by Penny Webb at her meeting with yourself.  I have just heard that this meeting has been cancelled by yourself, after already altering the date.  I cannot believe that this has happened and shows your total disregard to how we operate and the service we provide and the reliance of families upon our services.  We are also self-employed and this will have resulted in a loss of income for Penny.  A loss she was prepared to bear for the opportunity of a meeting with yourself and to  represent our views.  I am extremely saddened that this will not happen and feel you should give us an explanation that we deserve.

From Cheryl Page

Ms Truss

I am an Ofsted registered childminder with a GOOD grading , I have worked as a childmidner for a year and a half now and am enjoying tweaking my business in order to suit the needs of myself, my family and the children in my care. I am very proud of my little business and the success that it is becoming.

I am writing to you with concerns regarding the government reforms in relation to the childcare sector.

Firstly, I feel the letter you sent out to ‘all childminders ‘ is somewhat lacking in information. You have outlined the changes that you wish to make, however, you have not explained how these will work and the hidden costs that are inevitably involved. (Although I have heard the possibilities)

In your letter you mention the set up costs of becoming a childminder, of course they are fairly high and it does take time, quite rightly so too, this is an important job and it should not be taken on lightly, taking time to set up and weigh up whether you actually want to do this job means that it is less likely for people to set up on a whim and put children at risk. My question is this; how does joining an agency change any of this? Not only will people have to pay the supposed £800 to set up, they will also have to find the money to pay an agency fee should they be joining one. This surely makes it more expensive to set up?

You state in your letter that “Where childminders choose to join an agency they will be offered business and marketing support, providing them with all they need to register as a childminder…” I’m not entirely sure why you think providers need to join an agency in order to receive this kind of support, when the local authorities already offer it!? “Agencies will also offer childminders access to training, including statutory training” Again, why? LA’s already provide this. What about those (and from what I hear that is most!) childminders who wish to stay independent, where do they get their training from? Are they to settle for second best and lower quality training, or worse, none at all!? Is this the kind of loop hole that will make it impossible for it to be a childminder if you are not a part of an agency? At the moment, you say it is voluntary to join an agency, but how long will this last? How difficult are you going to make it for us to stay independent, equally how long will it be before you make it mandatory?

As we are already able to access help and support to set up and stay SELF-EMPLOYED as a childminder, why do you feel the need to change the way things are at the moment when they work perfectly well!?

I understand that you are trying to reduce the cost of childcare by introducing these agencies, I fail to see how this would work. If you join an agency, there is a joining fee and it has been circulated that  this figure will be in the hundreds, and if you choose to stay independent then there will be a fee to stay registered with Ofsted, which is also rumoured to be in the hundreds – where will this extra money come from? Childminders do not earn enough to be able to cover this extra cost! I charge £3.00 an hour, please tell me where in that budget the extra hundreds would come from!? The only option is to pass this cost onto the parents, who already struggle to pay for their childcare due to the way the economy is right now. You state in your letter that you want to encourage more people to become childminders as there aren’t enough, well firstly I’d love to know where your research came from as in my small village there are an abundance of childminders; secondly I really don’t see how introducing more hoops to jump through and much bigger costs for those who would like to be childminders will encourage anybody to want to build up a business in this field.

I am really concerned with your proposed ‘blanket grading’ for childminders who join an agency. How can you ensure that all of the childminders in an agency meet the necessary safeguarding and quality standards, when they will be group inspected – yes the minders who are inspected will have to meet these, but who’s to say that a minder who is in the agency but not directly inspected does meet these criteria. Why should a childminder that has worked hard to attain an outstanding grade, share that with somebody who has not bothered to put the effort in and would only have got a ‘requires improvement’ on an individual inspection. Likewise, why should somebody who has worked hard to attain an outstanding grade be marked down to a requires improvement because they weren’t directly inspected and those who were, failed to reach outstanding – this is neither fair nor an accurate reflection of each childminders work.

With regards to agencies helping childminders to fill their spaces and parents to find a suitable childminder for their families needs; as a self-employed childminder I want to be the one that chooses who comes into my setting and there are no guarantees that in an agency we will be able to do this; there are a lot of things to consider when taking on potential new children to care for including whether or not they get on with the children already in your care and do they fit in with our needs and those of our families.

I feel the need to say a few lines about your plan to extend the school hours in order to accommodate working parents; to provide childcare for them. Can I just say – HELLO, CHILDMINDER HERE! Is this not what your whole letter is about!? Trying to ensure that there are enough childminders to go around for the working parents, and yet here you are trying to take away their business! I know plenty of childminders who only provide wrap-around care for school age children, how is taking their business away going to help with your so called plight to recruit more! By introducing these agencies, you are potentially taking more parents out of work (us childminders), as in order for them to be able to go back to a 9-5 job they will then need childcare, how is that possible when you are potentially putting them all out of business!?

I am certainly never going to join an agency, and if there comes a point where I cannot continue independently, then I shall have to look for employment elsewhere, where I won’t be able to be around for my own children which is one major reason as to why I became a childminder in the first place. That will be one less childminder, even though you are trying to recruit more, and one more dent in the already fragile economy!

From Gemma Watkins

Dear Ms Truss

I am writing to you in response to your letter to all English childminders, which I feel was an incredible waste of taxpayers’ money.

I do not want or support childminder agencies. I have actively campaigned against these proposals and have yet to speak with a childminder who is in favour of them.

I have been a registered childminder for ten years. Like most of my childminding colleagues I am extremely passionate and dedicated to the children and families I work with. Despite the long hours and low pay childminding is an intensely rewarding profession.

During this time I have provided care and support to vulnerable children and their families and work with children with differing abilities and needs. I have studied to degree level (along with other CPD), whilst running a business and being a wife and mother.

When my locality was identified as being a disadvantaged area, I became closely involved with the setting up of the local Children’s Centre and the services that could be offered to local families. I have developed excellent links with other settings and professionals in the community, and I play an active part in the local Cluster Group voluntarily supporting a variety of existing and new childcare providers.

I offer a quality service that provides a safe and stimulating environment for children, is competitively priced and good value for money. All of the children in my care are siblings and most have been with me continuously for many years.

All of this has been achieved through my own hard work, dedication and working closely with the existing local authority provisions.

The Government states that it wants to make childcare more affordable, yet from the very limited information we are being given about agencies it appears that this is not the case. In fact, both childminders and parents would have to pay fees to an agency, so where is the saving?

My fees reflect what local parents are able to afford, they are not exorbitant and I do not know of any other childcare provider that does overcharge.  Childminders are responsible for parent’s most precious possessions and the majority of childminders take this very seriously, therefore our pay should reflect this level of responsibility, yet it rarely does. I do not understand how the creation of childminding agencies, which are essentially a profit-making middle man, will help reduce childcare costs.  Your letter states that childminders are an ‘affordable, flexible’ option for parents.   How will the introduction of agencies improve on what is already available?

Despite the proposed introduction of agencies being in September 2014, information about exactly how they will work is yet to be forthcoming.  It appears that it will be a post-code lottery depending on where you live, thus consistency will not be applied across the country. There is also still no information on how independent minders will be catered for. Not only have you not listened to English childminders you are also unable to provide adequate information which is unacceptable and incompetent.

Childminder numbers have declined  for many reasons.  A solution to lack of childminders is re-introduce  robust networks using the resources already available, re-introduce a reasonable grant that is available nationally to enable people to set up their businesses, and re-introduce a childminder mentoring system, Above all, show your support of childminders by treating  us as being equal to nurseries and pre-schools.

You state that you want to remove the burden of paperwork – how? Will agencies complete childminders paperwork for them or will they be exempted from the EYFS? Currently all paperwork needed by childminders is available for free, either from Local authorities or on the internet.

How will agencies reduce the time and complexity of registering as a childminder? The time and complexities are there for a reason- to ensure suitable persons and premises, and all new businesses incur start-up costs.

Everything that you suggest that an agency will do already happens, for example, working with schools, many childminders already work closely with local schools and other settings.  Information for parents and childminders is already available for free via Local authorities and networks.

You state that agencies will help childminders fill their spaces through matching clients with families, again this already happens for free  via the Local Authority, and enables both parents and childminders to make their own choices without money changing hands.

Joining an agency will allegedly be voluntary, but for how long? Until you decide that your proposals are a success (whether they are or not) and that all childminders have to be an agency childminder?

If you wish to help childminders to decide what works best for us listen to us, now, before it’s too late. Please work with us instead of against us.  We are not averse to driving up standards, in fact we embrace higher standards however this is not the way to achieve it.

From Ann Mills – Parent using a childminder

Dear Ms Truss,

 I am writing with my concerns regarding the governments proposed changes to childcare in relation to childminders.

 I currently have my child minded by Lindsay Deighton a registered childminder who I believe provides excellent care for my son.  I particularly chose to use a childminder for my childcare needs as I wanted to replicate the home environment he is used to.  I like the flexibility it offers and the fact that the care can be adapted to my Childs needs.  The thought of sending him into a school environment from the age of two is aboherent to me and one I do not approve of.  Compared to other European countries we send our children to school at a much earlier age and the analysis doesn’t seem to indicate that they are any better off for doing so. 

 I am also very concerned re the plans to force childminders to register with an agency.   This to me will serve only to increase the cost of childcare as childminders will be forced to pass on any registration costs to their customers.  Although I am prepared to pay for good quality care I am almost at the position where if fees for childcare were raised it would not make financial sense for me to continue working. 

From Sandy Higgins

Dear Miss Truss,
 
I am a registered childminder with 14 years experience and I am writing in order to express my dismay and disgust at the news that childminding agencies will be introduced despite the you being completely aware that this is against our wishes.
 
I have yet to hear of a childminder that is in agreement of this decision. As professionals we are sure that the quality of settings will deteriorate and childcare costs will not decrease, infact the opposite will more than likely occur. 
 
It seems to me that this decision is not for the benefit of childminders or parents for that matter but purely in order to take some pressure from Ofsted who have clearly taken on board far more than they can handle. 
 
The introduction of agencies will a) reduce the amount of childminders available as many established minders will give up their registration and b) increase costs to parents as we will have no choice other than to increase fees in order to cover the additional costs that will be applied to us.
 
I feel that childminders have been persecuted and bullied into something we do not want. We provide a quality service and earn a mediocre wage for the hours we work. Previously we were ridiculed for not doing a ‘proper job’ and now we are ridiculed for charging too much. 
 
It all seems very unfair and I seriously hope the decision will be reconsidered. 
 
From Michele Phillips

Dear Ms. Truss

My name is Michele Phillips and I have been an Ofsted registered childminder since 2005. I have an Honours degree and I am qualified to level 4 in Childcare with the Certificate in Early Years Practice completed with The Open University in 2008. I have spent nearly ten years building up my business and my reputation in my local area, where I am proud to say that new business comes through word of mouth and recommendations. I aim to offer parents a flexible and affordable service and children a safe and welcoming environment in which to learn and have fun.

I am writing to express my concerns about the Government’s proposed changes to the Childcare system in England, in particular the introduction of childminder agencies.

I shall make reference to points raised in your letter dated 4th February 2014 addressed to all childminders in England.

 

“The number of childminders has…declined in the last twenty years. In some areas there is a shortage of childminders and not all childminders are able to access support to help them deliver high quality care for children.”

A reason behind why there has been a drop in childminder numbers has been due to the increase in the amount of paperwork and hoops that childminders are made to jump through. These numbers will continue to drop, and this country will lose many more  experienced outstanding childminders if the goalposts continue to move.

Until recently, sufficient services were in existence for childminders to access courses. Here in Lincolnshire, we have the very excellent Birth to Five Service who run subsidised courses for all childcare workers and also provide online training and weekend courses particularly for childminders. Unless of course, the funding is going to disappear from them, as it did at the end of March 2013 for our perfectly good team of childminder development workers who would visit us regularly and who we could call upon for support. In hindsight, I would not be surprised if funding had been conveniently removed because of plans to bring in childminder agencies. These agencies are obviously going to have to be self-supporting, whereas our development officers were funded by local council, so where are the agencies going to be getting their money from? Childminders’ membership fee? Parents’ registration fee? How is this going to make childcare more affordable if parents have to pay to join, or if childminders have to pass the costs of their agency membership onto parents by increasing their fees?

 

Making Early Education Funding available – Previously, fewer than 10% of childminders accessed government funding for early education places, and different rules applied in different areas.”

It is clear that there needs to be consistent guidelines across the country for those settings providing early years education. However a reason why less than 10% of childminders access the Government funding is that they simply cannot afford to. The Government funding in many areas does not even meet a childminder’s hourly rate, and with the extra paperwork involved in providing the funded hours, it is not a financially viable option for many childminders. Childminders would have to increase their hourly rate for the additional hours over the funded hours in order for it to be financially viable and therefore would not result in cheaper childcare for parents. If 2 year olds are also to be offered funded hours in extended provision, then where is a childminder’s income going to come from?

I already lose my 3 year olds for 15 hours as soon as they become eligible; so next my 2 year olds will be following suit. I’m not denying that parents pay too much for childcare in this country, but more funding is needed to cover the shortfall, so that smaller childcare provisions, such as childminders, will be able to afford to offer the funded hours to their children rather than lose them to a bigger provision that can afford to swallow the difference.

           

“Enabling the creation of childminder agencies”

If set up costs for a new childminder are estimated to be at least £800, how is joining an agency going to alleviate these costs, as surely the childminder will need to pay to register with the agency, and yet will not be earning until they are registered? Again, funding that existed ten years ago to help people set up as childminders has been removed, thereby increasing costs to the individual and dissuading many people from registering.

 

“Agencies will also offer childminders access to training, including statutory training”

What happens to the established childminder with no vacancies who has chosen not to join an agency, but their first aid certificate is about to expire? Will they have to fund that course themselves or will they able to ‘dip’ into the agency to access training for their own Continuous Professional Development? An established childminder is not going to need the same amount of support as a childminder just starting up, so should not be expected to have to pay the same amount. Therefore, are there going to be varying levels of membership, with tiered fees depending on the amount of support required?

Yes I can understand how new childminders may benefit from an agency in setting up their businesses. However what are the benefits going to be for existing childminders? Are they going to be able to dip into an agency for the support they need? What happens to the childminder with no vacancies who has decided to join an agency for support and training? How would that decision affect the childminder’s existing parents? Would they be expected to also have to pay to register with the agency?

It has been said that joining an agency will reduce the burden of a childminder’s ongoing documentation for children and therefore allow them to focus on caring for the children. So with that in mind, will agencies:

  • Write observations and complete learning journeys on children they do not know?
  • Write each childminder’s self-reflections and Self Evaluation forms?
  • Write each childminder’s risk assessments so they are suitable for each individual’s home and outings?
  • Formulate policies for how each childminder operates in their unique settings?
  • Complete each childmnder’s accounts and tax returns?

 

“In addition, agencies are designed to make it easier for parents to find a childminder to suit their child’s needs”

The Family Information Service already holds details of local childminders, and gives out details of those childminders with vacancies to parents who request it. Childminders already use this service to fill their vacancies, or have built up a solid reputation as a childminder meaning word of mouth is enough. Parents prefer to find a childminder who has been recommended by friends rather than through a third party agency telling them which childminder will be best for their child. Just because they are part of the agency does not make them a suitable childminder for maybe that particular family. When it comes to choosing the right person to care for your children, there is not and definitely should not be, a one size fits all mentality. Childminders run their individual businesses so differently and can offer so many different things for their families. I, for one, aim to offer parents a flexible service allowing for shift work: early starts and late finishes, and last minute changes. I understand how expensive childcare can be, so I don’t tie parents in to having to pay for hours they don’t need or use. Then there are childminders who only work term time or only school holidays, or who charge for the times when children are at preschool. This is why parents should be able to visit several different childminders in order to be able to pick the one most suitable for them and their children. And not only the childminder who can best meet their needs but the childminder who can build a good relationship with the family. How can an agency know which one will suit a certain family’s individual needs? Will parents just be allocated a childminder; will they be able to visit that childminder and be offered the choice of several to visit; what if they don’t like the childminder/s that the agency offers them? Will the childminder have a say in whether they want the family or will they be contractually obliged to accept whatever family the agency gives them? Will the childminder be allowed to turn away a family without fear of being penalised by not being put forward for future business? If a childminder is registered with an agency, and they are approached by a family through a recommendation, will the childminder be able to take on work which does not come through the agency, or will they be penalised for doing so?

 

“…help childminders to fill their places more effectively, helping them to sustain and build their practice.”

If there aren’t the families in your area requiring childcare, how is an agency going to help fill your vacancies? Will we still have to pay an agency fee when we have vacancies or no income at all? What about if we want to only work part time, will agency fees be staggered to reflect the hours we work? Obviously a childminder working full time will be able to afford to pay a higher agency fee than someone working fewer hours.

We have fought long and hard to increase our professionalism as childminders, so that we may be regarded on an equal footing with nurseries and other childcare provision. However the introduction of agencies has the potential to reverse all of this and create a two-tiered system where newly registering inexperienced childminders will be put before existing highly experienced childminders who prefer to remain independent as they do not wish to relinquish control over their hard earned business. I do not want to be told how to run my business by an agency and have to adopt their documentation, when I have my own paperwork that I have worked long and hard at developing and improving. I am self-employed because I can run my own business successfully and because I want to set my own terms and conditions.

If existing childminders choose to remain independent and not register with an agency, how will they be able to sustain their business, if parents are told to go to an agency if they need a childminder? What of our future business sustainability? Will parents be told that there are alternatives to an agency childminder? Will the local nursery-run agency be giving out independent childminders’ contact details, or will the local school-run agency be promoting independent childminders on an equal par with their after school club? Will the nursery-run agency even give out agency childminders’ details, if the nursery itself has vacancies? Likewise, will the school-run agency give out details of childminders from their agency if their own after school club has spaces?

 

“Agencies will need to register with and be inspected by Ofsted to ensure they meet all the necessary safeguarding and quality standards. This means parents can have confidence in the quality of care and early education offered by childminders registered with the agency.”

What of the outstanding childminder who joins an agency who on their inspection gets a Requires Improvement? How can the quality of all childminders be lumped together under one roof? The sample that Ofsted may visit will affect the judgement of all the childminders in that agency. There may well be one or two ‘poorer’ quality childminders in that agency that never get inspected directly by Ofsted and yet they’ll be given the same grade due to the work of another childminder. How is that quality assurance? I certainly do not want my provision to be judged alongside other settings that may not work to my standards.

 

“Joining an agency will be entirely voluntary.”

But at what cost to the independent childminder? It is not compulsory to join an agency, but how much is it going to cost independent childminders to retain their individual Ofsted inspection?

If we choose to remain independent (and are allowed to do so in the long term) will we have to pay Ofsted directly to maintain our individual inspection? If so, what on earth could the costs be involved in this? If we have to pay a much higher registration fee to Ofsted we will have to increase our fees to parents to allow for the extra expense we are incurring for the sake of wanting to remain independent. And even if we do join an agency, there is surely going to be a registration and/or membership fee to be paid here. Either way, I envisage the costs of either Ofsted registration or agency membership to be increasing from our current Ofsted fee of £35 a year.

 

“Our proposals for agencies are about creating a new option for childminders and parents, where this is needed… You will be able to decide what is best for you.”

But will parents be given a complete picture on what sorts of childcare is available to them? Are parents going to be made aware that there will be a choice of agency childminders and independent childminders, and the differences explained between the two? Are agency childminders going to be promoted over independent childminders as being a cheaper alternative? (as they won’t have the extra expense of having to pay for an individual inspection).

 

“We are simply offering a choice – a choice to stay independent and registered directly with Ofsted, or to join an agency.”

And yet how can it come down to simply a choice, when the answers are not there in order for us to be able to make an informed choice. I would like to think that many of the points raised above have been and are being considered by those running the agency trials, but the uncertainty and lack of information being fed out to current childminders is very disconcerting. So much talk about agencies, and yet no answers being given, just more uncertainty and speculation.

 

“Working with schools – we are making it easier for schools to open for more hours of the day, and more weeks of the year to provide childcare for working parents”

And yet, childminders and after school clubs are already providing such wraparound care. Yes, parents need flexibility and the current 15 funded hours of nursery education is limited between the hours of 9 and 3. But surely rather than talk about sending 2 year olds to school, it should be about extending existing provision to allow them to provide funded places for 2 year olds. If children are encouraged to start school at age 2 and the school day is being extended, how will our smaller businesses survive if there are simply not the children locally to fill the spaces?

 

“Overall funding for early intervention and childcare will increase…”

Where is this extra funding going to come from? There is talk of More Affordable Childcare, but more affordable to parents to the detriment of childcare providers?

My hourly fee is less than £3.50/child, and I can have 3 children under the age of 5 at any one time. Good, you might think, that works out at £10.50/hour. And yet even if, and only if, I were to have 3 full time under 5s (there are not the children out there requiring the places; all the children on my books are part time) I am nowhere near to earning the minimum wage after I have taken all my expenses off my income. I have worked out that currently I am earning less than £1.90 an hour; and even if I was working full time with three full timers under the age of 5, (an increasingly unlikely scenario as childminders lose their two year olds to preschools and nurseries for their funded hours and their school aged children to the schools who will be opening for longer) I would still be on less than £5 an hour. Factor in the potentially higher Ofsted fee or the Agency membership, and that wipes out any little profit I may have been making. This will ultimately mean that I would have to give up childminding, the profession I have loved and worked hard at for nearly ten years, and end up having to let down the six families I currently provide childcare for. At the end of the day, all these families wish for, is someone who will love and care for their children so they can continue to work or just get a couple of hours break for themselves. I would be devastated if I had to give notice to all my families simply because I couldn’t afford to continue, and I would certainly be loath to have to pass on the expense to my parents and increase my fees.  Sadly though, I can see it heading this way for many childminders across the country.

 

I sincerely hope that you will be taking the time to read these letters and take into consideration the points we raise. I hope I have managed to bring to your attention many of the fears that childminders have at the moment. We have been drip-fed snippets of information for far too long; we need answers, not more uncertainty leading to further speculation and fear. You say how the Government knows that childminders have an important role to play in both supporting parents and improving outcomes for children, yet where is the support for those experienced long standing childminders who have worked long and hard to build their businesses up for the benefit of the children and their families, despite the increasing pressures to keep up with changing rules and regulations. Prove to us that the Government recognises the importance of the childminder’s role and give us some answers.

  I feel the changes will lead to children being placed with childminders who are not registered and will not undergo Ofsted which will mean that children will be cared for by people who are unregulated.  These changes I feel will lead to a two tiered care system.

 I would be grateful if you could raise these concerns on my behalf.

 From a childminder called Carol

Not needed

Ofsted rating agencies does not show rating of its childminders

 

Training can be sourced anywhere (lots of it free online)

Out of hours care, I provide in emergencies at my discretion

 

Cpd: My training is up to date using trainers I choose at times I choose

Hourly rate is decided by me, don’t need an agency to set my fees

In partnership with parents, preschools schools etc already works, why change it?

Liaising with parents, I have to, an agency certainly couldn’t discuss their child’s day

Daily Routine, fits in with me and my charges

Meals not provided by me, would an agency say I have to provide them

Independent childminding means I can give the parents what they want not what an agency says

Networks are everywhere, whether local, formal or informal

Days off are decided by me and families fit in around my working days

Eyfs still has to be done by childminders

Routines are set by me with the children and families

 

Advertising is easy and free online

Greater choice of setting for parent by going direct

Employed or self-employed, can’t see how it will work

Negotiating fees for siblings can’t be done by agencies

Contracts, mine work, have been tested against non-payers

Insurance has protected me and re-imbursed when payments not made

Expenses incurred by me are my choice

Sickness policy, I decide whether children are well enough

 

 

One response to “Part THREE – We are all saying ‘NO to childminding agencies

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  1. Pingback: Bringing together all the blogs with letters against childminding agencies | Penny's Place Childminding

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