Army of childminders can help bridge the gap

Ravi Chandiramani
Monday, February 20, 2012

Social mobility is thankfully all the rage these days, and the free childcare entitlement is a crucial policy to help all children get the best start in life regardless of background.

From March 2013, the 15 hours of free childcare available to three- and four-year-olds will apply also to the 20 per cent most disadvantaged two-year-olds, rising to 40 per cent 12 months after that.

Tens of thousands of toddlers will need places. As we report, it is a substantial undertaking, and one in which childminders could have a substantial role to play. The rise in nurseries and children’s centres over recent years has coincided with a fall in childminder numbers, so they may no longer be seen as the mainstay of childcare provision. And yet, 60 per cent of all providers registered with Ofsted are childminders.

Childminders are well placed to help local authorities deliver the impending duties for two-year-olds and their families for at least four reasons. First, 75 per cent of them already care for under-twos, according to a survey by the National Children’s Bureau.

Second, younger children may not thrive in larger groups and larger spaces, preferring the cosier setting of a home.

Third, there is some evidence to suggest that vulnerable families trust childminders more than centre-based settings, perhaps finding them more intimate and less intimidating, despite nurseries’ best efforts to provide a welcoming environment. And fourth, the availability of childminders circumvents the problem of finding space to build new nurseries or extend existing premises.

That said, childminders are always at risk of feeling isolated, with their profession seemingly marginalised. The NCB survey found many feel that other early years professionals have a negative perception of their work.

The onus is now on local authorities to recognise their skills and service to children’s care and learning. The National Childminding Association’s initiative to develop networks of support groups to undertake training and share good practice is hugely welcome, but councils across the country too must do their bit.

Hampshire council, for one, has taken decisive steps to invest in developing more childminders. Given the duties that lie around the corner, this is an army of professionals whose needs cannot afford to be overlooked.

Ignore paediatricians at children’s peril

Despite wave after wave of painstaking criticism, the government appears defiant over the Health and Social Care Bill. Last week, 154 paediatricians added their disapproval. The crucial concern is that competition and fragmentation will undermine the safeguarding of children.

"Multiple private providers will make it difficult to innovate, co-operate, plan and improve the quality in children’s services for which collaboration and integration are the cornerstone to adequate safeguarding of our children," they said in a letter to The Lancet. "Children who are vulnerable, neglected or abused will inevitably slip through the net." No more "pauses" are required on this bill. It is time to hit the "stop" button.

Ravi Chandiramani, editor, Children & Young People Now

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