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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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In Support of Childminders: You are not a Lone Voice Calling from the Wilderness.

On last week’s blog a LINK childminder made an impassioned appeal to the sector to support childminders.  She was feeling that we were less engaged with the argument against childminding agencies.

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I was horrified to think that one section of our sector was feeling abandoned. So I thought about my own experience of childminders…

All three of my children were looked after by childminders, attended childminder drop-ins and were taken to nursery by their childminder. Consequently,  I have always been supportive of childminders, both personally and professionally – working as I did for ten years in North Battersea Social Services Dept. as an under-8’s social worker and childminding advisor. I also had a long standing relationship with the Wandsworth Childminders Association and many a meeting was held in my kitchen.

In those days, Wandsworth had an enlightened attitude to childminders and there were about 12 childminding advisors. We were quite locally focused, but many of us worked very closely together to increase the number of childminders and develop a quality service. When I started in North Battersea there were 6 childminders, and 96 when I left.

I developed a 12 week training course which predated the NVQs but it was the basis of assessment. People used to ask to ‘join my course’ and saw this as the step to becoming a childminder. I enjoyed building up a group of strong childminders – especially as many of them came from life experiences which had limited their chances, and they were desperate to develop their employment opportunities and build their confidence.

In those days we could provide start up packs (safety gate/fire blanket/cooker guard/plug sockets). We had a buggy loaning scheme, training, a weekly drop-in group, events in the toy library, visits to scrap bank. At North Battersea we had annual trips to China town, fancy restaurants, and France – where they spent the whole time amazed at the different prices of nappies and washing up powder, and so came back laden with both. (Not a bottle of wine in any of their bags, only mine!) They were happy glory days, but I left in 1992 as the era of purchaser-provider was ushered in and the role of the under 8s team was deemed unnecessary. We were soon expedited.

So I am happy to support childminders.

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I have seen the ebb and flow of this group of child carers with the different policy drivers.  I have been following the matter of childminding agencies with concern, not least as I see it as having an impact for everyone across the sector. The key issues which troubled me were:

 – 8 out of 10 childminders think it will cost parents more; and indeed so do the Dutch Government which has abandoned their agencies.

 – Three-quarters of childminders want minimum requirements in place to practise, such as having or working towards a relevant qualification

 – The highest proportion of childminders think it is essential to maintain individual inspections for all childminders; and that only those rated by Ofsted as being ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ should deliver the free entitlement. (Childminders believe that parents rely on Ofsted inspections of individual childminders to reassure them their child will be safe and receive a quality experience in that individual’s care.)

Like many others, the Early Years sector is stronger with one voice. Our responsibility is to create that voice. We also need those organisations funded by the DfE to share the sector view also. We need politicians to understand the concern of this group of voters so they can actually hear the issues.

So I call on us all to weave our concerns into a shared story, since the impact of a failure to address and improve the cost of childcare, the quality of childcare and the inspection of childcare will affect us all. Childminders are part of this group. Let’s make sure their voice is heard too.

Best of friends at Eastbury Children's Centre Nursery in Barking

‘We are all travellers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.’

Robert Louis Stevenson

  • http://www.jenniflowers.co.uk/ Jennifer McQuillan

    Thank you for your support again June! It’s crucial that the Early Years sector fights for the ENTIRE sector, and as childminders have smaller numbers we are oftentimes overlooked and undervalued. Agencies will only be detrimental for the children ivo care and prices will increase for parents… makes no sense. We offer a varied and flexible service… a much needed service, highly valued by our parents and children… we are not drop in centers… we build strong and lasting relationships with our families. NO to agencies.

  • Liz Bayram

    Well said June. Childminders currently account for more than 20% of early
    years registered places in England. But as they offer a smaller number of places
    than nurseries’ offer, the media, Government and commentators can tend to give childminders
    less focus, especially when sector wide issues as ratio change, entry
    requirements, training standards and inspections are discussed. PACEY is
    constantly working to address this. Most recently by supporting a new research
    childminding study by IPPR which published its findings earlier this month.

    We know childminders provide the most flexible form of
    childcare and that many families would choose nothing else for their children.
    So it is dangerous not to consider the implications childcare proposals and plans
    may have on the childminding community. This is even more important now when
    Government has made clear it is looking to the childminding community to
    support its role out of the new funded places for disadvantaged two year old.

    We believe it is vital to set entry requirements for
    childminders and maintain individual Ofsted inspections, which gives parents
    the reassurance they need that the childminder they work with provides quality
    care.

    This is why we have worked with our 35,000 members for the past year or
    more to resist the plan to establish childminder agencies. We believe
    Childminder Agencies will reduce quality, increase costs for childminders and
    potentially parents too, and lead to a loss of the autonomy childminders value
    so much thanks to their self-employed status. We are also concerned that
    alongside the plan for agencies, other forms of Local Authority support for
    childminders is being scaled back.

    Our funding of the IPPR report ensured the individual voices
    of childminders were not lost in the More Great Childcare discussion. It found
    that only 7% of childminders say they support the idea of moving away from
    individual inspection. In fact over half (58%) believe more regulation on
    childminders would have a positive impact. We have shared these findings with
    government and the media as well as via social networks like Netmums so that
    more parents are aware of the risks in these proposals such as Childminder
    Agencies and other childcare reforms.

    Every child deserves the best childcare and that means recognising childminders are a vital part of the childcare sector.

  • Pat Gordon-Smith

    It’s all about relationships – or it should be. My son’s childminder was a gem, and remains so for the children who are with her now. Her professional, knowledgeable, focused love could not have been provided in a nursery; it was an entirely personal service. All the children in a childminder’s home are important, of course, but some need them more than others. If policymakers placed children at the heart of their concept of choice, rather than parents, they would know that support for this kind of care is absolutely vital for nurturing some of our most vulnerable children. Each child needs the right setting and, for some, the busyness of a free-flow nursery is just too much to cope with. For these children, a childminder’s home may be the only environment in which they can feel safe and comfortable enough to make one or two early friendships, and to trust an adult away from home. My relationship with my son’s childminder was good, but her role in his life was of towering importance. Anything which threatens to weaken that must be resisted.

  • Ruth Denton

    Thank you so much for supporting us. It’s great to hear of people backing us. If all those reading this could sign and share the Stop, Listen, Consult petition organised by Penny Webb, that would be a great help. Our concerns are that although we have a choice to remain independent, Agencies will result in a complicated two tier area of our sector. Agencies will also possibly allow practitioners to offer the 2 year old funding riding on other’s grades, which we all know could be a recipe for poor outcomes, lets try and stop this

  • Lisa M Fricker

    Thank you June for your ongoing support.

  • Claire Brunner

    Thankyou so much for this blog. Having wholeheartedly backed the fight against changes to ratios CMs know that unity across the sector will help – but I think many of us do indeed feel that the fight against agencies is not being taken up with anything like the same dedication. We can protest on our own – but the support of the rest of the sector, and of parents and academics, will make all the difference.

  • Laura Henry

    Great blog, again, June!

    My gran was a childminder, hence, where I more than likely got my passion for working with children. I used a Childminder for my boys (who continued with support when they were in nursery, pre-school, nursery class within a school and school up the age of 13!) and like you supported Childminders in Southwark.

    I still have an on-going relationship with childminders and provide advice at minimal cost or for free, due to the cuts within local authorities.

    I strongly believe that agencies will impact negatively on childminders and will be at cost for parents.

    Like the ratio debate we must continue to highlight this as a no go area.

    There are many childminders and others who have solutions that will make a difference. If only the Government will listen.

  • Penny Webb

    Thank you June – I hope the sector answers your call to support childminders. Although you may not be referring to me in this blog – I have certainly been expressing my concerns via various social media means about an apparent lack of support and an apparent lack of everyone from across all sectors working in partnership – so thank you – your personal support is also much appreciated

  • simona McKenzie

    I can only say thank you for this call to support us on behalf of many worried cms.
    This is a tough fight but with the EY workforce behind us we will have a stronger voice and be united in our message to the govt: agencies are not in the interest of our children, they will not lower costs to parents, will lower quality and ultimately take away our small businesses.
    71% of cms are good or outstanding!
    I suggest there is a better way to support the 29% who need to raise their standards but not via deregulation of new cms or the creation of a 2 tier system.

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