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