Creation of Childminding Agencies
One of the proposed childcare reforms set out in Elizabeth Truss’ speech last week was the creation of childminder agencies to relieve childminders of some of the burdens of setting up their own business, provide training and match childminders with parents. Parents would approach such an agency to match them with a suitable childminder nearby. The concept proposed is very similar to the existing system of nanny agencies which introduces nannies to parents in accordance with their required criteria.
ANA, the trade association that represents nanny agencies across England and Wales, believes that in general this is positive development which would offer parents more choice and would in combination with the raised qualification requirements to be introduced, raise the standard of quality of childminders. Any training for a childminder would have to substantially more than the current 16 week course which is all that I required at the moment. Nanny agencies are already set up to introduce nannies to parents as well as, in many cases, organise training for nannies, so rather than seeing this proposal as possible competition, this is a new opportunity for many agencies to incorporate another side of childcare into their business whilst maintaining high standards.
However the devil is in the detail and ANA’s members would want to see more information provided on how a fee structure would work between a childminder and an agency or even between an agency and a parent, especially as parents can already search on-line or at their Family Information Service and thereby avoid paying an agency fee. Furthermore, how would such agencies and childminders be regulated? What level of involvement would Ofsted have given it is already criticised for failing to be tough enough in response to parental concerns and complaints? How would standards and qualifications be maintained by childminders, are agencies supposed to monitor that as well? How would existing childminders who run their own business fit into this proposed scheme? Would there end up being a two tier system for those childminders represented by a childminder agency and ones that weren’t?
As a conduit for higher standards and qualifications, better monitoring and regulation, ANA is in favour of this proposal but a lot of detail needs to be clarified. As an opportunity for new business, this proposal is something that many agencies could incorporate within their existing infrastructure but further detail needs to be provided on where the funding for training and helping childminders to set up their own business would come from and how the fees would apply. It still remains to be seen whether this proposal will in fact bring down the cost of childcare for parents or just provide a further tier of childcare in this country.
Sarah-Jane Butler (ANA Non-Executive Director)