Childminding: The challenges and opportunities presented by Covid-19 – Stephanie Moriarty

As a worldwide pandemic, Covid-19 has significantly impacted every aspect of life and work around the globe. Childminding, being both a career and a care service that responds to family work commitments, has been hit hard in more ways than one. With Covid-19 being added to the list of notifiable diseases within the UK, most guidance has been on promoting hygienic practices to minimise the spread of the virus (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, 2020a). So how does this affect childminding specifically?

Within England, schools and childminders have remained open during nationwide lockdown - but only for children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable. PACEY (2020b) identified that this resulted in just 56% of childminders across England being able to remain open to provide care for children during the pandemic. There was no call for childminders to close, yet many faced closure due to the decline in families wanting or needing childcare provision. PACEY (2020b) surveyed 6000 childminders across the country and found that 46% of respondents have closed their service for the foreseeable future due to Coronavirus.  

Covid-19 has affected 'normal' life and routines across the world like nothing else in recent history. Childminders are required to adhere to strict, limits on the number of children able to enter their setting, with vulnerable children and those of crucial workers being prioritised in terms of care offered. This very quickly put a considerable strain on childminders across the country, affecting their monthly income and ability to remain open during the initial stages of Coronavirus. Parents were advised that childcare should not combine more than one type of provision, such a day nursery and a childminder for the same child, if possible, to minimise unnecessary contact with others (BBC, 2020). Bayram (2020) explained that less than half of England’s registered childminders are planning to re-open after Coronavirus. Bayram’s report (2020) also explored other concerns raised about the sustainability of work for the 40,000 childminders across England and Wales. There has also been an open letter written to the government to ask for additional support and funding to ensure the sector survives the crisis and becomes sustainable once again

However, finance, funding and Government rules are not the only issues being considered. Parents and professionals alike are concerned about children – especially younger children - being back in childcare settings where new and sometimes complex rules are imposed. The discussion of 'coronavirus' can be an awkward conversation to have with children, who may not understand what social distancing is or be able to wash their hands thoroughly for twenty seconds without supervision. A recent article recognised that practitioners were finding it hard to ask children not to share and to stay distanced from their friends when these are the skills we would generally ask children to master (BBC, 2020). This raises the question of whether this could contradict the lessons that children have been learning from such a young age, especially where their understanding may not be as comprehensive as older children's. Could this have a more significant and long-lasting impact on their development and social understanding than we might first have thought? 

On a positive note there have been resources created by Government to support all children across the Early Years Foundation Stage (DfE, 2017) that are accessible to any early years provider working directly with children. The Department for Education (DfE, 2020a) has created a 're-opening toolkit' to guide childcare professionals in the full and safe re-opening of services – something that has been permitted since the 1st of June 2020. The toolkit reminds professionals that childminders and other childcare services   should work in close partnership with local authorities and recognise that cases of Coronavirus should be reported appropriately as a notifiable disease. The toolkit recognises existing childminder responsibilities including safeguarding and planning for individual learning and development. However, the introduction of the need for closer partnership working with children's families and local authorities to support children who may be more vulnerable to Covid-19 is cited as critical. The DfE (2020a) also stated the need for childminders to plan a ‘System of Controls’ into their daily practice to provide extra safeguarding measures. The toolkit also granted further freedom to childminders from July 2020, when the need for 'bubbles' and 'smaller groups' was removed (Early Years Alliance, 2020a). 

Alongside the introduction of the toolkit for practitioners, many settings and stand-alone childcare providers have themselves begun making resources specifically designed for children to enable greater understanding of what their new childcare provision looks like. For instance, there are resources that childminders can access to help the children in their care understand the rules more clearly. PACEY (2020a) has links to many of these resources, including storybooks and posters that can support children in their understanding of Coronavirus and how to keep safe. The stories and posters are all designed to promote best practice, limit anxieties and model safe behaviours during the current climate to promote good practice and safe behaviours whilst limiting anxiety. 

It is safe to say that practice has changed significantly from what it was before Coronavirus took the world by storm. In addition to the requirements already mentioned, childminders are now also required to produce more risk assessments and decide on the need for any additional personal protective equipment (DfE, 2020b) - although it is worth stating that the government has recognised that face masks and coverings are not recommended for staff or children in such settings (PACEY, 2020b). However, practitioners may be encouraged to wear masks when interacting with a child's parents in an attempt to reduce personal exposure. Alongside this, settings are responsible for maintaining highly effective cleaning and hygienic practices and following reporting procedures should a child or practitioner within the setting become unwell. 

From an audit point of view, while there have been many changes to settings and childcare provision across the UK, the government announced that OFSTED would not be conducting inspections until January 2021 (Early Years Alliance, 2020b). However, OFSTED is still conducting on-site registration visits for new childminders who have begun the application process for qualified childminder status.

There are many websites and apps that can be used to promote mindfulness and talking to peers about any concerns you may have. Examples include The NHS, Mind and Public Health England whose websites are a great resource for expert advice and support to help you safeguard your own mental health. While childminders are busy focusing on the children they care for, the children’s parents and their own financial sustainability, they will only be able to do this effectively if they feel safe and well in themselves. The old adage of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first seems even more relevant in today’s Covid world - especially for our much-needed carers and childminders. Childminders and childcare practitioners are proving to be an ever committed force in the childcare sector proving effective and valued care for the children and families who need it the most.

 

References

Bayram, L., (2020). Survey Reveals Devastating Impact of COVID-19 On Childcare Provision. [online] PACEY. Available at: <https://www.pacey.org.uk/news-and-views/news/archive/2020-news/march-2020/news-pacey-survey-reveals-devastating-impact-of-c/> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

BBC, (2020). Coronavirus: Childminder Anger Over 'Impossible' Restrictions. [online] BBC. Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-53323740> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

DfE, (2020a). Guidance Actions for Early Years and Childcare Providers During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

DfE, (2020b). Guidance Safe Working in Education, Childcare and Children’s Social Care Settings, Including The Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). [online] DfE. Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/safe-working-in-education-childcare-and-childrens-social-care/safe-working-in-education-childcare-and-childrens-social-care-settings-including-the-use-of-personal-protective-equipment-ppe> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

DfE, (2017). Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Runcorn: Department for Education.

Early Years Alliance, (2020a). Coronavirus – What You Need to Know. [online] Early Years Alliance. Available at: <https://www.eyalliance.org.uk/coronavirus-info-for-nurseries> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

Early Years Alliance, (2020b). Operating During the Coronavirus Lockdown and Beyond. [online] Early Years Alliance. Available at: <https://www.eyalliance.org.uk/nurseries-childminders-reopen-coronavirus-lockdown> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

PACEY, (2020a). Coronavirus. [online] PACEY. Available at: <https://www.pacey.org.uk/working-in-childcare/spotlight-on/coronavirus/> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

PACEY, (2020b). News: PACEY Survey Reveals Devastating Impact of COVID-19 On Childcare Provision. [online] PACEY. Available at: <https://www.pacey.org.uk/news-and-views/news/archive/2020-news/march-2020/news-pacey-survey-reveals-devastating-impact-of-c/> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

My name is Steph!

Academically, I’ve completed my BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education Studies and gained my Early Years Teacher Status. From which, I worked as a Foundation Stage Teacher within a small primary school. Not one to take it easy, I’ve completed my Masters in Education and have completed my certificate in Education this year too, which is very exciting!

Writing about early years ensures that I can keep up to date with research and developments within this sector whilst teaching FE and helps me to ensure that I’m always challenging myself and my students within lessons. Thanks for taking the time to read my articles and I look forward to sharing some more of my ideas with you. I also appreciate and look forward to hearing any comments that you do have about them!