The Quiet Revolution

There is a revolution in the Child Care Industry. It isn’t anything new, but its significance will become more apparent in the next few years. It is interesting how trends and legislation affect our views. At one time, this particular aspect of parent-carer alternative was decidedly the poor relation. I am talking about the work of the much maligned childminder.

In the last 20 years, the status and professionalism of childminding has gone from a casual, almost informal arrangement between parents and neighbour, to a thriving and well-respected alternative to parent-care.

When I first began to train child care professionals in the 1980s, there was nothing other than nursery nursing, nursing, some play specialist training for hospital personnel and teacher-training. The diversity offered to potential carers nowadays is remarkable, but the most remarkable is the increased recognition of the work carried out within childminding. This aspect of child care has completely turned itself around.

In the development of the Children and Young People’s Plan1, which every local authority and district is obliged to address, the role of the childminder will become more important. The versatility of childminders makes them ideal professionals to support children and their families. Because childminders care for children within their own homes, there is a degree of flexibility in the hours and days they can be available to look after children. They can offer true wraparound care. Most parents build up a very positive relationship with their childminder. It is important, however, to maintain professional boundaries, but within that, there is a trust and friendship that develops which can only be of benefit to the child.

Research certainly offers positive proof that a childminder or a well-qualified nanny is the best alternative to the natural parent. Children certainly learn more effectively where there is a lot of attention and support for them from a constant adult. It is much easier for a child to build up a relationship with one person as opposed to several carers in a nursery room.

The ratio of children to adult carer in the home (a maximum of three children under five years) implies that a true family group is supported by a constant carer. Older children may be collected from school and brought back as in any ordinary family, but for the bulk of the day, the youngest and most vulnerable members will have the undivided vigilance and care of a responsible and experienced adult.

The thing I like about childminders is that they are usually parents themselves. They understand the everyday stresses and complications that trip up even the most well-organised and competent parents. It is much more palatable to be able to phone the childminder and say, “Sorry, I forgot to get petrol and will have to call at the garage first.” They are likely to have done similar things themselves. Sometimes nurseries behave as if parents are being deliberately difficult by bringing their child in late.

Most childminders made the decision to look after other people’s children because they have a child or children of their own. This applies especially to women who want to stay at home to raise their own child but who must still bring in an income to support the household. I have trained many people who begin in this way and carry on long after their own children have gone to school. There are some male childminders now, but they are still in the minority.

A childminder will often be more able to offer experience and information to children in an informal manner. Making cakes for tea, setting the table for lunch or going shopping are all potential invaluable teaching and learning opportunities for children of all ages. It is very difficult for a nursery worker to take one or two children out of the nursery environs unless it is an actual planned event where there will be other staff members and evidence of a thorough risk assessment carried out. Even a trip to the shops is more complicated to achieve.

This is partly due to the different legislative requirements, but also in most nurseries, children of similar ages are roomed together making family groups impossible. This often means that more prams are needed so more staff members are involved. A childminder can carry out a risk assessment, get the children ready and leave the house within minutes taking along spare nappies and change of clothing plus some basic first aid resources.

Childminders are usually slightly older when they begin their caring careers. They have probably had more experience of life, so have acquired some life skills and strategies to support themselves and their children. Childminders are obliged to gain basic food hygiene and first aid certificates. They, like everyone else working with children, have to provide a CRB2 certificate, as does anyone who lives with or regularly visits the home.

All childminders have to apply to register before they can open for business and must now complete at least the introductory certificate towards a full level 3 national qualification in childminding practice. An astute childminder will make sure they have enough up-to-date qualifications to attract potential clients.

Ofsted3 inspectors carry out inspections with very little or no notice, although I think there is a necessity to give a little notice to ensure there are children in the home on that specific day. It is rather pointless to inspect a child care setting when the children are absent. The standards laid down for childminders are as stringent as those for any other professional child care provision. They address the essential aspects of childcare, such as health and safety, child protection, appropriate people, communication with parents, equality and diversity, appropriate behaviour, promotion of play and learning, policies and procedures, safe storage of paperwork, including details of children, contact numbers, dietary requirements of each child etc. (These are linked to the Outcomes for Children within the Birth to Three Matters Framework from 2003.) In addition, there are specific requirements for supporting very young babies and children who may stay overnight.

The costs of childminding compares favourably to the cost of placing a child in a private nursery. Some childminders specialise in supporting children with specific needs, where one to one support in desirable in order for the child to reach its potential. This seems to be much more easily available with a private individual rather than a nursery, where staffing costs have to be calculated and spread across the provision as a whole.

I find the evolution of the childminder remarkable. From very informal beginnings, there is now a competent, highly qualified and relevant workforce. I know that numbers of childminders have dropped in some parts of the country, but I predict a significant increase in the demand for such gap-fillers, once local strategies and plans have been drawn up. The versatile, flexible nature of childminding makes it a rich source of constancy of provision in a climate of change and uncertainty.

1Every Child Matters Green Paper 2003
2Criminal Records Bureau registration and certificate.
3Ofsted ensures that childcare providers address 14 care standards plus additional standards linked to very young babies and children staying overnight.

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