Richmond and Kingston Agency Consultation   Leave a comment

First, my apologies for not writing this blog a lot sooner

On 17th November 2014 there was an article in Nursery World about concerns about a proposal by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to establish a childminder agency under community interest company (CIC) Achieving for Children. If you have not read it – or want a reminder you can read it by clicking on the link

Nursery World Article 17th Nov

However, the article was not really news to me, as I had been approach to take a look at the consultation responses by some concerned childminders who live in the Richmond and Kingston areas. I had also sent my views to Bea Heath.

 

This is my feedback on the consultation

Feedback on AFC Childminder Agency Consultation

I have been asked to take a look at the consultation responses, by some concerned childminders in the Richmond / Kingston area.
I am a registered childminder myself, although I do not live in the Richmond / Kingston area.
I declare my interest as I am personally not in favour of childminder agencies, however I pride myself on remaining impartial when looking at consultation responses.
This is the link to the consultation documents https://consultation.richmond.gov.uk/afc/childminding_agency

Question One
Who respondents were and areas they came from
Total of 84 childminders which is just 13% of childminders in the area this survey covered.
This is a low response, and should not be taken to accurately represent the views of the childminders in the area.

Questions should be asked about why there was such a low response
Did the fact that it was a childminder agency consultation put people off from responding – either because they want nothing to do with childminder agencies – or because they felt in light of other government consultations that was a waste of time

It seems unlikely that any childminder who was interested in joining an agency would turn down the opportunity to have their say and ensure that an agency was set up, and offered the services they wanted.
It is noted that comment has been made about the timing of the consultation, and the general negativity about childminder agencies – but again if people were interested in finding out more, and in ensuring that their views were considered, they would have made more effort to respond.

My personal conclusion is that a second consultation should be provided, and now that agencies are starting to be set up, that further information is provided to the areas childminders to ensure they can express an informed opinion
Equally just 35 parents responded, which is just 29% of respondents to this survey. It does not say how many parents live in the combined areas of Richmond and Kingston – but it will be far in excess of 35.
Again it needs to be asked why more parents did not respond. And it also needs to asked, if only 35 parents responded – how many parents would actually want to use the services of a childminder agency.
Further consultation and indeed market research needs to be carried out, otherwise there is a high possibility that based on the response to this survey a childminder agency would not be sustainable.
Just taking the total number of respondents (and before examining the response) 84 childminders with say 3 places each available (so 256 places) – against 35 parents with say 2 children each (70 children). Acknowledging that these figures are speculative and not based on any research – if the response rate is taken to represent the ‘interest’ in childminder agencies – it does not bode well for success.

Question Two
Views of parents
A high % of parent respondents did say they would consider using the services of a childminder agency. The key word here is CONSIDER – this does not mean parents would use the services of a childminder agency.
The question asked is far too wide – it does not give details of services or costs to parents. It is only natural that parents would say that they would consider using the services of a childminder agency – in reality it means that as part of their market research into availability and cost of childcare – they would consider all options – and this would include group settings, family members, and independent Ofsted registered childminders.

However even applying these ‘common sense’ responses that ensure that all options are considered, 1/3 of respondents did not think they would use the services of a childminder agency, in fact 20% (or 1/5th) were sure they would not use the services of a childminder agency
Question Three
The responses make for interesting reading when looking at the 4 most popular services that parents might want –
Personalised childcare search – so they just want a short list of suitable childcare options
Ad hoc care and holiday care – so they don’t want care for their child week in and week out – just on an as and when basis. A very valid point from parents – but not a very sustainable stream of work (and therefore income) for childminders.
And finally access to a playgroup – yes a very valid point – but there are already a number of options for childminders to access stay and play groups. So maybe those parents that expressed a need for this service were not aware that already available, and they just have to ask any childminder if they attend start and play groups – and if they don’t to ask if it would be possible for them to start doing so.
Access to a stay and play group – is hardly going to get parents to use an agency childminder over an independent childminder – it is just something they would like their child to have access to.

Question Four
This question is very limited as it does not give costs to parents, just asks if they would be prepared to pay. How can anyone comment without even an idea of the approximate cost?
However even without an idea of cost 43% said they would be prepared to pay – but due to the very low number of respondents, that is just 15 parents. Can 15 parents represent a true indicator of if parents in the area would pay or not?

Of more interest is the number who either said no (12 parents) they would not be prepared to pay, or that they did not know (8 parents) – fair enough when they do not know the costs involved. Together that is 57% of parent respondents who did not express that they were willing to pay for services of a childminder agency. Again number of respondents was too low to consider it an effective sample of parents in the area – but if it proved to be then again questions need asking about sustainability of the childminders agency – and if parents do not want to pay – if the costs would have to be covered entirely by the childminders.
Question Five
This question is again about fees that parents might pay, and if they would be interested in a structured fee depending on services used.43% said yes, but 37% said no. If you add the ‘don’t knows’ then over half (57%) did not express an interest in a structured fee based on services used.
This added to the responses to question four, suggest that parents do not want to pay for services – and would like all services provided if they are going to pay.

Further consultation and market research is needed with parents, because it may be that they want the best possible services for the least possible cost to themselves – or even for free.
The results of this consultation do not suggest that parents are willing to pay for the services of childminder agency – and the number of responses is too low to base any positive assumptions that parents would pay.
Question Six
Questions to childminders – remember that 84 childminders responded (more than the number of parents, but only representing 13% of the areas childminders)
This question asks if childminders would be interested in joining a childminder agency
1/5 say they would be interested – but as there is no information about cost to do so, this can at best be seen as speculative – in other words the childminders may be interested but they need to know more about services and costs. The % interested could go up or down.
Of more interest is the number who are not interested (43%) which if put together with the ‘don’t knows’ 80% did not express an interest in joining a childminder agency.
Although the % responding was very low and so cannot be taken as representative of the areas childminders views – if it was representative 80% is a huge number and again would raise questions about sustainability. Once actual cost are known this figure could go up or down, but if parents do not want (in general) to pay towards the costs, then the costs to childminders will be quite high – and even more so if it turns into reality that only 20% of the areas childminders want to join a childminder agency, as the total costs of the childminder agency would have to be covered (paid for) by a relatively low number of childminders.

Question Seven
This one is about the services childminders might want from a childminder agency – the most interesting aspect is that the services that would be of interest are the ones that cost the most to provide – so training and quality assurance visits. The other two things mention documentation packs and childminder drop ins – are also fairy expensive to provide – and certainly in terms of time when setting up an agency infrastructure.

Question Eight
This is about the structured fee option,38% are interested, 60% either are not interested or not sure (and 2 % did not answer). As with the question to parents – costs were not given and so childminders were responding to an unknown,

It is clear that further market research / consultation will be needed once an idea of costs is known

This would give a much clearer picture, and as a result more childminders may engage with consultation once more facts are known.

Question Nine
This is about the services a childminder might consider offering. It is noted that 39% did not want to offer any of services suggested.

As with the similar question asked of parents – the key words are ’would consider’, those that responded that they would consider offering some services were not saying that they would – just they might.
Being realistic, childminders would considering offering services as in doing so they may fill hard fill gaps in the hours they offer, due to part time children.
However the numbers interested were very low – considering it was only an expression of interest – not a signing on the dotted line.
Caution needs to be taken on basing any business plans on such a low % of respondents and a low expression of interest from those respondents.

And this is my conclusion

As an outsider looking in, I struggle to understand why it is considered viable to move forward with setting up an agency based on the responses to this consultation.
The only aspect that was positive enough (and indeed the one highlighted in the consultation conclusion) is the number of parents who expressed interest in using the services of a childminder agency. However as has already been mentioned this is based on a response of just 35 parents.

I can only hope that by saying they are going to move forward that they mean they are going to do some more market research and consultation.
As this is a local authority based model, I have to also express concerns about the feasibility of providing both agency services and statutory duty services without there being a conflict of interest – however as the consultation did not look at this aspect it is impossible for myself to comment, without any information.

 

Your Thoughts?

 

Posted December 2, 2014 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

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