'Red tape' behind sharp decline in number of childminders across Lancashire

Paperwork and funding problems are triggering a sharp downturn in the number of Lancashire childminders, according to experts.

By Catherine Musgrove
Sunday, 11th August 2019, 5:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 11th August 2019, 6:30 pm
Danielle Pye and Martin Yates from Much Hoole chose a childminder for their son Alfie
Danielle Pye and Martin Yates from Much Hoole chose a childminder for their son Alfie

Although nearly all childcare providers in Lancashire were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their latest inspection, the number of childminders is plummeting.

In Lancashire, there are currently 692 childminders, 115 fewer than in August 2015.

Nationally, 9,000 were lost over the same period, leaving 39,000 at the last count.

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Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said the dwindling number of recruits was “a major concern” when demand for childcare is at a record high.

She said: “Recent decisions to end the childcare business grant for new childminders, registration delays at Ofsted, unnecessary bureaucracy and low income levels due to reduced government funding are putting more and more people off.”

Elaine Helm, who has been childminding in Preston for 10 years said paperwork was the biggest challenge.

She said: “When you’re filling in the paperwork, you’re not watching the kids, and you’re not wanting to do it at weekends because that’s time for your family.

There has been a drop in the number of childminders

“When you’ve got a baby and they go to sleep, then you can spend time with the older children with number blocks for instance, rather than sitting down and writing everything up.

“But we are still doing observations all the time - we’re sending photos to parents on WhatsApp and can tell them all about what their child has been up to that day and how they’re progressing, but it’s finding the time to write it up.”

Elaine added: “We do love it, though, it’s a rewarding job and you can be at home for your own kids.

“It’s a much more homely environment and you get consistency of care unlike in some nurseries where there is a high turnover of staff.

“It’s also very flexible; you can decide that day if you want to take them to the zoo or have a picnic. You might also have a group of girls who aren’t interested in bugs and mud, so you do something else with them.

“The only downside is that parents need to cover our holidays, but they’re aware of this and it’s not usually a problem.

“It’s all to do with personal preference, and what they want for their child. Not every child will flourish at a nursery.”

Joanne Hamilton, a childminder of 10 years, from Ashton, said: “Children with childminders also get to mix with different age groups, whereas in nurseries you get the same ages in classes.

“It’s beneficial for children to mix with older children because it brings them on more quickly.”

Elaine Pitteway, executive director of Childminding UK, which has members in Lancashire, agreed that paperwork started a “slow decline” when new frameworks were introduced around 10 years ago.

She said: “Childminders and parents were feeling that they had done a great job, but they weren’t plotting it against the framework. It’s too onerous and the guidance is confusing.

“Ofsted want to see paperwork evidence of a child’s progression and I see it where a childminder says they haven’t had time to do the observations, yet they could talk for 10 minutes straight on a child and what they’re doing and achieving.

“Another factor is an increase in competition from nurseries and pre-schools opening, there’s also more and more childminders taking on assistants, so even though the assistant is Ofsted registered, they don’t count as a separate individual.”

All parents of three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours universal funded childcare per week. Eligible working families can get an additional 15 hours if they meet the prescribed eligibility criteria.

Elaine said: “All good or outstanding childminders, and childminders who are yet to receive their grading are eligible to receive this funding, but they have to apply to the local authority.

“But we hear that the funding isn’t enough, and most childminders don’t want to pass the costs on to parents in an underhand way.

“So you find that nappies and food, outings and petrol can be charged for on top of the daily fee, when they were traditionally included.”

Elaine said nationally there has been a drop-off in local authority support and guidance and training due to austerity cuts and a change in the way the profession is marketed.

She said: “There’s a lack of respect for the role of childminders. People think of it as babysitting and don’t count it as formal care.

“Local authorities have less money now, but we used to go out on roadshows and talk to people about childminding and inform them, but it’s changed now.

“I’ve been thinking for some time that we need to do some form of advertising campaign.”

Childminding UK runs an online introduction course for prospective childminders, but this has seen a recent decline, with uptake normally 50-60 people a month to now around 30-40.

Elaine thinks this could be a knock-on effect of the recent end to Childcare Business Grants, where people could claim back up to £500 of the start-up costs of a business.

She said: “There are all these barriers now. There’s finance, perception, paperwork and competition.”

But it’s not all doom-and-gloom, with Elaine insisting it’s a rewarding career choice and a good option for working parents.

She said: “I loved it. There’s nothing like walking down the road with an open hand and a little hand goes into it because they trust you.

“You also get to be at home around your own children and while you won’t make lots of money, you can have a reasonable living.”

She added: “Importantly, you can develop a close relationship with a child and get to know them well. There’s a real buy-in to wanting them to develop and share that with the parents.

“And there’s always time to chat to a parent at the end of the day and there’s a lot of spontaneity too. For instance, if it’s a nice day, you can choose to go out for the day, or you can tailor what you do to the child’s individual interests.

“Childminders often go to groups and meet up with other childminders too, so children are mixing with others.

“The strength of childminding is the emotional and social development of the child.”

Standards remain stable with 95 per cent of the country’s childminders rated as good or outstanding, the same share as overall childcare providers.

Minister for children and families, Nadhim Zahawi, said more childcare providers were rated highly “than ever before”, up from 68 per cent in 2010.

He added: “This improvement is testament to our committed early years staff who are pivotal to increasing quality and ensuring preschool children get a great start to their education.

“We are investing more in childcare than ever before, including £3.5Bn this year alone in our free offers, so that more children benefit from an early education that puts them on track to succeed in life.”

For more information and guidance about childminding as a career, visit: https://childmindinguk.com/

Funding for free childcare

All parents of three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours universal funded childcare per week. Eligible working families can get an additional 15 hours if they meet the prescribed eligibility criteria.

This is funded through the parent’s local authority and must be claimed by the childcare provider.

Lancashire County Council ask the provider to submit an estimate of the number of children claiming for the term ahead, and three payments are made.

The first and second payments are percentages (usually around 20 or 25 per cent of the term estimate), paid before the end of the term.

The final payment is the balance of the estimate and the actual number of children claimed for.

Lancashire County Council also allow providers to make supplementary claims for children registered with them after the ‘headcount week, which is the third week of a term. Not every local authority allows supplementary claims.

Why I chose a childminder

Danielle Pye and Martin Yates from Much Hoole chose a childminder for their son Alfie, two, (left,)when salon-owner Danielle returned to work after maternity leave.

They set out looking for flexibility and a nurturing environment.

Danielle, 32, said: “I liked the small and friendly environment rather than the large nurseries we looked around.

“The childminder was very friendly and we instantly felt at ease.

“Deborah (the childminder) is like another grandparent to Alfie, they love each other and he gets so excited to see her.”

She added: “She’s always as flexible as she can be, which helps when having my own business. When things pop-up, she is always accommodating.

“And if we have problems or are struggling at home, she always has good advice for us.”

What OFSTED says

A spokesman for Ofsted said: “We do not request to see a particular amount or type of paperwork during an inspection. There is no prescribed way of conducting or recording assessments as long as it is effective and helps children’s learning, development and progress.”

Oftsed has published guidance that dispels myths around early years inspections, which states: “Settings should use whatever approach to paperwork that suits them and are free to file it however they like.

“Each inspection is unique and inspectors will only ask to see evidence they consider appropriate to that individual setting, usually determined by their observations of teaching and learning.

“The paperwork most often requested is listed on pages 10 and 11 of the Early years inspection handbook but it’s unlikely that an inspector will want to see all of these documents at every inspection.”