Fresh start for childminding

Ka Lai Brightley-Hodges
Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Childminders provide essential childcare for many families, but numbers continue to fall. How can services successfully recruit and support more childminders and help reverse the decline?

A DfE consultation puts forward plans on how the government can aid the recruitment and retention of childminders. Picture: Zamrnuti Tonovi/Adobe Stock
A DfE consultation puts forward plans on how the government can aid the recruitment and retention of childminders. Picture: Zamrnuti Tonovi/Adobe Stock

There has been a steady decline in the number of childminders in recent years, with many more leaving the profession in the past year alone.

The childcare sector as a whole has struggled with recruitment and retention, but childminder numbers have dropped at a faster rate than any other type of early years provider.

The most recent data from Ofsted shows there were 27,000 childminders registered with Ofsted as of August 2023 – down 2,580 on the previous year.

Research by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey) shows a multitude of reasons for leaving the profession including loneliness and isolation, poor pay and underfunding, and lack of support and training.

Childminders also cite the pressure of Ofsted inspections, long working days with inflexible hours and lack of respect from parents and the wider sector as reasons for quitting.

The government’s expansion of its childcare entitlement scheme means most childminders are receiving around 80 per cent of their funding via their local authority.

The scheme previously offered funded childcare places to parents with children aged three and four in England for up to 52 weeks per year. In April, this was rolled out to children aged two and from September the offer will be extended to children aged nine months and over.

A key issue for many childminders is this funding does not match the hourly rates they need to run a sustainable business and the fear is many more childminders will leave the profession as a result.

A recent poll by Pacey suggests up to 34 per cent of members – including many childminders – will leave childcare primarily due to the expansion of the entitlement scheme.

There is some evidence to suggest the decline in childminder numbers is slowing amid efforts to improve support, including the government’s post-Covid childminder mentoring scheme to help them work with children whose learning and development suffered during the crisis.

The government is aware we need as many as 50,000 new early years staff this year to meet the additional demand of the entitlement scheme and a nationwide recruitment campaign is underway.

Since March last year, new childminders registering with Ofsted have been entitled to a £600 start-up grant, with a £1,200 grant for those who sign up with a childminder agency. Pacey has successfully campaigned for that grant to be made available for those returning to childminding if it is more than a year since they last registered with Ofsted.

A requirement for all childminders to complete training before registration has been removed. Instead, applicants must show they have “appropriate knowledge” of the Early Years Foundation Stage. The move was designed to make it easier for those already working in the sector – perhaps in a nursery – to take up childminding. However, some feel it has added to perceptions childminders are somehow less qualified.

Organisations representing providers, early years educators and parents have joined forces to form the Early Education and Childcare Coalition in response to pressures facing the sector and families.

A key priority has been to push for the entitlement scheme to be properly funded and cover the full cost of childcare places.

Pacey wants to see change in several areas. For example, we’re campaigning for the funded entitlement scheme to be extended to children who are related to childminders.

Currently, childminders who care for nieces, nephews or grandchildren are unable to offer funded places to them. However, no such limits are placed on group childcare settings. Often childminders offer their relative a free place and lose income as a result.

Childminders continue to report problems with payments from local authorities for delivering funded places. Councils are supposed to give all childcare providers the full amount they are owed monthly. But we hear of many instances where payments are being withheld.

In some cases, childminders are being told they must wait until their first Ofsted inspection to be paid or payments are withheld because of an Ofsted grading. Meanwhile, some councils are paying termly instead of monthly.

The move to universal credit has had a particularly negative impact on the many childminders on low incomes. The new system does not take account of the way a childminder’s income may fluctuate and places tight limits on the expenses they can claim.

The nature of their work means childminders claiming universal credit find it hard to take time out to meet work coaches. We’re working with the Department for Work and Pensions to explore concessions for childminders to make it easier for them to continue working.

Childminders are currently prevented from running their business from a rental property, so we are also campaigning for changes to tenancy rules.

Finally, we want to make sure childminders play a pivotal role in the government’s “wraparound” childcare scheme for school-aged children.

New Department for Education guidance makes it clear local authorities are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient “wraparound” places in their area. They are expected to work with schools, multi-academy trusts and childcare providers – including childminders – to set up or expand provision where needed.

In March this year, the DfE launched a consultation asking how the government can support the recruitment and retention of childminders.

The consultation, which runs until May 10, goes some way to addressing the issues we’re concerned about.

Key proposals include expanding the range of primary care health professionals who can certify a childminder is physically able to care for children as part of efforts to reduce delays in registration.

The government is also proposing to strengthen requirements on local authorities to pay childcare providers monthly, if that is what childminders and others want, and to give more flexibility to childminder agencies, removing a legal requirement to provide practice support and reducing the number of quality assurance visits to each childminder.

The consultation also promises measures to ensure fewer childminders are prevented from operating in rental or new-build properties, are supported to provide funded and wraparound childcare places and to explore what type of support really works when it comes to boosting retention.

Enticing back a trained, skilled and passionate workforce should be a priority. Every single ex-childcare worker interviewed for the Early Education and Childcare Coalition’s Retention and Return report said they would consider returning to the early years sector if working conditions improved.

Ka Lai Brightley-Hodges, head of membership and marketing, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years.

Five tips for supporting childminders in your area

1. Make funding easily accessible. Councils can help childminders plan their business by releasing funding rates well in advance, by beingpro-active about making quality payments and ensuring payments are easily accessible. Funding should be paid monthly rather than termly and made available once a new childminder is registered. Holding back entitlement funding until a childminder’s first inspection makes it much harder for people to get a childminding business up and running. Councils should ensure their funding portal is easy to use to make the process less time consuming.

2. Support childminders to offer wraparound childcare. Childminders can play a key role in providing childcare before and after school, however there is tendency to focus on on-site provision. New guidance for schools says they should “consider practical solutions for escorting or transporting children between locations”. Where schools are unable to provide wraparound provision, they should signpost families to childminders and not just group settings.

3. Offer SEND training and support. Childminders are well-placed to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), but need extra training to help them understand and meet children’s needs. This can include local authority early years teams visiting childminders to provide on-site assessment and training or hosting training webinars outside normal working hours.

4. Provide clear guidance on safeguarding. Safeguarding is a key part of a childminder’s role, but research shows many worry about making referrals should they have concerns about a child’s welfare. Children’s services teams can help by providing clear information about how to report potential safeguarding issues including what happens after a referral is made.

5. Include childminders in planning and policy. Ensure childminders are included in conversations about childcare policy and provision alongside other early years providers as a matter of course and not just as an after-thought. This means all meetings or forums about early years provision should include at least one childminder who can represent the experiences and needs of childminders with childminders able to access the same training and support as group settings.

Source: Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey)

Childminder profile: Nicola Redman

I have been a childminder for 29 years. My husband is my registered assistant and we look after five or six under-fives Monday to Friday, plus older children before and after school and in school holidays.

We should be able to offer funded places to relatives such as grandchildren, nieces and nephews. In some areas, we’re the only childcare available. I have four grandchildren, but can’t offer funded places to them so look after them for free.

I’m pleased the government is trying to recruit and support childminders, but it has come too late to meet the demand for new funded places.

I agree with proposals to make payments monthly. In my area, we get paid 70 per cent at the start of term and the remaining 30 per cent just after half term. This works well for me, but can cause problems for childminders who claim universal credit. Monthly payments will help ease cash flow problems for others and make it easier to budget.

I’m also in favour of plans to make it easier to get a health declaration as this can get in the way of new childminders registering.

We must wait and see if the government plans make a difference. Childcare is notoriously low-paid and people are leaving due to ever-increasing costs and low returns/wages. Without major, long-lasting, effective reforms, I can’t see a quick recovery from the drop in childminder numbers over the past five to 10 years.

Childminder profile: Claire Greensit

I am a qualified teacher, a registered childminder and the owner and manager of Honeybeez Childcare, a small Montessori-based setting in Ripon.

I work with one co-childminder – also a qualified teacher – and three part-time assistants. I also run the local childminder network, which provides opportunities for childminders to meet up.

Being a sole childminder can be very isolating, and the network enables childminders to build relationships and share ideas and concerns about issues including Ofsted and funding.

I’d like to see the re-introduction of childminding networks co-ordinated by the local authority and additional funding to support childcare workers to achieve level 3 qualifications.

I strongly disagree with the different rates for agency versus Ofsted-registered childminders and I feel the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) for childminders is the first step on slippery slope to deskilling the profession.

We already have to fight to be seen as highly-skilled professionals and continue to be viewed as “not as good” as other settings. I think the EYFS should be the same for all rather than “dumbing it down” for childminders. We also need to do more to advertise the skills and benefits of using childminders to families.

Childminder profile: Alison Mazacs

I have been a childminder since 1986. My husband Frank has been my assistant for 15 years. We look after 10 children under five and eight children over five.

The most challenging aspect of childminding today is meeting demand. The new funding means parents are keen to increase their hours and I’m finding it hard to give everyone the extra time they want.

Childminders can access some good support such as the government’s mentoring programme and free training. In Bradford, where I work, it is easy to contact a childcare co-ordinator for help.

However, I feel like childminders are often seen as less important than nurseries. Parents are sometimes surprised at how good childminding is. Some still think it’s just a babysitting service.

The start-up grant for new childminders is good. However, the payments for funded childcare don’t work well. Funding for a baby will be more than double the funding to look after a three-year-old so a childminder’s income will suddenly drop.

Cambridgeshire: Tackling restrictions

Many homes are being built in Cambridgeshire, but the county council found rules for new housing were preventing childminders operating.

County councillor Firouz Thompson (pictured) tabled a successful motion to ensure new developments exempt childminders from restrictive covenants that prevent businesses from operating from these properties.

The approach, which is now being implemented across its five district councils, has gained national attention.

Last August, children’s minister Claire Coutinho wrote to housing associations, developers and landlords urging them to be flexible in allowing childminders to operate from home. The government has also outlined steps to explore and tackle property barriers in its consultation on childminder recruitment.

In Cambridgeshire, there is now an “open dialogue” with the property sector and the council plans to contact all developers and housing associations about advertising childminding and childcare as a career in their information packs.

“We are now able to challenge any housing barriers experienced by prospective childminders and have offered direct advice to two individuals to support this,” says a council spokesperson.

The initiative is part of a county-wide recruitment campaign and action plan to tackle a shortage of childminders, focusing on areas where there is a severe lack of childcare.

The county council has set up a central team to target five hotspots including the new town of Northstowe – which has 3,500 residents and is the biggest new town in England since the development of Milton Keynes in the 1960s.

“Our children’s services team delivers on-the-ground briefing sessions in community spaces outlining why childminding is a rewarding, flexible career, and what training opportunities are available,” says Thompson.

“Flyers and posters have been sent to 61 councillors to ensure the message is displayed on every parish council and community centre notice board.”

Since the start of the campaign, 15 new childminders have registered, seven are about to register and four are currently in training.

National agency brings new people to profession

Tiney is an Ofsted-registered childminder agency that recruits and trains childminders and helps them set up their own home childcare businesses.

Childminders who sign up get access to an all-in-one childminding app with all the business tools, education support, policies, and automated contracts and payments they need to run a “modern” childminding business, according to co-founder and chief executive Brett Wigdortz.

Dedicated advisers are on hand for support and an online hub connects them to a network of more than 1,500 fellow Tiney childminders and trainees.

“We listen to childminders, focusing on what they need to make their lives easier,” says Wigdortz, who set up the company in 2019, having previously founded and led education charity Teach First.

“We act as a business partner, helping childminders get licensed and registered. Once they’re up and running, we support them to maximise their earnings while minimising admin.”

He says the government’s £1,200 grant for new childminders registering with a childminder agency “more than covers” Tiney’s £300 joining fee, as well as the cost of toys and resources.

Tiney initially takes a 12 per cent cut of childminders’ fees, which drops to eight per cent once they have billed £50,000 via the platform.

“Our childminders earn 17 per cent more on average than those with Ofsted – even after the Tiney fee,” says Wigdortz.

He says the firm currently has 1,000 registered childminders on its books, with 800 in training.

“Between September and March 2023, we were responsible for recruiting 40 per cent of all new childminders in England,” says Wigdortz. “We brought in about 500 childminders in 2023 and are on track to double that in 2024.”

He says 90 per cent of Tiney’s intake are new to childminding and about half have never worked in early years before.

“Many are career-switchers, often former teachers and teaching assistants,” he adds. “And most of our childminders work in low-income areas that are childcare deserts with no nurseries.”

Barnet: Childminders get specialist SEND support from council 

Childminders in Barnet who look after children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can tap into specialist support from Barnet Education Learning Service.

The council-run service employs two childminding and quality support officers who are also the designated special educational needs co-ordinators for the north London borough’s 189 Ofsted-registered childminders.

“We support all childminders who work with SEND children,” says Susie Edwards, who delivers the service with colleague Jenny Boyce. “This involves ongoing support and visits for those looking after children with a diagnosis, making referrals for children with suspected SEND and help with writing education, health and care plans and funding applications.”

Boyce says the council actively encourages childminders to take in children with SEND because of the “home from home” environment they provide.

However, she says childminders can face challenges when it comes to securing the early support a child may need. “Many parents don’t want to hear their child may have special needs,” she says. “But before we can visit the setting and observe the child, we need written permission from the parents.”

After an initial visit, Edwards and Boyce help ensure families access relevant support through Barnet Child Development Service. This may involve referrals to speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, autism assessment and support, the pre-school teaching team or a hospital referral.

“I recently supported a childminder to apply for SEND inclusion funding for a child with autism,” says Edwards. “We wrote the report together and put together an education, health and care plan and were successful.”

Oldham: Helping ensure childminders are Ofsted-ready

Childminders in Oldham who are awaiting inspection or have received a less than good Ofsted grade are benefiting from targeted support.

National charity Early Education has been delivering Oldham Council’s Quality Improvement Programme for Childminders since 2021.

Early Education associate Caroline Eaton provides tailored support to about 30 childminders per year as well as general support to all 100 Ofsted-registered and agency childminders in the county.

“The focus is on supporting childminders to be confident in showcasing their work when up for inspection,” she says.

Tailored support is on offer to new childminders going through registration and those awaiting inspection. Eaton also works with those who have received a “requires improvement” or “inadequate” Ofsted rating. “We work on an improvement plan and I visit them three times a year,” she says.

All childminders can attend monthly networking and training sessions. Eaton says it is important to ensure support and training fits in with childminders’ busy schedules. “Signposting them to visual, bite-sized resources is helpful, and learning from each other is invaluable,” she adds.

Data for 2022/23 shows 83 per cent of new childminders in Oldham achieved a “good” rating for their first inspection, while 90 per cent of experienced childminders maintained or improved their Ofsted grade.

Case studies by Nicole Weinstein

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