A former Home Office minister has slammed as ‘scandalous’ news that childminders are struggling to launch their businesses because of long delays with criminal records checks.
Home-based carers cannot operate legally without the enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance required for Ofsted registration – the delays are at odds with the Government’s drive to extend free childcare.
Other childminders, waiting for checks on family members, fear having to stop trading after reporting delays of up to a year, compared to the DBS target of eight weeks.
Meg Hillier MP, who was previously responsible for this area as a junior minister, said a ‘basic lack of police resources’ appeared to be behind the waits, particularly in the Metropolitan Police Service area.
Most of the reports of delays received by Nursery World have come from Hackney, east London, which is part of Ms Hillier’s constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch, but the problem is understood to extend outside the borough and the capital.
Ms Hillier, who was junior minister in the previous Labour administration, raised the matter with Helen Stephenson, the Department for Education’s director of early years, while chairing last month’s Public Accounts Committee inquiry into the free entitlement.
She said she has also flagged it with the Home Office. Ms Hillier added, ‘It’s scandalous to me that childminders are having to wait so long. To stop people earning anything of a living is appalling.’
The DBS was established in late 2012, merging the previous Criminal Records Bureau and Independent Safeguarding Authority, followed in summer 2013 by an online updates system.
Carole Wardrop, PACEY’s local representative in Hackney, said the system is ‘not working’.
Ms Wardrop, herself a childminder of many years, said, ‘Before, it took a couple of months. Ninety-nine per cent of them are women and they could work, but they can’t because of this.
‘There are some childminders who’ve got DBS checks themselves, but of course, if you’ve got a child over the age of 16, they have to have an enhanced DBS check as well.
‘These are taking a long time. In fact there’s a childminder who was told by Ofsted that she might have to wind down her childminding services, because she hasn’t got her check for her 16-year-old son, who is now nearly 17 it’s taken so long.
‘A lot have got children lined up and they can’t do it. It’s having a big impact on parents looking for childcare and the free entitlement.’
She added that one of her colleagues was concerned that other professions such as newly qualified teachers may be ‘being dealt with first’.
Hackney-based Shahida Sultana applied for her enhanced certificate seven months ago, and claims to have received nothing but frustrating automated responses to her chasing emails.
She said she has had to put off a string of families who know she has completed her training and are waiting to register.
Ms Sultana added, ‘It’s had a big impact. I would have a good business if the DBS was done. Every system has problems, but I have no idea what is happening. It’s not transparent.
‘I’m in an area where childminding is in demand. A lot of parents are looking for childminders and I should have started the business three or four months ago.’
PACEY's chief executive Liz Bayram, warned the problem could even delay growth in the sector, and that with the Government committed to doubling free entitlement from next year, it was 'critical that these reported delays in DBS checks are urgently addressed'.
Ms Bayram added, 'There are clearly real issues around the country and as Ofsted won't accept a childminder application without a DBS number, any delay will have serious consequences.
'Primarily it prevents a childminder from operating and at worst it could potentially delay the growth of the sector. We need to be doing all we can to help support new entrants into the sector, and these hold-ups do nothing to encourage the next generation of childminders.'
A Metropolitan Police Service spokesman said the average wait across the system is around 86 days, but figures specifically for childminders were not available.
The force handles a ‘significant proportion of DBS cases nationally’, and the backlog is believed to have peaked in March at around 80,000 cases, compared with the usual 25,000.
Contributing to the problem is a 23 per cent increase in demand over recent years, up from 235,000 cases in 2012/13. There is also difficulty with recruitment and retention of staff who need specialist training and supervision for dealing with cases that can directly impact children and vulnerable people. In addition, staff were deciding on sensitive disclosures that may involve a number of different police forces.
The spokesman said, ‘The MPS recognises the impacts of delays and is working with DBS and the Home Office to make reductions in waiting times. We are committed to reducing the number of outstanding cases.’
Included in the recruitment effort is the secondment of eight members of staff from Transport for London to target applications from black-cab drivers, and an extra evening shift.
A spokesman for Security Watchdog, which is part of Capita and has administered the applications for DBS checks since 2013, said, ‘We are meeting all of our service delivery targets set by Ofsted.
‘The complex safeguarding landscape and the numbers of partners involved inevitably means there are parts of the process that are out of our control.
'Once an application is sent to the DBS and individual police forces to process, Ofsted and Security Watchdog have no influence over the application.'
- This article was amended on 3/5/16 to clarify that Capita administers the applications for DBS checks rather than processing the checks. A reference to professions having varying priorities was also amended.