Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the National Childminding Association of England and Wales




  1.1  The National Childminding Association (NCMA) is a national charity and membership organisation, speaking on behalf of 80,000 registered childminders in England and Wales. Our aim is to promote quality care and learning opportunities for children of all ages, in a home based setting.

  1.2  Childminding is the most popular form of registered day care and education provision for young children in the UK, accounting for more than half of all formal childcare and education for the under fives. Childminders also care for nearly three times as many school age children before and after school.

  1.3  Nearly 60 per cent of registered childminders belong to NCMA, which provides direct support and information to members and works with over 100 local authorities and partnerships to develop local support networks and training opportunities. Over the last three years, NCMA has developed two key new initiatives, aimed at raising the quality of registered childminding—the "Children Come First" quality assured childminding network scheme and the CACHE accredited "Certificate in Childminding Practice". Both these initiatives are highly successful.

  1.4  Since April 1998, childminding in England has been the responsibility of the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE). The Government has recognised the vital role that registered childminders play in the care and education of children by placing registered childminding at the heart of the National Childcare Strategy.

  1.5  Registered childminders are self employed, home based day care providers, who are registered by the local authority, under the Children Act 1989, to care for pre school and school age children of working and student parents.

  1.5  Under the Care Standards Act, from autumn 2001 the responsibility for registration and inspection of all early years services, including childminding will pass to the Early Years Directorate, which is part of OFSTED.


  2.1  NCMA welcomes the Government's intention to ensure the safety and security of children through the setting up of a Criminal Records Bureau under the Police Act (Part V). However, the National Childminding Association in England and Wales has grave concerns that charging individuals for criminal record checks will deter some individuals from registering as childminders with local authorities under the Children Act, and subsequently, the Care Standards Act, requirements.

  2.2  However, our concerns are not confined to the problems with newly registering childminders. As part of the changeover to the new Early Years Directorate (OFSTED) in autumn 2001, it appears that all currently registered childminders and their families will need to have new criminal record checks.

  2.3  The consequence of this is likely to be a fall in the number of childminders choosing to continue their registration. This would have the unintended effect not only of losing experienced childminders from the (already shrinking) childminding workforce but also of diminishing rather than enhancing the safety and the well being of children. It would also undermine one of the key principles of the Children Act 1989—which is to reassure parents about the suitability of those caring for their children. In summary:

    —  Charging Registered Childminders for criminal record checks may reduce the number of Registered Childminders and increase the number of unregulated carers of children.

    —  Charging for criminal record checks may place the well-being of children in home-based daycare in jeopardy.


  Registered Childminders are among the lowest earners in the UK

  3.1  Registered childminding is one of the four lowest paid occupations in the UK. Each year NCMA conducts a Pay and Conditions Survey of its members, based on a sample of 5,000 childminders drawn from every region of England and Wales.

  3.2  The latest survey for 2000-01 shows that the average hourly rate for a registered childminder (for a childminding placement during normal working hours) is £2.15 per hour, gross. In six of the 12 regions covered by the survey, the lowest rate is £1.00 per hour. The highest hourly rate quoted is £5.00, for two regions only, Greater London and the Home Counties. In these two regions, the rate for a home cleaner is quoted by agencies at £7.00 per hour.

  3.3  At the same time as conducting an annual survey of Pay and Conditions, NCMA has also introduced a monitoring question for renewing members on the effects of the Working Families Tax Credit. Part of the assumption behind the WFTC (Childcare Tax Credit) is that it will enhance the rates of childcare workers by providing additional income to working families. However, monitoring from the first six months indicates that less than 4 per cent of childminders consider that they are able to charge a higher hourly rate as a result of the WFTC.

  3.4  Childminders are in a unique position in the world of early years work. Although they are self-employed, their earnings are circumscribed by the Children Act 1989, and by the proposed new National Standards for Daycare and Childminding, which limits the number of children in their care to three children under the age of five years and three over five (including their own children). The "average" number of children care for is in fact 3.4!

  3.5  This requirement is intended to encourage a high quality of individual care and attention and to ensure the safety of young children, but it limits earnings and gives no scope to cover increased expenditure.

  3.6  Currently the cost of criminal record checks—apart from local authority administration—is borne by government. Under the new proposals, both the administration and costs of these checks will fall on the individual childminder and their families. The new level of check required under the CRB regulations would be the enhanced check for those in paid, or unpaid positions, which involve regular contact in "caring for, training, supervising or being sole charge of persons aged under 18". Currently, the costs are estimated at £15-£20 per check.

  3.7  Research funded by the DfEE in 1998 showed that the overwhelming majority of childminders have spouses and children; and that the median age of childminders is 35-44. It is not unusual therefore for up to four members of a childminder's household—where for example there are teenage children—to require checking as a part of the registration process under the Children Act. For experienced childminders, with husbands/ wives, partners and teenage children, the costs could be in the order of £60 to £100.

  3.8   Mrs. W, the only registered childminder in a village near Towcester, Northampton, caring for children from four different families, is such a case. As the sole wage earner in the family, she would be liable to pay for five criminal record checks, for herself, her husband (who is suffering from ill health and currently not working) and three adult children, two of whom are at college. These costs would put a real strain on her family income and may lead to her considering alternative employment.


  4.1  The possibility of further charges could therefore tip the balance for many existing childminders and inadvertently encourage unregistered childminding, compromising the safety of children and undermining and the new National Standards for Daycare. This is a real fear and was the subject of an emergency resolution from Sheffield Childminding Association (one of seventy local associations affiliated to NCMA) at NCMA's Annual General Meeting in November 2000.

  4.2  The imposition of charges could further exacerbate the fall in registered childminders in England and Wales, where numbers have decreased by 25 per cent in the last three years. It would also compromise the government's efforts and investment in improving both recruitment and retention in the childminding sector, and inhibit their plans for an additional 120,000 childminding places by 2004.

  4.3  Although the government has introduced a "start-up" grant for new childminders, the grant is not available in Wales, or in every part of England. Neither does it address the crucial issue of retaining experienced childminders. 30 per cent of NCMA's members have been childminding for more than five years, many of them for more than 10 years. The impact of paying for criminal record checks, on them and their families, should not be underestimated.


  5.1  Since debate on the costs of criminal record checks began some years ago with the publication of the Police Bill, the government of the day has resisted the call to exempt childminders from charges was on grounds of "cost". They argued that the exemption could not be justified on public expenditure grounds.

  5.2  However, the cost of providing free criminal records checks to all existing registered childminders needs to be set against the potential costs of not providing them. These could be a great deal higher, in terms of additional costs arising from an increase in unregistered childminding, in terms of enforcement action and child protection investigations.

  5.3  The real cost to children could be the loss of experienced childminders and the growth of the unregulated sector, with all the dangers that such a scenario poses to children's welfare. At a time when so many government strategies rely on increasing the numbers of registered carers to enable families to participate in work and training while their children are cared for in a safe environment, the prospect of charging childminders and their families for criminal record checks seems deeply unwise.

Gill Haynes OBE

Chief Executive

January 2001

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