The Government needs to invest more in universal support for lower childcare costs rather than ‘skirting around the issue’ by tweaking ratios of childcare workers to children, according to leading childcare expert Yvette Oliver-Mighten.
Yvette set up @Home Childcare in 2005, a flexible home childcare and training provider, sits on the Childcare Executive Board of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation and is part of the Regulation Matters campaign to lobby children’s minister Elizabeth Truss regarding regulation of the home childcare sector.
She wants to see more investment for parents across the board and also targeted help for poorer parents, such as lone parents and shift workers. “They are facing cuts from several directions at the moment, for instance, due to tax credit changes,” she says. She also wants more choice in the childcare market, with a greater profile being given to home-based childcare.
Yvette was speaking to Workingmums.co.uk ahead of the release of the Government’s Childcare Commission report, which backed an increase in the ratio of childcare workers to children to bring down costs.
She says she cannot see how this will not impact on quality if childcare staff are not better paid and better qualified. “Many childcare workers are not qualified. It is still seen as something for less academic workers. Childcare is not an academic choice,” she says. However, she admits if qualifications are improved costs would go up, leaving parents no better off.
A report in yesterday’s Independent on Sunday says a report by Government advisers, which has yet to be published, is in accord with Yvette’s belief that relaxing ratios will impact on quality and not reduce costs significantly.
However, Yvette is supportive of moves by the Government to improve the regulation of home childcarers. Currently she has to register all her home childcare workers individually with Ofsted. Under Elizabeth Truss’ proposals, agencies like hers which employ home childcare workers will be regulated by Ofsted, cutting lots of red tape and, hopes Yvette, improving quality by leaving regulation of individual workers down to the agencies.
Mother of three Yvette previously worked as a teacher, but set up @Home Childcare when her youngest child was just six months old. “I knew I wanted to continue working with children and I realised that there were gaps in childcare provision, the biggest of which was flexible childcare,” she says.
Based in Nottingham and Sheffield, it offers wraparound childcare in the home, including care for the children of shift workers, pick-ups from after school clubs and nursery for those working late and drop offs in the mornings plus holiday and weekend childcare. The childcare is provided in the parents’ home and can be used on a pay as you go basis, with a flat rate of around £3.70 an hour per child being charged to make it more affordable.
Parents who use the service include council workers using after-school care from 3.30pm – 6pm; lone parent working shifts, using before and after-school care from as early as 6.30am and up until 9pm; lone self-employed parent using after-school care until 10pm plus three full days per week during school holidays; and two teachers using term-time only care from 7am.
Many of the people who work for @Home Childcare covering short hour demands such as after school pick-ups are students or older people, such as grandmothers, who are given appropriate training. Longer hours such as those needed by shiftworkers are covered by experienced childcare workers who want to work in the home. One family where both members are ambulance workers and work shifts have three carers – one main carer and two back-ups.
“We have found a system that works,” says Yvette, “and we match the availability of our childcare workers with the requirements of families.” It’s a model which has recently been exported to Northern Ireland, where social enterprise Employers for Childcare is rolling out the same flexible childcare offering.
@Home Childcare also runs flexible training courses for childcare workers. Yvette says the training evolved from the childcare side of the business. She received some Government funding to start the programme and it “snowballed” from there. Now she trains the whole childcare workforce, from childminders to teaching assistants and even foster carers.
The programme is flexible – coursework can be accessed online at any time of the day; workshops are provided on Saturdays and there are evening drop-in sessions. Yvette is also looking at webinars with an online chatroom with tutors for those who can’t make it to the workshops. “The training is flexible because of the market we are targeting. Childminders don’t tend to be able to afford time off to do a course so we have to fit the training around their needs,” she says. The qualifications offered are a Level 3 Diploma Children and Young People’s Workforce or Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.
Yvette, whose children are aged 8, 13 and 15, hopes to expand across the Midlands in the next year and to extend the training the business offers, especially its shorter courses. In the past six months they have taken on learners in Dubai.
“There are lots of opportunities we can look into,” she says. “The demand for affordable, flexible childcare is only likely to increase in the next year.”
- The Devil is in the Detail – subsidised childcare (parentalchoiceuk.com)
- “More Great Childcare” but what’s the cost? (parentalchoiceuk.com)
- The government’s proposed reforms for childcare (thefword.org.uk)
- High-quality childcare is a middle-class preserve (independent.co.uk)
- “More Great Childcare?” – Not Likely (amandaclairedesigns.typepad.com)