Childcare agencies supply or introduce to parents a childcarer who looks after a child or young person up to the age of 16, wholly or mainly in the home of that child's parent or parents. They could include for example:
- nanny agencies; and
- home-based childcare services or sitter services.
These agencies may be managed by private, voluntary or local authority providers.
The supply or introduction of childcarers through a childcare agency is subject to regulation under the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 ('the Act'). Sometimes parents enter into arrangements directly with a childcarer for babysitting or childcare in their home, without the involvement of a childcare agency. In these cases, the arrangements are not subject to regulation under the Act.
These standards do not cover childminding which is recognised as a separate type of care service and is defined in the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 section 2 (17) (18) and (19). The standards that apply to childminding are the national care standards for early education and childcare up to the age of 16.
These standards do not cover au pair agencies which are not subject to regulation under the Act.
Where there is uncertainty, the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care ('the Care Commission') can provide further guidance on whether any childcare service requires registration and which standards apply.
The national care standards
Scottish Ministers set up the National Care Standards Committee ( NCSC) to develop national standards. The NCSC carried out this work with the help of a number of working groups. These groups included people who use services, their families and carers, along with staff, professional associations, regulators from health and social care, local authorities, health boards and independent providers. Many others were also involved in the consultation process.
The starting point for the development of the childcare agencies standards was consideration of the review document, Regulation of Early Education and Childcare - The Way Ahead, published by the Scottish Executive.
This outlined standards and guidelines used by local authorities to regulate childcare. Existing good practice and draft codes of practice for established sitter services and nanny agencies were also considered.
As a result, the childcare agencies standards focus on what the parent and child can expect when they receive childcare from a childcarer employed by, or introduced by, a childcare agency. They also describe what the parent and child can expect from the childcare agency.
The standards are grouped under headings that follow the person's journey through the service.
Before using the service (standards 1 and 2)
1 Information about the childcare agency
2 Agreeing the service
Using the service (standards 3 to 6)
3 Service arrangements
5 Management and staffing arrangements
6 Concerns, comments and complaints
Using the national care standards
If you are thinking about using the services of a childcare agency, you may want to refer to the standards to help you make a decision. The standards have been developed from the point of view of the user of the services - the child or the parent.
Childcare agencies will also use the standards to find out what is expected of them in offering home-based childcare services.
National care standards have been developed for all care services and provide the framework for assessing the service as a whole. The focus of the standards is on the quality of experience of the people using the service. The way in which the standards are to be met in a particular case will depend on the type of provision being inspected. The Care Commission has discretion to apply the standards flexibly, taking into account the nature of the service. The quality of the communication and monitoring systems will be an important way of making sure that childcare agencies can provide a service that allows the organisation to meet the national care standards against which it is inspected.
The principles behind the standards
The standards are based on a set of principles. The principles themselves are not standards but reflect the recognised rights that people enjoy as citizens. These principles are the result of all the contributions made by the NCSC, its working groups and everyone else who responded to the consultations on the standards as they were being written. They recognise that services must be accessible and suitable for everyone who needs them, including people from ethnic minority communities and children with disabilities. They reflect the strong agreement that your and your child's experience of receiving services is very important and should be positive.
The main principles are dignity, privacy, choice, safety, realising potential and equality and diversity. As a user of the service, you have a right to:
- be treated with dignity and respect at all times; and
- enjoy a full range of social relationships.
- have your privacy and property respected; and
- be free from unnecessary intrusion.
- make informed choices, while recognising the rights of other people to do the same; and
- know about the range of choices.
- feel safe and secure in all aspects of life, including health and wellbeing;
- enjoy safety but not be over-protected; and
- be free from exploitation and abuse.
- achieve all you can;
- make full use of the resources that are available to you; and
- make the most of your life.
Equality and diversity
- live an independent life, rich in purpose, meaning and personal fulfilment;
- be valued for your ethnic background, language, culture and faith;
- be treated equally and to be cared for in an environment which is free from bullying, harassment and discrimination; and
- be able to complain effectively without fear of victimisation.
The Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care
The Act set up the Care Commission to register and inspect all the services to be regulated taking account of the national care standards issued by Scottish Ministers. The Care Commission has its headquarters in Dundee, with regional offices across the country. It assesses applications from people who want to provide registered services. It inspects the services to make sure that they are meeting the regulations and in doing so takes account of the national care standards. You can find out more about the Care Commission and what it does from its website ( www.carecommission.com).
The Scottish Social Services Council
The Act created the Scottish Social Services Council ('the Council') which was established on 1 October 2001. It also has its headquarters in Dundee. The Council has the duty of promoting high standards of conduct and practice among social services workers, and in their education and training. To deliver its overall aims of protecting service users and carers and securing the confidence of the public in social services, the Council has been given five main tasks. These are: to establish registers of key groups of social services staff; to publish codes of practice for all social services staff and their employers; to regulate the conduct of registered workers; to regulate the training and education of the workforce; to undertake the functions of the National Training Organisation for the Personal Social Services. The Council has issued codes of practice for social service workers and employers of social service workers. These describe the standards of conduct and practice within which they should work.
The codes are available from the Council website ( www.sssc.uk.com).
How standards and regulations work together
The Act gives Scottish Ministers the power to publish standards that the Care Commission must take into account when making its decisions. It also gives Ministers the power to make regulations imposing requirements in relation to care services.
The standards will be taken into account by the Care Commission in making any decision about applications for registration (including varying or removing a condition that may have been imposed on the registration of the service). All providers must provide a statement of function and purpose when they are applying to register their service. On the basis of that statement, the Care Commission will determine which standards will apply to the service that the provider is offering.
The standards will be used to monitor the quality of care services and their compliance with the Act and the regulations. If, at inspection, or at other times, for example, as a result of the Care Commission looking into a complaint, there are concerns about the service, the Care Commission will take the standards into account in any decision on whether to take enforcement action and what action to take.
If the standards were not being fully met, the Care Commission would note this on the inspection report and require the service manager to address this. The Care Commission could impose an additional condition on the service's registration if the provider persistently, substantially or seriously failed to meet the standards or breached a regulation. If the provider does not then meet the condition, the Care Commission could issue an improvement notice detailing the required improvement to be made and the time scale for this. Alternatively, the Care Commission could move straight to an improvement notice. The Care Commission would move to cancel the registration of any service if the improvement notice does not achieve the desired result. In extreme cases ( i.e. where there is serious risk to a person's life, health or wellbeing) the Care Commission could take immediate steps to cancel the registration of any service without issuing an improvement notice.
Regulations are mandatory. In some cases not meeting a regulation will be an offence. This means a provider may be subject to prosecution. Not meeting or breaching any regulation is a serious matter.
Decisions by the Care Commission on what to do when standards or regulations are not met will take into account all the relevant circumstances and be proportionate.
You can get copies of the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 and the Scottish Statutory Instruments relating to the Act from the Stationery Office Bookshop. You can also see them on-line ( see Annex B for the address).