Drop in Oxfordshire childminders is ‘a troubling trend’ - special report

A worrying drop in the number of registered childminders across Britain has been replicated in Oxfordshire.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 2:35 pm
Updated Friday, 6th December 2019, 10:09 am

Oxfordshire County Council has 486 childminders on its register – and 57 of these are in Banbury. Records show there was a drop in childminders from 572 in 2017 to 544 in 2018.

The reduction in the number of childminders comes as local authorities – in this case Oxfordshire County Council – must ensure there is sufficient childcare available to enable families to get the early education funding entitlement so they can take up or remain in work, or access education or training that could lead to work.

Last month the government released its annual Childcare and Early Years Providers report which revealed a continuing fall in the number of registered childminders and childcare places.

Childminders must be inspected by Ofsted as all child care nurseries are

Yoopies UK, an online platform for childminders, highlighted the issues of falling numbers of childcare places in the light of the latest tax-free childcare and 30 hours’ free childcare schemes.

“It is a troubling trend, with 27,900 fewer childminder places since 2016. It represents a drop of around 10 per cent of available places,” said spokesman Lily Pryer.

“As the demand for childcare increases, with over 70 per cent of mothers in work, it is rather concerning for parents the availability of childminders is plummeting.

“As a result there is less choice in terms of of reliable and flexible childcare options for parents, which is a major factor helping mothers go out to work.”

The government report revealed the biggest source of recorded costs for childminders was paying for meals, snacks and refreshments for the children they looked after, up to 41 per cent.

This is a significantly larger proportion than that of school-based nurseries and group-based providers, according to Yoopies.

“Childminders also incur more costs for training and materials. Alongside rising OFSTED registration fees and other unavoidable costs, including a DBS (disclosure and barring service) disclosure training course and first aid course it is 
unsurprising many childcare businesses are struggling to remain financially viable,”said Ms Pryer.

“The majority of childminders (60 per cent) do not charge parents any additional fees for food, outings or other activities in addition to their hourly rate.”

Francesca Chong, general manager of Yoopies UK said: “We are seeing on the platform childminders are regularly raising their fees or charging extra for provisions to cover the increasing costs, which can make them a less attractive choice for parents compared to other forms of childcare on our platform.”

The statistics support the reports, showing 23 per cent of childminders in 2019 have already increased their fees for at least one age group in the last year.

The government aims to ensure childcare aid is accessible and available nationwide.

In theory, childcare benefits available to eligible families should enable parents to afford childcare and allow parents to return to work.

Yoopies’ benefits analysis study estimated that families working full-time could save between 20 per cent and 96 per cent on their childcare costs thanks to benefits 
available in the UK, including the 30 hours free chilldcare, child benefits and universal credit.

Without these benefits, lower income families risk spending between half to two-thirds of their post-tax income on full-time childcare for a preschool-aged child, they say.

The Yoopies organisation welcomes government figures showing the number of childminders offering 30 hours free childcare and tax-free childcare has increased significantly.

This latter scheme allows parents to register with HMRC and ‘bank’ money, to which the government will add 20 per cent.

In 2019, 72 per cent of childminders signed up to receive tax-free childcare payments, up by 10 per cent from 2018.

Accepting this scheme offers parents better financial flexibility and as a result, more choice when choosing childcare.

However, accepting these schemes can make life even more burdensome for childcare providers, due to the additional administration and paperwork involved and issues with funding from local authorities.

Yoopies is working alongside HMRC and local authorities across England to integrate these latest schemes directly into their booking and payment system, which would then allow parents to instantly use their allowances as discounts on their childminder payments.

For childminders, this means less paperwork, reducing the need to go back and forth between different platforms to manage funding claims and therefore more time to focus on delivering good quality childcare.

Charmaine Fouche is a long-standing childminder who gave up her job as a retail branch manager to look after children.

“I am married with two children of my own and was working 45 hours a week including weekends. I never had any quality family time,” she said.

“I used to volunteer at the local school on top of my job, as I have always enjoyed working with children but found being a teacher’s assistant wouldn’t cover my bills.

“I heard about childminding and went onto one of the ‘introduction to childminding’ courses and have never looked back. Every day as a childminder is an adventure.

“If it is a lovely day, I take the children out exploring our community, woods and parks. If it is not, then baking, messy play and crafts.

“I love seeing the children’s imagination grow and feeding it with different resources and activities.

“The local authority has sent me on a fully-funded post graduate course and I now visit and support the newly registered childminders. I really enjoy being there to reassure them as it can be a little daunting when you first get into it, but with a little guidance and support it is a really rewarding job. 

“Working with only a small number of children means I can tailor the activities to meet the needs of each child, ensuring they all have opportunities to thrive.

“Being a part of the little ones’ learning from such a young age up to school and those amazing cuddles I get are the best source of job satisfaction.”

Mrs Fouche says as a childminder, she is financially ‘much better off, less stressed and so much happier’.

“I have many families that have started with me when they had their first child and then I have been lucky enough to have the younger sibling too. It’s fantastic being such a big part in their lives and really getting to know the children and their families before they start school,” she said.

“I often continue this bond with them by collecting them after school too. I currently look after three children in nursery, two little ones and three after school children that have varying hours but always ensuring I stay within the Ofsted ratio guidelines.

“The role of childminders has changed but perception of us hasn’t. Many think we are just ‘baby sitters’ but it is not true.

“We have to work under the same guidelines as nurseries and get the same inspections through Ofsted.

“I have a BSc (Hons) open degree in child care and a post graduate in early education and still feel even some professionals talk down to me and disregard my opinions.

“A little re-education would be good,” she said.