Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Angela Davies (CF 43)

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to add my comments to the consultation on the Children and Families Bill.

I am an Ofsted registered childminder with 13 years of experience caring for young children. I hold an NVQ level 3 in Childcare Learning and Development and have attended many childcare courses including: Paediatric first aid; Safeguarding; Food hygiene; Equality and diversity; Managing behaviour; Language and communication. In addition I have an HNC in Business and Finance, an HFC in English Language, an A level in English Language and six GCSEs.

I have been following the coverage of the Children and Families Bill with growing alarm particularly in the areas involving ratios for early years children, childminder agencies and qualifications for early years workers. My concerns are as follows:

· Ratios for early years children: The proposals are to increase childminder’s ratios to four children under five years - two of which may be under twelve months. I currently care for two fifteen month old little girls. This is challenging enough, they are still teething, one is not terribly confident when at playgroups so likes to come and sit on my knee a lot and requires lots of reassurance, they have both recently started walking but stumble often requiring me to watch them and be ready to steer them from potential bumps or to be on hand for cuddles following a tumble. Neither are entirely self-feeding so meal-times have to be planned carefully to ensure both are fed at the same time. Obviously both are in nappies too so when out or even at home I have to ensure I can keep an eye on one while changing the other. All this is manageable but the thought of adding another child or even two to the situation is horrifying. I simply could not guarantee the safety of so many children or feel I could meet their physical or emotional needs. I have looked after three, at the same time, in the past but only when the ages and personalities of the children were absolutely suitable to be able to do so. At present I would not even entertain the prospect of a third child until the girls have reached the age of two. Rather worryingly, under the new proposals it would be perfectly acceptable for me to take on two tiny babies though and although I would not do this there are likely to be some childminders who need the money (particularly if being forced to lower fees) who would do this and this is a truly frightening prospect. The reason parents choose childminders over nurseries is that they would prefer their children to be raised in a family environment rather than an institutionalised one. They want them to do things they would be doing if they were at home with Mum, like going to the park, shopping, having picnics, going to soft-play. All these activities are incredibly valuable to children in getting them to understand their community and make sense of words, numbers and communication in real-life situations. I take the children out to different activities every day. I can manage this because I can get two in a double buggy and I can take two car seats in my car. If I had two babies plus two toddlers just leaving the house would be a struggle and getting anywhere on foot would be potentially life-threatening. The thought of having four little ones running around a park in four different directions is terrifying. As well as the children I look after I also have my own family’s needs to consider. I live in a normal three bed semi - at nap-time I have a child in each downstairs room. It would be massively unfair to my children if I was having to fill their bedrooms up with sleeping babies. I am lucky enough to have a downstairs lavatory but even so the prospect of toilet training a toddler (and clearing up the inevitable accidents) whilst caring for a teething baby, comforting a one year old with separation anxiety and keeping an eye on a child prone to biting his peers (basically four typical children) is exhausting and worrying. None of these children would be getting enough individual care and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start risk assessing the situation. I appreciate that the message is that we don’t have to take on more children but the worry is that if the nurseries start reducing their prices then childminders may be forced to do the same to avoid being priced out of the market so increasing our numbers, therefore, would be the only way to survive. This proposal flies in the face of all the safeguarding training we have undertaken and I can only foresee detrimental effects to both the children and the childminder.

· Agencies for Childminders: I have tried to understand what the benefits of childminder agencies would be but am totally at a loss. Other than saving money on Ofsted inspections (again flying in the face of all the safeguarding priorities) I can see no reason to introduce these whatsoever. Choosing a childminder is such an instinctive decision. In the real world parents really don’t care about what qualifications the childminder hold they go off personal recommendations and their own gut feeling. It’s vital that the parents meet different childminders and visit their homes before making their decision and this works both ways too: We as childminders are letting strangers into our homes, we also need to feel comfortable with the family that we agree to take on. There is no way that I would want to be told by an agency who I am going to be allocated - I want to make my own decision who is coming into my home and being around my family. I do not need any help running my business I am perfectly capable of doing that myself and I have never had any problem collecting payment from families. Childminders are not like nurseries, you often become involved in the whole family’s life. I have been invited to weddings, christenings, birthday parties, we get postcards from holidays and updates from children who left years ago. When a parent tells me that they feel like their child has a second family I feel that I have done exactly what I set out to do. That is what childminding is all about. To introduce agencies which are neither needed nor wanted, by anyone involved in the process, would be just ripping the heart out of the profession and would change the nature of childminding entirely. So I am beginning to wonder if this is the intention: is childminding too much of a financial burden on government resources? Is this basically a way of making it such an unattractive option that childminders will eventually just cease to exist?

· Qualifications for Early Years Workers: Having attended a secondary school where girls who were unlikely to achieve any qualifications were encouraged to go on to study childcare I admit to having mixed feelings on this one. Personally I do believe that childcare practitioners should have a minimum of grade A-C in maths and English GCSE. Recently a child I had looked after for a long time began to do a couple of days at a local nursery. I wrote to his new carer, in accordance with EYFS, to introduce myself and suggest methods of sharing information about his development. I was stunned to receive back a barely literate note from her in response, needless to say the communication swiftly ceased on her part and I was left with no idea how he was getting on or what he was doing while at the setting. As a parent I would have been pretty unimpressed. I also believe that it’s probably a good idea for practitioners to have at least a level 3 NVQ in childcare (or equivalent). I do not agree, however, with the belief that these qualifications somehow enable the holder to manage more children or should overrule the most important quality that someone who works with children should possess: that is a nurturing and caring personality. Childcare is an extremely intuitive business and you can have all the qualifications in the world but if you lack that basic ability to bond with a child you are never going to be any good at working with them and aiding their development and I fear that when so much emphasis is being placed on qualifications that this may be overlooked. This is one reason why it is so important for parents to meet childminders and make up their own minds about who they choose because when they see the childminder in their home environment with other minded children they will see the bond they have with the children and it is that alone which will determine their decision not the pile of certificates in their file. I may have not been impressed by the barely literate response from the nursery worker but I know that the little boy adored her and is now doing extremely well at school so was it really so important after all?

I am very concerned about the future of childminding and I hope my comments are taken into consideration. Since I began this work I have seen fantastic childminders become disenchanted with the constant changes being made to the profession and given up which is a dreadful shame as we can offer families and children such a wonderful alternative to being cooped up in a nursery all day. Becoming a childminder is also a great opportunity for women to be able to raise their own families while not giving up work and becoming a burden on the state. This I believe is the real tragedy: that women who raise their own children are beginning to seem like a oddity. Elizabeth Truss has mentioned the childcare system in France as being an influence on her proposals but a French family who I work with tell me that in France mothers are expected back at work before the child is four months old and describe a strict childcare ethos, massively subsidised by the French government, very much based on punishing bad behaviour in complete contrast to ours of praising and rewarding the good behaviour. I for one would not want to emulate this model and find it deeply worrying that we have a government who do.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to be at home with my children. They did not suffer from not having ‘early educators’ they do extremely well at school and most importantly they had a carefree ‘toddlerhood’ with none of the stresses and anxiety that I often see with those who are separated from their mothers. Our children start school so young as it is, I find it staggering that at four years old they are at school for the same amount of time as they are at sixteen, it is a great sadness that so many of them start this institutionalisation even earlier. Although it would not be good for my business I would prefer to see the government do more to support mothers who wish to stay at home which in turn would be a lot more beneficial for children’s emotional wellbeing and society as a whole. No-one can replace Mum but childminders, providing they have manageable ratios, are often the next best thing.

March 2013

Prepared 20th March 2013