The childminding workforce has declined by 28% in Scotland between 2014 and 2020 (from 6,102 to 4,395), with annual decreases accelerating since 2017. The proportion of childminders aged over 55 has been steadily increasing; in 2020 24% of the childminding workforce was aged over 55, compared with 11% in 2010. Meanwhile, a quarter of respondents to the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA)'s 2020 members' survey said they were unlikely to still be childminding in five years' time. This all points to high levels of attrition in the next few years, as more childminders retire or leave for other reasons.
This study was commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore the range of factors that may be contributing to the decline in the Scottish childminder workforce in order to identify ways to better recruit, support and retain them. It involved:
- a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) to understand what is already known about trends in childminder entry and exit from the profession, and the drivers of these trends.
- qualitative research to understand the views and experiences of current, former and prospective childminders (43 participants in total).
The main findings are summarised below, along with potential actions – suggested by the authors based on the issues raised by participants – that the Scottish Government, local councils, the Care Inspectorate, and others could consider to improve the recruitment and retention of childminders in Scotland (some of which are already in progress as part of ongoing work laid out in Scottish Government's 'Our Commitment to Childminding' strategy).
When interpreting the findings it is important to bear in mind that participants were self-selecting. The way the sample was structured to address the research questions (including ensuring those who had left or were considering leaving the profession were represented) may also mean it is skewed towards those that had more negative perceptions. While this does not negatively affect the quality of the data, it should be kept in mind that the findings may not be representative of the views of all childminders.
Deciding to become a childminder
Both the evidence review and the qualitative research confirmed that people are often attracted to childminding because it allows them to work in a flexible way while still being able to care for their own children, combined with the appeal of working with young children more generally. Participants often drew on both formal (e.g. SCMA, the Care Inspectorate, local council websites) and informal sources of information (e.g. friends who are childminders) when looking for information on becoming a childminder.
The practicalities of entering childminding
The process of becoming a childminder was generally viewed by current and potential childminders as time consuming and overly bureaucratic. For some who had been considering whether to become a childminder, the perceived complexity and time it would take to register made them decide not to enter the profession.
Start-up costs and concerns about whether they could make a profitable business were also mentioned as key barriers. Financial support at the initial stages was seen as particularly important for encouraging those living in more deprived areas to consider childminding.
In general, there was limited awareness among participants of existing support options around starting a childminding business (for example, some local authorities offer start up grants, and the SCMA provides a range of resources, courses, and a helpline). Peer support from existing childminders was reported to be particularly helpful in navigating registration and the first inspection.
Potential actions (particularly for the Care Inspectorate) include:
- Consider whether the registration process can be further simplified, including: ensuring all documents for registration are as specifically tailored to childminding as possible; providing more information about what a prospective childminder needs to have in place for their service before the first inspection (e.g. checklists); and providing more information on how the registration process and qualifications compare for people who are moving to Scotland having childminded in another country.
- Further highlight the support available around registration and start-up to ensure more potential applicants are aware of the help on offer.
Administrative and regulatory demands
Existing survey data and the qualitative research conducted for this study both highlight the perception that being a childminder entails an off-putting amount of administration and paperwork.
The value of some administrative work was recognised (particularly paperwork relating to children's development). However, some childminders felt they were being unfairly asked to produce a similar level of documentation to that required of larger settings, such as nurseries.
Inspections were also viewed by current and former childminders as stressful. Some questions were raised around the perceived fairness of the process including the consistency of grades and feedback. A general desire for clearer guidance and advice on how to do well in inspections was expressed.
Potential actions (again, particularly for the Care Inspectorate):
- Continue work to reduce paperwork and administrative burden (including that related to delivering funded ELC hours).
- Review what can be done to enhance or better communicate guidance and support around inspections.
Pay and income are well documented challenges for recruiting and maintaining a skilled Early Years workforce. However, participants in this study discussed several ways in which they felt childminders are worse off than their counterparts in more formal settings. The amount of administration required was seen as exacerbating the low pay issue because of the longer hours it requires of childminders, who are largely sole traders and responsible for all their own administration. The lack of maternity leave, sick leave and pensions were also mentioned, as well as the reported impact of the pandemic on financial viability.
Potential actions (for local authorities, the Scottish Government, and childminder representative organisations):
- Ensure rates for funded ELC hours reflect the costs of delivery.
- Provide more training around running a small business and/or examine barriers to completing existing training
- Consider whether there is scope for any modest flexibility around childminder-child ratios, to allow childminders to care for more children (and thus improve their incomes)
- Consider whether any action is possible to support childminders in relation to maternity and sick pay.
- Consider the pros and cons of moving to a system where local authorities employ more childminders directly.
Training and personal development
Existing evidence highlights the barriers childminders face in accessing training and development opportunities. Time and money were the key issues raised by participants in this study. Fitting unpaid training in around running their service and administrative work was viewed as problematic because it would mean eating into childminders' time off with their own families. The qualitative findings also showed a desire for clearer paths for career progression and for clearer information on what courses are officially recognised and are worth investing time and fees in.
Potential actions (for local authorities, the Scottish Government, and childminder representative organisations):
- Further raise awareness of existing training and support for childminders
- Consider what financial support can be made available to enable childminders to access training
- Consider how best to support the development of more support and peer mentoring opportunities for childminders
- Consider how best to support career progression for those childminders who are looking this – including looking at options to expand opportunities to become community childminders.
The vast majority of childminders are sole traders and working alone was therefore seen as part of the job. However, it also had the potential to have a negative impact on job satisfaction and stress levels. Participants spoke of the isolation they sometimes felt having no adult company during their main working hours.
Childminders who had received support from a Childminder Support Worker felt this had been very beneficial both in keeping them informed about training, qualifications and inspection, and for their wellbeing and confidence (this type of support is currently only available in some local authority areas).
Potential action (for local authorities, working with childminder representative organisations and others):
- Consider how best to support the development of more support and peer mentoring opportunities for childminders (building on existing work by the SCMA and local authorities, for example via more Childminding Development Officers).
Challenges relating to the expansion of funded ELC
Views on the impact of the expansion of funded ELC hours on childminding varied among current and former childminders. One view was that it had not impacted the viability of their service, as there was still plenty of demand for childminders to deliver non-funded hours. However, others reported losing business as families moved their children to funded places in nurseries. Those that were delivering funded hours had mixed views on the hourly rates paid by local authorities, and whether they were worse or better off because of them. Childminders also expressed some worries around future policy changes around funded hours and how these might impact their business.
The perceived level of additional paperwork and the training requirements and costs were mentioned as key barriers by childminders who had decided not to partner with local authorities to deliver funded hours.
Potential action (for local authorities):
- Look at ways to reduce the administrative burden with respect to childminders applying for and delivering funded ELC hours.
Challenges relating to Covid-19
Many of the day-to-day issues and challenges childminders described were seen as having been exacerbated by the pandemic. From the sudden drop in income (to no income for some childminders), to the amount of extra paperwork and administration, to the level of isolation experienced and anxieties about the wellbeing of themselves and their own families, Covid-19 had made childminders' lives considerably more difficult. While some participants were aware of support from the SCMA, their local authority and/or the Care Inspectorate during the pandemic, others felt information on what changes they needed to make had taken too long to reach them.
Potential action (for the Scottish Government and local authorities, working with childminder representative organisations and others):
- Improve the direct communication of key messages around support and guidance, particularly (though not only) during crisis situations, increasing the level of communication when necessary.
Wider societal perceptions of childminding
A wider barrier to retaining and recruiting childminders was a perception that careers in early years in general, and childminding in particular, were viewed as 'low status' among the public. There was a belief that childminding was often seen as equivalent to "babysitting" and not offering the same quality of care as nurseries. It was also suggested that policy makers do not fully understand or value childminding.
Negative perceptions and lack of understanding of childminding were seen as a significant issue contributing both to attitudes towards becoming a childminder, and to the morale of the current childminding workforce. It was also suggested that they may be a barrier to diversifying the workforce.
Potential actions (for the Scottish Government and local authorities, working with childminder representative organisations and others):
- A programme of promotion of childminding, that aims both to attract new people to the profession (including groups that may not have considered it previously) and to address any negative perceptions.
Communications with childminders
This research identified a number of gaps between the support and information childminders we spoke to were aware of, and what is actually available. A key overarching issue, therefore, is how existing and ongoing work can be supported by more effective communications to time-pressed childminders, for example through repetition of key messages about existing support, updates on actions currently being taken to tackle issues identified by childminders, and greater targeting of communications (for example, focusing on those who may be most likely to leave the profession in the near future but might be persuaded to stay with additional support and encouragement).
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