Childminders and the 30 hours funding by Sarah Neville

14th February 2017

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I have tried so hard to be positive about the 30 hours funding when talking to colleagues. The 30 hours is due to be offered to eligible children from September 2017 with some Local Authorities (LAs) offering it as ‘early implementers now. However, we are still seeing thousands of well qualified and dedicated childminders leave the profession they used to love, pushed out by overwork and underpay as we try to cope with change after change thrust upon us by successive Governments and Ofsted. Those of us who are left hanging on in there have really, honestly tried to stay upbeat!

I know the Government will say ‘we have ploughed millions into funding’, but many childminders already find the 15 funded hours a huge financial challenge and it is only going to become more harder for us when it is raised to 30 hours for eligible children from September 2017. These are not ‘free’ hours, regardless of what the Government say in their advertising to parents – in a very few LAs childminders are earning slightly more than their normal hourly rate for offering the funded hours. However, in the majority of LAs across the country the funded hours cost us a lot of our own money to deliver. When I say ‘our own money,’ I mean the money we earn from non-funded children attending our provisions.

We must remember that childminders are unique in the childcare world. We do not have staff – we spend our working days with the children in our care and our evenings and weekends doing all the paperwork, preparing resources, organising activities, liaising with parents and other settings and preparing for Ofsted. We don’t have cooks and cleaners and time out of our days to do the accounts; we don’t have staff who look things up for us and do our planning; we can’t take time out of our working days to research and plan! When LAs tell us we need to complete complicated funding forms, or attend extra training to take funded children or go online to complete lengthy funding assessments, we are the ones who have to find time to do it all.

Those colleagues with a morning off listened to The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 in disbelief and with sinking hearts. Here was a newscaster with ill-informed pre-conceptions about childcare costs and very poor background research telling the world that we will be raking it in when we accept the 30 hours – he called it a joke the following day but by then the damage was already done. Parents up and down the country don’t understand why we are complaining about the funding – surely, they think, we are going to be better off financially when we accept the funded children because that’s what it says on the television and in the news!

I ran a poll recently on a popular childminder Facebook page. Of the 2500 childminders who replied, 525 said ‘yes’ they are going to offer the funded sessions – many added ‘reluctantly’; 722 answered ‘no’, mostly because it is not affordable and 119 feel they might be able to offer some of the hours when working with another setting. 1134 childminders replied ‘maybe’ – they are still waiting to decide and hoping their LAs will offer an affordable rate and resolve other issues currently of concern.

It is clear that we are at crisis point and many thousands of childminders across the country are seriously questioning whether they can afford to offer 30 hours to funded children… and many thousands more have said that they are getting ready to leave because they cannot afford to do the job any more!  Where will that leave the children – in school perhaps? Is that what the Government want – Sir Michael Wilshaw’s dream of all children in school by age 2 finally coming true by default because there is nowhere else for these children to go?

Many childminders feel that now is the time all settings – childminders and group providers – need to consider making a stand and saying ‘enough’ to the Government. The funding is still not sustainable and we cannot afford to do it without asking parents for extra money – not ‘voluntary contributions’ they can refuse to pay but proper, hard cash to cover the shortfall.

After all, as one colleague asked in desperation and frustration, ‘‘Why should we lose money so parents can have something for free?’’

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