Ask Liz Stewart what her job description is, and she laughs. ‘You are teacher, role model, cook, domestic, accountant, nurse, trainer, adviser - it’s a pretty full-on job!’
Liz is the Convenor of the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA), and one of 5,929 registered childminders caring for children across Scotland. Like many working in the sector, she believes childminders are ideally placed to deliver the 10 elements of transformational change that underpin the Early Years Framework.
The Care Commission would seem to agree, with childminding services showing the largest proportion of any service category achieving grades 5 or 6 for every theme in the Care Commission’s 2008 inspection results. So how are childminders helping to implement the framework, and how is the sector moving forward?
According to Maxine Bingham, registered childminder and SCMA trainer, one of the greatest strengths of childminders is the close relationship they foster with parents and families, which enables them to develop a deep understanding of a child and family’s needs.
‘I have lots of contact with the families of the children I look after, and that’s so important,’ says Maxine. ‘Every morning and evening, the parents are encouraged to have a chat about all the different aspects of their child’s day.
‘It’s really great when parents can celebrate the child’s achievements, and feel included, and that idea of involving parents is really central to how we work.’
Lower ratio of carers
The lower ratio of carers to children - a maximum of six children to every adult, or three of pre-school age - also gives a wide scope for tailoring care to the needs of the child and family, and involving parents.
Furthermore, the close individual attention childminders can dedicate can also be helpful in identifying any gaps in a child’s development. As an illustration, Liz provides the example of a young boy she had in her care, who seemed unresponsive to the usual stimuli.
She shared her concerns with his mum and gently suggested visiting a speech therapist. After some time the child was diagnosed with autism.
She adds: ‘It is really hard to tell a parent when there are concerns about their child’s development, but the important thing is that the child and parent receive the relevant support as soon as possible.’
Childminders can also play an important role in child protection, identifying children at risk, and encouraging children to talk about anything that has made them unhappy.
Greater recognition, higher standards
For both Liz and Maxine, the Early Years Framework is a welcome step that confirms the relevance and validity of the childminder’s role - and importantly points the way towards continued high standards.
They also believe an increased recognition of the importance of childminders is leading to a greater focus on CPD opportunities, for example tailored training from the SCMA, such as the ‘Scheme of Excellence’, which sits on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.
‘I don't think the new framework has necessarily presented new challenges to childminders, but I do feel it has helped to focus our minds on just how much we are able to support families in their day-to-day work,’ explains Maxine.
‘Prospective childminders are now much more aware of the sector and the quality expected from a registered childminder.
‘Luckily, SCMA is always on hand to provide us with the support and information we need to continue to provide a quality childcare service.’
You can find out more about becoming or finding a childminder by calling the SCMA Helpline on 01786 449063 (Monday to Friday, 10 am – 4 pm) or by visiting the Scottish Childminding Association website.