Impact of COVID-19
Throughout the initial closure period many childminding settings did remain open to provide critical childcare to children of key workers, and vulnerable children. Among them over one thousand childminders continued to care for their existing, or new, children. As the strictest phases of lockdown eased the childcare sector as a whole steadily reopened, first among those to be allowed to reopen were childminders from the 3 June.
Reopening has not been a straightforward process, there has not been a swift return to a pre COVID-19 normality. The COVID-19 virus is still prevalent in the world and in our communities. Therefore safe reopening guidance was developed in consultation with representatives of the sector and based on scientific and expert advice. Recognising the unique nature of the service that they provide, specific reopening guidance was developed for childminding settings.
The Scottish Government worked closely with sector representative bodies, including the Scottish Childminding Association, Early Years Scotland, Care and Learning Alliance, and the Scottish Out of School Care Network, throughout the pandemic period and recovery. This constructive dialogue helped to inform policy decisions on the basis of understanding the impact of the virus and restrictions on childcare for parents and for childcare businesses, balanced against the scientific and expert evidence available.
Initial guidance in the first 10 weeks of the reopening period from 3 June 2020 retained key restrictions to minimise contact between multiple households. This included, limiting the numbers of households for whom childminders could provide care for and restricting the attendance of children at multiple settings unless essential to support key workers. Further to ongoing suppression of the virus and scientific advice, those restrictions were largely eased in the second and third iterations of the guidance which came into effect from 10 July.
While the prevailing guidance at the time of writing does not reflect a return to normal, the easing of restrictions in particular for childminders operating smaller settings resulted in childminders being able to run a close to business as usual model in terms of household numbers and operating conditions. However, we recognise that in common with other providers there has been some evidence of a fall in parental demand during the pandemic period, which will have resulted in a drop in income. Such an impact is particularly felt by smaller settings, like childminders.
Evidence, based on surveys run by both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Childminding Association in June 2020, indicates that whilst childminders, as with other childcare providers, face constraints on their income the specific reopening guidance for childminders did not result in the additional cost pressures that other childcare settings faced from their reopening guidance. Notwithstanding that these surveys were undertaken in the early stages of implementing new guidance, the guidance at the time was more restrictive in the first phase of reopening under Scotland's Routemap. In contrast to other services (with the exception of fully outdoor providers), childminders had also been able to reopen from 3 June with all day care of children services not able to reopen until 15 July. Childminders have also been able to remain open and operating during the period of restrictions which started on 26 December 2020. During this time, childminders caring for fewer than 12 children have been able to operate based on normal attendance, while childminders currently caring for 12 or more children have been asked to restrict attendance to children of key workers and vulnerable children in line with guidance to other larger childcare settings It is recognised, that in common with businesses across the economy, the need to respond to the ongoing pandemic may be resulting in some additional costs for cleaning, sanitisers and PPE.
The period of response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery had an impact on plans for the expansion to 1140 hours, which has been unfortunately delayed. The Scottish Government will be working closely with local authorities to roll out 1140 hours wherever this is deliverable, and to set a new timeline to reinstate the statutory duty for 1140 hours as soon as possible.
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