Childminding workforce trends qualitative research report

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.

3. Entering childminding: motivations and experiences

This chapter considers views and experiences of entering the childminding profession. It looks specifically at what attracts people to childminding as a career option, where they get their information about it and views on how it is promoted, and views on practical issues around the process of becoming a childminder (specifically registration and start-up costs).

Why do people consider becoming a childminder?

A 2020 survey for SCMA shows that the main reason people in Scotland gave for becoming a childminder was to be able to combine caring for their own children or grandchildren with working (63%), followed by wanting to work with children (43%).[41] Similarly, Reid et al's 2019 report on the ELC workforce in Scotland found that the main factors influencing childminders to join the workforce were: job flexibility (66%, compared to 16% of the DCC workforce) and a desire to make a difference to children's lives (47%). While childminders in rural areas also mentioned flexibility and making a difference to children's lives, they were more likely to say that general job availability where they live was a factor (18% compared to 9% of those in urban areas).[42]

Findings from the in-depth interviews and focus groups conducted for this study largely reflected this existing literature. One of the main motivators was being able to combine caring for their own children with earning money. Participants described how they felt it frequently did not make financial sense for both parents to go back to their existing work because of childcare costs, especially when they have more than one child. An added benefit was that their own children would have peers to interact with while they provided care for them:

"Really, I did it because I wanted childcare for my own kids, plus [daughter] is an only child now, because of the ten-year age gap, so I wanted her to be able to socialise with other children" (Group 4, childminders who had recently left the profession)

The flip side of this was that childminding was not necessarily seen as a profession that would appeal to people who did not have their own children or grandchildren to care for. This was also associated with a belief that childminding was not necessarily viewed as a long-term 'career' by many of those considering it:

"I haven't heard of any childminders who haven't had kids of their own. They are doing it to meet their own childcare needs, it's not because it is like a great profession" (Interviewee ES2/05, new childminder)

The perceived flexibility of childminding appealed to participants in terms of being able to choose working hours to fit around their own childcare and family commitments, as well as flexibility around setting their own fees, marketing, and planning bespoke activities for the children. "Work life balance" was a phrase commonly used:

"I certainly I thought about it after I had [daughter], because I thought it would be quite a nice work life balance, and it would work around nursery drop offs when she eventually went to school" (Group 1, people who considered becoming a childminder but decided not to)

Some participants mentioned being aware of the wider demand for childcare in their area. This included participants who were already caring for friends' children or their own grandchildren and had considered registering "to do things properly":

"There is a really high demand for childminders because there is none in our area. I thought, right, okay, I would have a really good client base if I did" (Group 1, people who considered becoming a childminder but decided not to)

Participants often began considering childminding at the end of parental leave or when children were about to start school, particularly where they did not have family members nearby to help with childcare. Redundancy was another point at which some considered childminding as an option for using their redundancy pay-out to set up their own business. For people who had considered childminding more recently, being furloughed from their previous job had acted as a prompt to consider a move into childminding.

Reflecting the survey results reported above, participants also described being motivated by working with children, either in general or in a childminding setting in particular. For example, one participant had been a teacher but switched to childminding as they wanted to work with smaller groups of children in a less structured setting. Whilst some participants had a background in ELC, childminding also appealed to people with experience in a wide range of industries including hospitality, finance, science, the arts, HR and tourism.

Promotion of childminding as a career

Participants were asked about where they had looked for or found information on becoming a childminder. Early research was usually online through search engines and social media sites. SCMA and the Care Inspectorate were also specifically mentioned as sources of information. Those who went on to register as a childminder also mentioned accessing information from their local council and Business Gateway.

A number of participants described finding out about childminding when they had children and were looking for childcare for themselves. It appeared common, for childminding to be promoted informally, with participants describing being encouraged to register and/or given advice by a childminder friend or acquaintance. This reflects findings from the SCMA's 2020 survey, which found that 44% first became aware of childminding as a career through family and friends who had been a childminder.[43] Where participants did not have direct personal contacts with childminders, meeting childminders at playgroups and children's classes was also a source of information. There were examples of information sessions being held at these events to talk to parents about a career in childminding.

The quote below reflects the combination of different formal and informal information sources participants drew on when considering childminding as a career:

"I did a good old Google search of how you go about it. I think it took me to the Care Inspectorate website and also SCMA, and SCMA had a booklet of how to become a childminder…I used to join my childminder to, like, (go to) groups or anywhere she used to go…so I had like lots of people to ask." (Group 2, new childminders)

Participants reported finding information and advice from current childminders about what it is like to be a childminder particularly helpful in the initial stages, while more formal support, such as the SCMA Induction Support programme,[44] was seen as useful if they decide to proceed:

"I found out that there was a group in the next-door village where the childminders met up on a weekly basis, so I got in touch with one of them and asked whether it would be okay to come along and just have a cup of tea with them and chat about how they had found things and what do and don'ts they would advise to a new childminder...All of that sort of thing was really helpful to hear from people who are actually doing it... So, that is where I started off, and then from there doing online searches and I did the introductory course of the SCMA, which is a good kind of overview of the more formal side of things." (Interviewee ES2/04, new childminder)

In terms of improvements to the more formal promotion of childcare, participants felt that more advertising was needed to raise awareness of childminding as a job option, including for young people. There was a perception that childminding was unlikely to be recommended for young people by a careers adviser:

"If a young person went to a careers advisor and said, I would like to become a childminder, I'm fairly confident that the careers advisor would say, 'that's lovely, but why don't you think about a nursery or have you thought about teaching?' It's not recognised as a viable choice" (Interviewee ES3/04, childminder considering leaving the profession)

In addition, it was felt that offering more work placements for young people while they are at school would be helpful for overcoming perceptions that childminding is only a career option for mothers who need childcare for themselves. While young people may not be in a position to go straight into a career in childminding after leaving school or college (given the need for their own premises), raising the profile of childminding among younger people might help raise awareness or change perceptions of it as a potential future career option.

A further suggestion was that there could be more focus on promoting childminding as a 'business opportunity', including more detail on the importance of the role, income and training opportunities. Finally, there was a view that including more diverse images of childminders in recruitment materials and advertising might help attract a broader demographic base to the profession.

Practicalities of entering childminding

Registration process

Registering as a childminder in Scotland involves an application to the Care Inspectorate and a home assessment. Both parts of this process assess whether the childminder has the skills, knowledge and attitude required, as well as an appropriate home setting.[45] The registration process typically takes around three to six months (the Care Inspectorate have a Key Performance Indicator to register childminders within three months, provided they submit all the correct documentation). Applicants are required to read and understand a range of guidance documents including a quality framework, guidance on setting their objectives as a service, and food standards. Supporting information is provided online by the Care Inspectorate via learning resources[46] and guidance on what to expect during an inspection. The SCMA support prospective childminders in their applications in a range of ways - via their website and publications, training courses and helpline.[47] Their Childminding Induction Support Programme (the only national and childminding-specific induction programme, developed with support from the Scottish Government) includes resources and training to help new childminders navigate the process.[48]

Campbell-Barr et al (2020) found a strong perception in England and Wales that the registration process for becoming a childminder was too time consuming (56% strongly agreed) and too bureaucratic (42% strongly agreed).[49] While there is no directly comparable data for Scotland, these findings were clearly echoed in interviews for this project. In interpreting these findings, it is worth noting that the Care Inspectorate has recently undertaken work to streamline the online registration process, which may not be reflected in the views discussed below, since those interviewed are likely to have registered prior to this work.

The registration process was viewed as "complicated" in general, with the application form described as a "telephone book arriving through your door". One view was that it was particularly onerous for those who only intended to provide care for a small number of children. For example, a participant who had been caring for their grandchildren and was asked to care for a friend's two children as well felt they should "do it properly and become registered" but was put off by the paperwork involved which they felt was excessive and unnecessary for someone in their situation. Another childminder, who had recently left the profession, felt that the paperwork was a significant barrier to potential new childminders:

"It is just not worth it these days because of the hoops they have to go through. I can see the value of that a lot of the time, you know, regulations, paperwork and everything to keep children safe, but I think that stops young mums coming in." (Group 4, childminders who had recently left the profession)

The long wait for an initial inspection of their premises was also cited as an issue. For example, one participant reported submitting paperwork in December, and being asked for additional information in January before a house inspection in April then registering in May (this was pre-pandemic).

Both these factors had daunted, and in some cases deterred, participants from going ahead with registering as a childminder:

"I think the process was quite overwhelming actually, like all this wealth of information just coming straight to you and it was a lot initially, but once you did read through it, it wasn't too bad, but it was a lot, it was a lot, and quite off putting" (Group 1, people who considered becoming a childminder but decided not to)

Another participant, who had newly become a childminder and was also a foster carer, felt that the registration process had seemed more onerous than the process to become a foster carer.

Related concerns were expressed about the financial impact of the time it took to become registered. A single parent described the risk they saw in beginning the registration process with no guarantee of income at the end of it:

"So with the initial start of registering and the time that … you wouldn't be making money at all…it was a massive risk to put all that money out initially and not have anything to fall back on" (Group 1, people who considered becoming a childminder but decided not to)

There was some awareness of local authority support around registration, and participants who knew childminders were able to ask them for advice. However, there was a general desire both for the process to be simplified (for example, by shortening the form and ensuring each section was directly relevant to childminders, rather than ELC in general), and for prospective childminders to be offered more support and advice around registering, particularly where they are completely new to early years work:

"I've got a friend who doesn't have any background and a lot of it was completely alien to her, she really, really struggled…, she didn't get any extra help…if there was more understanding that not everybody comes with the knowledge and the qualifications." (Group 2, new childminders)

As discussed above, the Care Inspectorate's website does include details and learning resources to support registration. However, new childminders nonetheless suggested the registration process could be improved by providing clearer guidance on everything that needs to be in place before starting childminding. It was commented that childminders often felt they found out about certain aspects, such as registering as a food business and liability insurance, by chance:

"I struggled to find things like a list of what policies you need in place and what you need to update them, things like what fire regulations you need. I can understand it is difficult to keep that all up to date and keep it all in place because they change all the time, but equally it is hard for a new childminder to know" (Interviewee ES2/04, new childminder)

Specific suggestions were raised about making it easier for people who have been caring for children informally to become registered, including a confidential helpline to make it easier and more comfortable for prospective childminders in this situation to find the information they need. The Care Inspectorate does have a contact centre that will signpost prospective childminding applicants, while the SCMA also runs a confidential helpline. However, participants did not mention these as options. It is not clear whether this is because they were not aware of them or because they would not feel comfortable seeking advice from those sources (perhaps particularly with respect to the Care Inspectorate), if they were in that situation.

Another suggestion was that information on how to register in Scotland could be improved for people who have experience of childminding in another country. A prospective childminder who had been a childminder for around 11 years in England felt it was difficult to understand how the organisations and documents they were familiar with mapped onto equivalent organisations and documents in Scotland.

The case study below highlights a number of the perceived issues around registering, discussed above, including perceived complexity, frustration with the time taken, and negative views on the guidance or support provided.

Case study – Alison

Alison is a new childminder. She registered and began childminding in 2021. She has a background in childcare and becoming a childminder seemed to be the best way to continue working while caring for her son. She liked the idea of being her own boss, developing roots in the community and that her son could make friends. Alison found information about becoming a childminder mainly from the Scottish Childminding Association. She completed an induction course through SCMA which she did not find very useful at the time. She was told that the course was under review because of changes to the Care Inspectorate registration process, so felt that she had to find out a lot of information for herself.

She described the registration process as "frustrating" and "unprofessional". She was frustrated that she had not heard anything back for a month after providing documentation like a Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) check and medical history. She felt that "if I wasn't inclined to be pushy, it would just not have gone ahead".

She had the impression that her registration officer was unfamiliar with the process and would ask her for information she had already provided. During their first meeting, the officer said she had not had time to review her documents, making Alison feel like an "inconvenience".

"[Registration process] all been very negative mentally and have never once felt supported. Just felt I was an inconvenience and giving people work. I felt like giving up at many stages and if I'd never been in childcare before or had another option, I wouldn't have pushed … Could have been a much more pleasant experience, it knocks your confidence … I knew it wasn't me, not everyone would."

Alison felt that the information from the SCMA was not detailed enough and that information from the Care Inspectorate was too complicated and more like what was needed for running a nursery. She has spoken to other people who say they don't want "the hassle of registering with the Care Inspectorate". It was not clear if she was aware of the additional support available through the SCMA Induction Support Programme or helpline.

Start-up costs

Campbell-Barr et al (2020) found that 54% of new childminders in England and Wales strongly agreed that high start-up costs were a barrier to childminding.[50] Participants interviewed for this study described various start-up expenses they had incurred including: fire alarms, safety gates, car seats, home and car insurance, first aid training, child protection training, and the costs of qualifications.

A number of prospective childminders interviewed for this research said they had been informed they could access start-up grants to help establish a childminding business. However, as these participants had not gone on to register or take up this support, there were no comments on whether the available financial support had been accessible or adequate. Nonetheless, costs did appear to have been a barrier for some. For example, a participant who had considered childminding but decided against it said that they did not have enough space in their house and could not find financial support to rent bigger premises. It was felt that financial support at the initial stages would be particularly important for encouraging those living in more deprived areas to consider childminding.

"Having some sort of start-up grant…could be difference between doing it and not doing it. Luckily, I didn't have any set up costs." (Interviewee ES2/01, new childminder)

"I had a lot of toys from likes of my own kids, but it is expensive, you know, getting that double buggy, getting a single buggy, getting car seats if you're using the car. It's just wee things that you don't think about"



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