Childminder launches focus group over agency plans

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An independent focus group for childminders has been launched to seek clarification from the Department for Education about what will happen to childminders who do not join agencies.

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According to Twickenham childminder Simona McKenzie, who has set-up the Independent Childminders' Focus Group (ICFG), many childminders are unclear about the new proposals to introduce childminding agencies and what it will mean to remain independent.

Along with encouraging open discussion between childminders and providing support, the ICFG will seek to obtain clarification from the Department for Education about the implications of registering with an agency or remaining independent.

The ICFG is also calling on all childminders to send an email to their local MP objecting to the introduction of agencies and higher ratios.

Last week, the DfE published on its website, under the popular questions section, information about childminder agencies and the benefits for parents and childminders.

However, the questions and answers fail to provide information about whether childminders who join agencies will continue to be self-employed. There is also no mention about what will happen to childminders who remain independent.

Nursery World requested clarification from the DfE on this matter.  A Department for Education spokesperson said: 'Agency childminders will be self-employed or have employee status.

'We expect that some agencies will be employers, meaning that childminders will be able to benefit from holiday, pensions and sick leave. However, other agencies will help with administration but allow childminders to still be self-employed so that they can work more freely if they want.
 
'All agencies will be required to offer training and support to childminders, whether they are employed or self-employed.'

Ms McKenzie, (right), said, ‘As independent childminders we will face tough competition from agencies in recruiting parents and filling vacancies. We have no details so far about how we will access training and support. It is important that those who wish to remain independent feel confident in reassuring parents that we will continue to be Ofsted registered and individually inspected.

‘The intention of the focus group is to invite open discussion and support each other during these worrying times so that childminders don’t feel stressed by the unknown or think of leaving the profession. The current proposals to introduce higher ratios and agencies have hit childminders the hardest.'

Denise Burke, director of United for All Ages and the Good Care Guide, who is supporting the ICFG, said, ‘There is so much unknown and uncertainty at the moment and quite understandably childminders are very concerned.

‘Being able to share fears and anxieties over the coming months through the focus group can only be a good thing. I will help and support the ICFG where and when I can.’

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