At the outset of 2020 the Scottish Government, Local Government and our partners throughout the childcare sector, were focused with excitement on the anticipated expansion of early learning and childcare and the development of a new school age childcare strategic framework. Sadly, we could not have predicted the overwhelming impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting closure of most childcare settings had a profound impact on children, families and those working in settings. The full scale of that impact is not yet known and as we move through recovery and experience new restrictions we will continue to monitor impacts and consider our plans in that context.
A Vibrant Childminding Sector in Scotland
Childminders as an important element of the childcare sector offer a unique experience of childcare for children and families. They offer care and learning for children in their own home, in generally small groups with no more than six children. Childminders look after children of all ages; for example in a single setting a childminder could be caring for an infant, young children under 5 years of age, alongside older children of school age.
A childminder can offer children and their families a range of benefits. For instance a small home-based setting can be particularly helpful for some children with additional support needs or a child who may find a larger setting challenging. The opportunity to learn through play with children of different ages can also build confidence and support development. Childminders also develop close relationships with the families they care for, offering important wider support to families within their community.
Childminders have one of the highest ratings across all quality criteria in inspections by the Care Inspectorate.
We know that quality childcare is important for the whole family, giving children opportunities to learn through play in a nurturing environment and supporting parents to access work, training or study.
Often a childminder can provide welcome and necessary flexibility for parents who need to manage work commitments. Childminders may sometimes be used to provide wrap around care alongside nurseries or schools. This blended care approach can provide parents with more options as their children grow and develop, and may also support parents looking for care for siblings of different ages. Childminders provide continuity of care throughout childhood, from care and learning during 0-5 years to later providing before and after school care, as well as care during school holidays.
Childminders play an important role in Scotland's school age childcare sector, with almost 50% of children receiving care from childminders being of school age. Many families rely on childminders from their children's earliest weeks and months of life through to their time at school.
The most recent published Care Inspectorate data shows that 32,700 children were registered to receive childcare from childminders in 2018, representing 13% of childcare provision in Scotland.
Childminding not only provides these benefits to children and families, but offers a rewarding career for childminders themselves. They see children grow and flourish as they learn, and offer support to families when they need it.
The sector does however face challenges, some of which existed before COVID-19 and will continue beyond it. It is vital to recognise that childminders are self-employed lone workers in most cases, who are not just providing care. They are running a business, fulfilling obligations in respect of training, administration, and are responsible for marketing and finding families to support through the service they provide.
There can be a gap in understanding the option of childminding and the benefits it offers. We recognise that more can be done to ensure childminders are viewed by parents, other providers and local authorities as central to a flexible and family focused childcare offer in the community as well as being essential to the early learning and childcare expansion.