1. Background and introduction
This study aims 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.
Background and context
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. Subsequent Quarterly Care Inspectorate data indicates that the decrease in the childminding workforce has continued since late 2020 – the most recent figures show 3,998 registered childminding services at 31 December 2021, a reduction of 397 (9%) on 2020.
Childminding in Scotland
Childminders are an important element of the childcare sector in Scotland and offer a unique experience of childcare for children and families. They provide care and learning in the childminder's own home, generally in small groups with no more than six children at one time. In 2020, 4,395 childminders operated professional childminding services in Scotland, providing childcare for almost 26,000 children. Childminders provide care for children of all ages; in a single setting a childminder could be caring for infants, young children under five years of age, alongside older children of school age. Often a childminder can provide flexibility for parents or carers who need to manage work commitments and may be used to provide wraparound care alongside nurseries or schools. Childminders are also consistently rated as providing high quality childcare across all quality criteria through independent inspection by the Care Inspectorate – the latest annual Care Inspectorate ELC statistics show that 93% of childminders were rated 'good' or better for all quality themes.
Childminding and the expansion of funded Early Learning and Childcare
Funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) is available to all three- and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds in Scotland. In August 2021, the entitlement increased to 1,140 hours a year (30 hours a week if taken during term time). The main aims of the ELC expansion are to make a substantial contribution to ensuring that:
- children's development improves and the poverty related attainment gap narrows
- more parents will have the opportunity to be in work, training or study
- family resilience improves, through improved health and wellbeing of children and parents.
In order to ensure that the funded ELC entitlement is delivered in high quality settings, the Scottish Government published 'Funding Follows the Child and the National Standard for ELC Providers', including the more in-depth 'Operating Guidance', on 18 December 2018. The 'Funding Follows the Child' approach aims to ensure that Scottish Government funded ELC is flexible to the needs of families – in other words, parents should be free to use their funded hours at any childcare provider/s who meet the National Standard, including childminders, have a place available, and are willing to enter into contract with the local authority. The National Standard is the set of quality criteria that all funded providers in the public, private and third sectors will need to meet to offer the funded entitlement. An Interim version of the Operating Guidance is currently in place to reflect the effects of the pandemic. This Interim guidance gives local authorities additional flexibility over certain criteria, including the requirement for childminders to attain a benchmark qualification within 5 years.
In order to deliver funded hours, when the National Standard is fully implemented, childminders will be expected to meet the same 10 headline criteria as other types of ELC provider, although the detail of certain criteria vary depending on type of setting. The 'National Standard Interim Guidance' and 'Operating Guidance' include more information on how these criteria apply in a childminding setting and nursery settings.
Subject to local availability, the 'Funding Follows the Child' approach also enables parents and carers to opt for a 'blended model', where the child's funded hours are split between ELC providers. Blended models commonly involve a child spending part of their ELC day or week in a private or local authority nursery, and part with a childminder. Blended models can offer greater flexibility for parents and carers and a tailored experience for children, particularly those who may benefit particularly from continued time spent in a smaller, nurturing childminding environment alongside their larger scale nursery experience.
Given the value that childminding brings to the early years and school age childcare sectors, and its potential role in the expansion of funded ELC and in building a new system of wraparound childcare for school age children in Scotland – which the Scottish Government is aiming to establish by the end of the current Parliament – the decline in workforce numbers reported above is concerning, particularly in areas of deprivation where ELC provision is already relatively low. A desire to better understand this decline, as a first step in trying to reverse it, provides the rationale for this research.
The Covid-19 pandemic also had a major impact on childminders in Scotland. Many services were forced to close in the March 2020 lockdown and others could only take care of key workers' children, causing a sudden drop in their income. The implications of the pandemic for childminders' businesses and job satisfaction are also explored in this study.
There were two elements to the research that underpins this report. The first took the form of a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) to assess existing data and trends on the childminding workforce in Scotland/the UK. The second involved primary qualitative research, using in-depth interviews and focus groups, in order to gain an understanding of the key issues as perceived by the current, former and potential childminding workforce in Scotland.
The REA aimed to answer two main questions:
- what are the broad trends and sub-group trends (e.g. by demographic differences, by geographic area, by type of childminding service) in entry and exit from childminding?
- what is already known about the drivers of these trends?
The qualitative research with childminders explored the views and experiences of current, former and prospective childminders, and their suggestions for how to overcome any barriers identified, covering:
- Views and experiences of entering the profession, including:
- Motivations to become, and attractions of becoming, a childminder
- Perceptions of the promotion of childminding as a career choice
- Perspectives on what could be done to attract a broader demographic base into childminding (such as males, younger people and those from ethnic minority communities)
- Views and experiences of childminders exiting the profession, including:
- Reasons for leaving
- Perceptions of broader trends / factors in practitioners leaving
- Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on this trend
- Views on what might be done to encourage practitioners to stay in the profession.
- Views and experiences of the key 'everyday work issues' among childminders, including:
- Job satisfaction
- The impact of Covid-19 on their work and levels of job satisfaction
- The impact the pandemic has had on the financial viability of childminding services
- Ways in which the job could be improved
- Perceptions of ELC funded hours
- Views and experiences of ELC expansion, including:
- Views on the qualification requirement of the National Standard
- Perceived impact of the ELC expansion on their client base (now and in the future), and
- Perceived impact of ELC and nursery expansion on childminding services among those not planning to provide funded ELC.
Overview of the research design
Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA)
The following criteria were agreed for the evidence search for the REA:
- Research from the last seven years (since 2014 – but with the main focus on the most recent workforce data available). This is so we captured experiences since the announcement in 2014 that funded hours would increase from 600 to 1,140 hours a year.
- Predominantly evidence from Scotland, but with some searches to check for relevant literature from the rest of the UK or elsewhere.
The evidence search included studies from academic research, government reports and grey literature. Some studies on the wider early learning and childcare sector were also included, where the themes were relevant to childminding. Quality checks were applied before shortlisting for inclusion in the REA. This included checking whether appropriate research methods were used given the scope and objectives of each study (for example, looking at sample sizes and how participants were selected/recruited). The team agreed a list of 43 papers/reports that were relevant to the research and reviewed 31 that were feasible to include in the REA in the time available, based on those that most closely met quality and relevance criteria.
Qualitative research with current, former and prospective childminders
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic precluded the possibility of face-to-face research at the time this study was conducted. Telephone in-depth interviews and online focus group discussions were therefore chosen as the best way to gather in-depth, qualitative data from current, former and prospective childminders. Twenty-eight in-depth interviews were completed between July and August 2021. Interviews lasted around 45 minutes to one hour. Four focus group discussions, each lasting around two hours, were also carried out in July and August 2021 and included 15 participants in total. All interviews and groups were facilitated by authors of this report. The discussion guides used by the researchers can be found in Appendices 3 and 4.
Detailed methods: qualitative research with childminders
Recruitment and sampling
In order to address the research aims above, around views and experiences of entering and exiting the childminding profession, four groups of childminders were targeted for recruitment:
- Group 1: those that have considered registering as a childminder (in last two years) but decided not to. We spoke to three participants in a focus group and a further seven through in-depth interviews (10 in total).
- Group 2: those that had joined the childminding workforce recently. We targeted participants who became a childminder since May 2018 to ensure we could capture recent experiences of becoming a childminder as well as some pre-pandemic experiences (in case the pandemic had had any major impacts). We spoke to four participants in a focus group and a further seven in in-depth interviews (11 in total).
- Group 3: childminders that are thinking about leaving the profession (in the next three years, excluding those approaching retirement age). We spoke to four participants in a focus group and a further seven in in-depth interviews (11 in total).
- Group 4: those that have stopped childminding recently. We targeted participants who had stopped childminding in the last three years or so to ensure we could capture recent experiences as well as some pre-pandemic experiences. We spoke to four participants in a focus group and a further seven in in-depth interviews (11 in total).
Recruitment was undertaken with the support of the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA). Emails were sent out to SCMA members and contacts inviting them to take part. Individuals then contacted the research team directly and answered a screening questionnaire to check eligibility. If eligible, the research team arranged a suitable time for them to take part in an interview or online focus group.
Communications provided reassurances about anonymity (see Appendices 1 and 2. To boost recruitment among particular target groups of childminders, the SCMA sent further emails and social media updates to target groups where there had been a lower response (including those who had considered childminding, and those who lived in more deprived areas of Scotland). This helped us recruit a broad mix of participants (see Table 1). Only one of the 43 people who took part was male – this reflects the gender balance within the sector.
The aim in qualitative research is not to achieve a sample that is statistically representative of the wider population, but to include a range of participants in different circumstances in order to identify as much diversity of experience as possible. The following table shows some of the key characteristics of those recruited:
|Whether delivered/delivering funded ELC (current and former childminders only)||Yes||14|
|Rurality (all participants)||Large urban||10|
|Accessible small town||7|
|Remote small town||3|
|Very remote small town||0|
|Very remote rural||1|
|Area deprivation (SIMD) (all participants)||SIMD 1 (most deprived)||5|
|SIMD 5 (least deprived)||7|
|Local authority||Childminders from 19 different local authorities were included|
|Gender (all participants)||Female||42|
|Age (all participants)||Under 30||2|
|30 to 44||25|
|Length of time childminding (current and former childminders only)||3 to 8 years||4|
|More than 8 years up to 15 years||11|
|More than 15 years||4|
As noted, in-depth interviews took place over the telephone in July and August 2021 and were all facilitated by authors of this report. Four discussion guides were developed to ensure all relevant issues were covered – one for each of the four groups listed above (included in Appendix 4).
Focus groups took place over Zoom, again using different discussion guides for each of the four groups. Interviews and groups were audio recorded (with permission from participants) for subsequent analysis, and participants were given £30 to thank them for their time.
The research was carried out in accordance with the requirements of the international quality standard for Market Research, ISO 20252.
Analysis and reporting
Data from interviews and focus groups were summarised into thematic matrices developed by the research team and drawing on the research questions. The REA data were also mapped into thematic matrices. These thematic matrices were then reviewed to identify the full range of views and experiences on each issue, supported by analysis sessions to discuss findings and agree key points.
This report is structured thematically, with each chapter covering findings from both the REA and qualitative research, given the overlap in issues covered in each. As similar views on the key issues were generally expressed by current, former and prospective childminders, their views are discussed together rather than in separate sections or chapters. However, any differences in the views or issues that came through from different groups of participants are identified. Similarly, the reasons former and current childminders gave for leaving or considering leaving childminding overlapped to a significant degree with the key 'everyday work issues' discussed, Covid-19 impacts, and views on ELC funded hours. Given this, the report does not include a separate chapter on 'reasons for leaving', as these are covered throughout chapters 4-6.
The main chapters of the remainder of this report are:
Chapter 2: Changing profile of the childminding workforce in Scotland. This chapter sets the context for the rest of the report by summarising the most recent data on the size and profile of the childminding workforce in Scotland.
Chapter 3: Entering childminding: motivations and experiences. This chapter examines what attracts people to consider a career in childminding, views on the promotion of childminding as a career option, and experiences of the practicalities of entering childminding, including registration and start-up costs.
Chapter 4: Day-to-day issues and challenges in childminding. Key perceived issues and challenges in childminding are discussed, including: administrative and regulatory demands; income; training and professional development; isolation; interactions with family life; and broader societal perceptions of childminding.
Chapter 5: Perspectives on expansion of funded ELC hours. This chapter discusses the perceived impact of funded hours on childminding workforce trends, including impacts on demand and issues around payment rates, administration, and qualification requirements.
Chapter 6: Perceived impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on childminding. The specific impacts of the pandemic and the ways in which it has highlighted and exacerbated some of the issues discussed in earlier chapters is considered.
Chapter 7: Summary and potential improvements. The final chapter summarises key findings on issues contributing to people leaving childminding and deterring people from entering the profession. It also draws together and summarises the main suggestions for improving recruitment to, and retention of, the childminding workforce, based both on direct suggestions from participants, and the researchers' suggestions based on the barriers and challenges identified in this report.
Challenges and limitations of the research
All research is subject to challenges and limitations. Overall, our qualitative sample provides a good mix of different characteristics, experiences and circumstances. However, ideally, we would have liked to have included more male childminders, more with experience of providing funded hours, and more childminders from ethnic minority communities.
Participants were self-selecting – they opted into the research. They were all either current or former members of the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) or had expressed an interest in childminding by signing up to receive information from the SCMA. This may have had an impact on the types of participants recruited. However, given the majority of childminders (84%) are registered with the SCMA, this is likely to be a minor limitation.
The way the sample was structured to address the research questions may mean it is skewed towards those that had more negative perceptions of the profession: three key groups we were specifically interested in were those who had considered childminding but not gone ahead with this, those who were considering leaving, and those who had actually left the profession. The focus of the interviews may also have contributed to a somewhat negative skew to the findings – for example, we were specifically interested in issues affecting the profession, which may have made the research more attractive to those who were dissatisfied with their experiences as a childminder. While this does not negatively affect the quality of the data gathered, since the main aim was to explore workforce challenges, it should be kept in mind that the findings may not be representative of the views of all childminders.
Qualitative research methods aim to capture diversity and depth of experience, rather than to understand the prevalence of a particular view or experience. As such, when findings are based on in-depth interviews or focus groups, rather than the survey data, quantifying language (such as 'all', 'most', or 'a few') is avoided as far as possible.
While the REA identified many papers exploring the early years childcare workforce, there were fewer papers specific to childminders' experiences and even fewer that focussed on the childminding situation in Scotland. This means that existing literature reported often focuses on the situation in the rest of the UK. Where Scotland-specific data was available, this is included and identified. The lack of Scotland-specific data on childminding also restricted our ability to investigate sub-group trends in relation to the profile of childminders entering and exiting childminding.
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