(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the childcare sector?
Demand for childcare services has grown steadily over the last few years because:
- there are more and more households where both parents go out to work
- women are having children later in life and want to return to a well-established career after having a baby
- the number of single-parent households is increasing
- social trends are changing; fewer people have a large extended family that they can turn to for childcare support
The government has recognised the need for better childcare services for working parents and has introduced measures to help working parents. These include childcare tax credits and tax and NIC exemption for employer-supported childcare. From April 2017 a new scheme - Tax-Free Childcare - is being rolled out to enable working parents to get up to £2,000 government support per child per year towards childcare costs. The new scheme will replace the employer-supported childcare voucher scheme from October 2018. The government has also introduced incentives aimed at encouraging more people to set up as professional childminders. Grants may be available for new childminders to help set up their business - contact your local authority for details.
In 2004 the government introduced funded free early years childcare places for three and four year olds in England. Until September 2010 the scheme paid for at least five 2.5 hour sessions a week per child for up to 38 weeks a year. This was then boosted to 15 hours a week and parents were given more flexibility in how they took the free sessions. In September 2009 two-year-olds in the most disadvantaged areas became eligible for ten hours of free childcare per week. From September 2014 in certain circumstances two-year-olds became eligible for 15 hours' free early education each week (for example where a parent claims Income Support or Income-based Jobseekers Allowance). Registered childminders are eligible providers of funded free places.
From April 2015 disadvantaged three and four year olds may qualify for the Early Years Pupil Premium. They must be receiving free early years education to be eligible.
From September 2017 working parents in England have been entitled to 30 hours per week free childcare, provided they work for at least 16 hours a week and their household income is less than £100,000 a year. Both Scotland and Wales are committed to offering 30 hours per week of free early education/childcare.
National Childcare Standards
In 2001 the government replaced the system under which standards for childminders in England varied from one local authority to the next with a set of National Standards. Similar standards were also introduced in Wales and Scotland. In England the standards were incorporated into the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) during the mid 2000s.
The standards are administered in England by the education standards organisation Ofsted, which regulates the professional childminding industry in England. In Scotland, the National Standards are administered by the Care Inspectorate and have recently been reviewed. The new Health and Social Care Standards apply from April 2018. In Wales childcare standards are the responsibility of the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW). Childminders in Northern Ireland are regulated by local Health and Social Services Trusts and they must meet the Minimum Standards for Childminding & Day Care for Children under Age 12.
The standards cover such issues as the suitability of the individual childminder and the environment in which childminding services are provided. You can get details of the standards from the following:
- the CSSIW website
- the Department for Education section of the Gov.uk website
- the Care Inspectorate website
- the Childcare Partnerships (NI) website
In July 2006 the Childcare Act received Royal Assent. This legislation introduced a new legal framework for regulating and inspecting early education and childcare for pre-school children, from birth to age five. All settings in England - including childminders - that provide childcare for children from birth until they begin Key Stage 1 (at around age five) have to follow a national curriculum - called the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) - that combines education and care. The main provisions of the Act came into effect in September 2008, and included new arrangements for registering with Ofsted as a childcare provider. In September 2012 a new, simpler framework for the EYFS came into effect. A revised framework applies from April 2017. You can find out more about the requirements on the Gov.uk website.
The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
The DBS operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and replaced both the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority. In Scotland a similar disclosure service - the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme - is run by Disclosure Scotland. The schemes aim to make sure that people who work with children are suitable to do so. Anyone on the barred list can not work with children and it is an offence to employ them. You must also pass on to the authorities any relevant information you have about an individual worker. You can find out more on the DBS section of the Gov.uk website and on the Mygov.scot website.
Children and Families Act
In March 2014 the Children and Families Act received Royal Assent, with most of the changes being brought in from September 2014.The Act brings in a number of reforms that affect children and families and also introduces childminder agencies in England. Childminder agencies provide a number of services to childminders, like training, business advice and matching available vacancies with parents looking for childcare. Childminders register with and are inspected by the agency instead of Ofsted although they can choose to remain with Ofsted if they wish. Concerns have been raised that the childminder agency model is likely to mean higher costs for childminders. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) continues to have concerns about the childminder agency model.
Keeping up with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with new developments in the childcare industry as they happen. There are three main associations specially for childminders in the UK:
- Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY)
- Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA)
- Northern Ireland Child Minding Association (NICMA)
You can find out more about these organisations and the services they offer to their members on their websites.
Industry journals of interest to childminders include Practical Pre-School and Nursery World.