Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 54 - 59)



  Chairman: We now welcome Gill Haynes, of the National Childminding Association. Janet Dean.

Mrs Dean

  54. Thank you, Chairman. Good morning. I wonder whether, first of all, you could tell us how rigorous the process is that childminders have to go through at the moment to become a registered childminder and begin to look after children?

  (Ms Haynes) I am very pleased to have the opportunity to put on record the process that registered childminders have to go through in order to become registered, because it is very rigorous. First of all, they and every member of their household over 16, in England, and in some parts of Wales over 11, have to undergo a police check. They also have to have a health check, they have to have personal referees, their home is checked, and they have to undergo a very intensive interview with an experienced registration and inspection officer from their local authority, who makes an assessment, against the background of all that evidence, as to whether or not they are "fit", which is the language of the Children Act, to undertake looking after young children.

  55. And who pays for the criminal record check at the moment?
  (Ms Haynes) At the moment, the costs of criminal record checks are borne by local government and the police.

  56. Thank you. Is there currently a problem with unregistered childminders advertising their services?
  (Ms Haynes) There is a problem with unregistered childminders, and I think it is a big failure of society, at the moment, that we do not actually tell parents loudly enough just how important it is to be using registered childcare. I have recently moved back to London, after over 20 years living in Sussex, and the very first thing I saw on the notice-boards of supermarkets, bring and buy, and sales, and what have you, were notices from people offering their services as childminders, with no indication at all of whether or not they were registered. And, of course, the other, important point about a registered childminder is that they are required by all local authorities in England to have a public liability insurance policy, which means that there is a level of protection for themselves, the children that they care for and the parents of the children that they care for, when they undertake that activity. And perhaps it is worth saying that, even with the rapid growth of day nurseries in this country, over the last five years, in particular, registered childminders are still providing the majority of full-time day care for children in England and Wales, and they are particularly vital for the care of very young children, in two-parent working families, where perhaps the hours that are being worked are not as family-friendly as publicity might have us believe that all our lives were.

  57. Do you have any fears that if a charge was made for police clearance more childminders would not seek registration but would be unregistered childminders?
  (Ms Haynes) Yes, I have a serious concern that this will be the outcome; and it is not something that is a concern of my own, it is something which is shared widely by all those people who register, currently register, as childminders, throughout the country. Sadly, many of them are not aware that the Criminal Records Bureau is coming into operation in August, and nor are they aware that childminders are, currently, it appears, likely to be charged for those police checks. And when I spoke at a very big conference last week, concerned with the transition of the regulatory services from local authorities to Ofsted, which is due to take place on 1 September, I would say, 95 per cent of the audience were not aware that this was happening, and when I alerted them to the fact that it was, quite frankly, their response was one of complete horror.

  58. One could say that childminders receive an income, it is slightly different from the volunteers that we have recently been discussing; what evidence have you got that they would not pay out £10 to seek registration?
  (Ms Haynes) I think the first thing that I would want to put a question-mark over is whether or not these enhanced record police checks are going to be £10. In the 1993 Green Paper, the enhanced record check was set at £17.83. I do not see much other evidence in the world today that something that cost that in 1993 is going to cost half of it today; and so I would really want to be pressing very hard for a definitive figure to be placed on exactly what the cost of the enhanced record check was going to be. Then there is, of course, the cost of registering bodies; my organisation is a membership organisation and national charity, and people become members of our Association once they have been registered as childminders. So I presume that somebody else will be the registering body, i.e. Ofsted, and so there is that issue there. I would say that the point in question is the fact that it is not simply the childminder themselves, it is every member of their family. So we are a volunteer organisation as well, and we have got about a thousand local groups, who meet to support childminders in local areas. And in Solihull, and I am sure they will not mind me quoting them, they had a coffee morning, one day last week, and there were 31 childminders there; and you may be interested to know, of those 31 childminders, 14 would require two checks, i.e. they had two people over themselves and their partner, 12 would require three, two would require four, two would require five and one childminder would be looking at six. Now the average weekly earnings, net, of a registered childminder in the UK today, in England and Wales, and I regret to have to report this, is £106 a week. Now it seems to me that if one looks, and I do not mean to be offensive here in any way, but if one were to compare the weekly net earnings of a childminder with the weekly net earnings of a Member of Parliament and suggest that in order to do your job you had to pay between £500 and £800 to start off with, as the basic wherewithal, and then possibly pay for your partner and your child who was over 16 as well, people might throw up their hands with horror. But that is actually what we are asking people to do. As I already submitted to you, in my memorandum, there are still parts of this country where childminders are receiving £1 per hour, per child, for the children that they are looking after, this is in very rural areas, very disadvantaged areas, but, nevertheless, it is happening. The Working Families Tax Credit is not touching the areas of deprivation where people are not in work. And so I think we really need to look closely at what the real impact of this measure will be, and, as I say, I have very, very serious concerns about it.

  Mrs Dean: Thank you very much.

Mr Howarth

  59. Chairman, I hope that you will allow me to put Mrs Haynes straight on the expenditure that is necessarily incurred by Members of Parliament, just in case those watching our proceedings may be misled. The number of raffle prizes that Members of Parliament have to give, the number of functions we have to attend, out of our own pockets, I can assure Mrs Haynes, are very substantial and should not go without being placed on the record. However, having made that clear, can I say that I think it is very helpful, Mrs Haynes, to have given the average weekly earnings, because I thought Mrs Dean's question was entirely right, that we are dealing with different people from those we have just been discussing, in terms of the volunteers. But can you also set the record straight for us, when you say that childminders pay an initial registration fee and an annual inspection fee, how much is involved in those?
  (Ms Haynes) At the moment, they are set at £12 and £10 respectively; so those initial outgoings are low, and they have been kept deliberately low by local authorities in the past because they have not wanted to discourage people coming forward for registration. However, in the last ten years, since the Children Act came into force, and the Children Act has had a tremendous effect in actually raising the standards of childcare and the safety of children who are looked after by people outside their own home, nevertheless, standards, quite rightly, have been ratcheted upwards and the costs of becoming a registered childminder have gone up considerably. Our organisation has been very successful in persuading the Government that, in order to attract people into this area of childcare, at a time of such a booming economy, perhaps there needed to be some incentive, and start-up grants have been made available to childminders in England. And it is the case, with some imagination, that I can foresee childminder start-up grants covering perhaps the initial costs of a criminal record check, if we go down the route of having to pay for them. My concern, however, is with the 85,000 existing registered childminders, and, on average, I would say, the fact that they probably will need to pay for between two and three police checks themselves, when the childminders move over to Ofsted on 1 September, because, at this point, all those childminders will need to reregister with Ofsted. And it is at this point that I envisage a huge falling out of people who already feel that they are being marginalised, in many ways, bearing the hidden costs of some of the ways in which the Working Families Tax Credit is not working, and feeling that these additional costs, perhaps of £40 or £50 per household, are just too heavy for them to bear at the moment.

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