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.

6. Perceived impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on childminding

This chapter discusses childminder perceptions of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including perceived impacts on the financial viability of childminding, and on attitudes to entering or exiting the profession.

As yet there is relatively little published research on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the childminding workforce. However, the overall experiences of childminders during the pandemic were covered earlier this year in another study commissioned by the Scottish Government examining perceptions of the impact of childminding services generally. Findings were very much in keeping with those reported below, with some childminders reporting major financial difficulties, increased workload, and stress in addition to that caused by living through such a dangerous and unprecedented world event.[99]

In September 2020, the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that "the crisis has had severe consequences for the finances of childcare providers" in the UK. Questions around future parental demand and rules on social distancing were seen as creating an unclear medium-term picture for childminding.[100] According to the Social Mobility Commission "the drivers of workforce instability [in ELC] are likely to persist and even worsen" in the UK because of the pandemic.[101]

Among participants in this study, the Covid-19 pandemic was described as having both exacerbated, and highlighted, many of the existing workforce challenges described in earlier chapters. It was suggested that, while not the primary cause of the decline in childminder numbers in Scotland, the pandemic may have accelerated existing trends:

"I would hate to think that in generations to come the pandemic will be blamed for the decline of this profession, but it certainly hasn't helped. The pandemic has not caused this, what it has caused is a discussion point to discuss the decline of the profession … It was happening before that, but it has certainly accelerated it." (Interviewee ES3/04, childminder considering leaving the profession)

Income and financial security

The pandemic had an uneven financial impact on participants in this study. On the one hand, there were examples where childminders described having lost families since the pandemic started, because the families no longer needed or could no longer afford childcare given changes in their own economic situation. On the other, some childminders reported having had more children to provide care for while the schools were closed, or simply that the pandemic had not had much of an impact on demand either way.

It was also commented that when childminders had responded to pandemic restrictions by spending more time with their children outdoors, they had incurred additional costs for which no extra funding had been made available[102]:

"Nurseries and things have had loads of funding thrown at them to kind of expand their outdoor spaces, and everything that I have got, I have had to source myself and build myself…it is not financially viable for me to be buying extra play-things or buying loads of compost to do extra planting. There is a bigger financial cost of being outdoors all the time" (Interviewee ES2/05, new childminder)

Experience of and concerns about a downturn in demand because of ongoing pandemic impacts (including worries about the impact of any future lockdowns) were cited as both reasons for leaving the profession, and for being uncertain about whether to go ahead with registering:

"We just weren't getting enquiries, normally we would get a lot of enquiries as the school started back up in the August and we got that time, it was [husband] and I were both relying on the business for an income" (Group 4, former childminders)

"If I had gone into that kind of business and set up on my own, I would have nothing to fall back on because I'm a single parent. You know, you do run the risk of a child having to self-isolate or you having to self-isolate, I think it would just be really, really, stressful." (Group 1, people who considered becoming a childminder but decided not to)

A perceived lack of pandemic-related financial support for new businesses was cited as a particular issue for new childminders:

"When I had a child that got Covid or had to isolate or somebody in my family did, I wasn't entitled to any help because I hadn't been doing it for a year, didn't have any taxes to show or anything…it seemed a bit unfair" (Group 2, new childminders)

Administrative and regulatory demands

Childminders also described how their workload had increased since the pandemic because of the need for extra cleaning, keeping on top of changing guidance, and other Covid-19 related requirements. One childminder estimated that they had spent an extra 12-15 hours a week on cleaning and paperwork as a result of the pandemic. Again, some childminders linked this to considering leaving or leaving the profession:

"It did get to the point of every time there was a change you were then having to redo it. So, then you would redo it and then there would be another change and then you would have to redo it again, so it did get a bit tiring… It is just kind of never ending" (Group 3, childminders considering leaving the profession)

"I wouldn't be one of these people saying, 'oh my children are older, I better do something else now'…I was never like that until six months ago, I loved my job… but a lot of the fun is taken over by what we should be doing paperwork wise and … cleaning wise." (Interviewee ES3/01, childminder considering leaving the profession)

Alongside concerns about increased workload as a result of Covid-19 regulations, there was also a perception that guidance and support for childminders had not been a priority for the Scottish Government. Given the key role childminders were playing in ELC provision, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, there was a belief that they should have been accorded higher priority:

"Nobody knew if we were classed as nurseries or out of school care. I think that was quite a big thing … Eventually childminding was put in it, because I think all the childminders were hogging the helplines to try and find out where childminders sit." (Group 3, childminders considering leaving the profession)

There were frustrations that the Care Inspectorate had asked for additional information on Covid19 measures which it was believed had never been used, including an additional question as part of the self-evaluation procedure around how childminders were supporting children and families during Covid-19:

"[The Care Inspectorate] gave us a key question five, and they told us to get all this paperwork done… They have now turned round and said we don't need key question five anymore…I am quite peeved off to be honest, because I have all this information that I have spent time doing, and then when they eventually come out, they are not going to look at it" (Interviewee ES3/01, childminder considering leaving the profession)

Finally, there was a perception that the pandemic had slowed down aspects of the registration process for new childminders, such as Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks.

Day-to-day activities and isolation

The day-to-day activities that childminders were able to undertake with the children in their care were obviously impacted by the pandemic. Indoor activities, like playing with play dough or even reading books, were affected by restrictions on sharing equipment (books needed to be 'quarantined'). At the same time, while some childminders enjoyed spending more time outside, there were both potential additional costs (as described above), and logistical challenges, such as making sure facilities were always available for washing.

There was concern that children's social skills had been affected by Covid-19 restrictions, with the play groups, libraries, community events and meet ups with other childminders they would have normally engaged in all limited. In addition to concerns about how this impacted on children, these limitations on day-to-day activities had also increased feelings of isolation and negatively affected childminders' own mental health:

"We are in level zero now and people can have visitors into the house, whereas as a childminder I can't have anybody in the house, not even another childminder to see me while I'm working…I feel this job is very isolating anyway and Covid has really highlighted that, because there has been no toddler groups open, we are not allowed to see people indoors" (Interviewee ES3/01, childminder considering leaving the profession)

Isolation and professional support

The quote above highlights the ways in which the pandemic increased an existing sense of professional isolation for some childminders. In this context, professional support for childminders as lone workers was seen as even more important.

There were mixed views on whether childminders had received enough advice and support during the pandemic. There were examples where childminders had found their local council, the SCMA and the Care Inspectorate to be helpful, particularly in providing updates and advice on changing guidance. However, others were less positive, suggesting that information for childminders was either shared too late, long after government announcements, or that they had experienced "information overload" from numerous emails and updates from different sources. It was suggested that it would have been more helpful if information had been more focused, conveying only the key points that were applicable to childminding (as distinct from early years provision as a whole)[103]:

"The council for us were quite good because again for the funded provider thing they did help to try and just break down all the guidance and what we should and shouldn't be doing, so that was nice to know that they were there just to ask." (Group 2, new childminders)

"[SCMA] did a lot of sort of video updates or training courses for Covid, and I (have) done pretty much them all, and I found them really useful…they offered quite a lot of support that I found quite useful" (Group 2, new childminders)

"It was like information overload…we were getting information from the government, from SCMA, from Care Inspectorate, and sometimes it was all different, so you didn't know what was what, or what to follow." (Group 3, childminders considering leaving the profession)

Impact on family life

Participants described the ways in which the pandemic had prompted them to reflect on the impact that childminding had on their home and family life. The enforced break from work at the outset of the pandemic, the changing ways in which other family members had needed to use their home for home-schooling or working from home, and concerns about the health risks of Covid-19 were all factors that might lead to childminders reconsidering their career options:

"I just wanted to get my home back…my husband has been working from home since last March, my son, God love him, has done his full second year at university working from home. So, the three of us basically cannot work from home." (Group 4, former childminders)

"Everybody was terrified last March… you're thinking how am I ever going to reopen these doors to six different households to come into my home when I've got my own kids, my own husband? I really do think it really psychologically affected everybody" (Group 4, former childminders)



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