Childminders ‘losing income’ as some schools ban them from drop-off and pick-up
- Credit: AMY BAYLISS
Childminders are being banned from picking up or dropping off children from some schools, it has emerged, which is another blow for a sector struggling during the coronavirus crisis.
Childminder businesses, where children are cared for in childminders’ own homes, have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, which is forcing some to close for good.
Practitioners in Suffolk have spoken to us about the struggles facing the sector, including the financial hit of the crisis and the emotional impact of not seeing the children they usually care for.
Currently, government guidelines allow them to take children from one household (if they are not already looking after vulnerable children or those of critical workers) and from Monday, June 1, they can open their doors fully, mirroring more children returning to schools.
But some parents are choosing to wait until later in the summer or September, and others may not return to their childminders at all.
MORE: ‘We don’t want kids to be traumatised’ - schools and nurseries on preparing for more children in JuneIt has also come to light that some schools are banning childminders from dropping off or picking up children in their care as they are a separate “bubble”, having interpreted government guidance as meaning these small bubbles of children or settings can’t mix.
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Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY (the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years), said nothing in the government guidance said they should be prevented from dropping off and collecting at school sites.
Amy Bayliss, a registered childminder from Bury St Edmunds, said she knew of local schools doing this, adding: “From a childminder’s point of view, that’s our business and they are taking it away from us. That’s an income gone.”
A petition is now underway to stop the ban, which has attracted more than 10,000 signatures.
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Ms Bayram said childminders should be treated “no differently to the parents or relatives collecting other children attending school”.
She said: “Childminders play a vital role in ensuring that parents and carers can return to work. We know that our members are clearly following government guidance and taking every possible step to minimise the risk of spreading the virus in their settings.
“Childminders, like all other childcare providers, have taken a huge hit financially to their businesses yet many have continued to care for key workers’ and vulnerable children whilst others have stayed in touch with their families to provide support for home learning.
“They need every possible assistance to sustain their businesses so they can continue to provide a vital service to children and families.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said schools and childminders should work together to ensure transmission risks are reduced where parents need to use childminders for wraparound care.
Mrs Bayliss, who is a key practitioner for Suffolk which means she supports other childminders, said: “I have had quite a lot of emails and calls from people. It’s just horrendous really. For new childminders or part-time childminders, they have not been able to get any help from the government.
“There’s one who’s on the breadline now and she’s got four children of her own. It’s really, really horrible.”
Mrs Bayliss, who has four children of her own aged from two to 14, is currently caring for one child from a key worker family and is not expecting to take on any more youngsters until later in the summer.
She has been able to access the government’s self-employment grant (called the Self-Employment Income Scheme) - and is still getting early years entitlements - but this has not been the case for everyone.
Sara Sindell, from Elmswell, is a registered childminder as a second job, but said she was losing a “substantial” amount from not having her school drop-off and collection work and did not qualify for the self-employment grant.
“I have got a job I’m employed for so I’m still getting a wage, but I’m losing out on quite a big chunk of income,” she said.
MORE: Parents urged not to loiter and chat with other friends by school gates on June 1 returnMrs Sindell, who has two children of her own aged nine and 10, said she started looking after a child from a key worker family last week and will take on another youngster in June.
However, she said she had not been affected by the school drop-off and pick-up issue.
Mrs Bayliss, who runs Huggles Childcare, said she was in “quite a good position” because of the funding she has managed to secure from the government, but “there’s been lots and lots quitting and shutting their doors for good and looking for other jobs because of the worry”.
She welcomed yesterday’s announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak that the self-employment grant would be extended to cover a further three months’ income.
“This is absolutely fantastic,” she said. “It’s a lifeline to so many people. Unfortunately, so many that are newly-registered [childminders] are not eligible for it.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, added: “We urge the government to reconsider its stance on this issue and ensure that newly-employed childminders are able to benefit from the same level of support as the rest of the childminding sector.”
A report by childcare platform Yoopies found almost a quarter of childminders are working at a reduced salary or for free and over half of childminders are unable to access government funding.
For childminders, not seeing all the usual children they care for has been “absolutely horrendous”, Mrs Bayliss said.
Video calls and interaction with parents on social media has been a way of keeping in contact.
Mrs Sindell said: “The children I look after are all in the same year groups as my daughters. They are missing that social contact. It’s like a little after-school club.”
She said they had been writing letters to each other and baking cakes for each other and dropping them off.
“I think it will be a lovely reunion when they can have more contact with each other,” she said.
‘Childminders need more recognition from the government’
Mrs Bayliss said keeping up with the changing government guidance had been “a bit of a nightmare”, and due to latest information her own two year and the three year old she cares for can no longer play in the sandpit.
She said there also needed to be more recognition from the government for the sector.
“The government have just ignored childminders. We have just been left out of the loop. There’s no respect, just a lack of understanding of what our job is. We cover all seven areas of learning.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Childminders are uniquely placed to support parents of school-age children as well as those in the early years. Plans for a cautious, phased return of educational settings - including childminders - are based on the best scientific and medical advice. The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision making.”
They added: “We have also published detailed guidance on the protective measures childminders should take to reduce the risk of transmission and will be keeping this under review in line with wider government coronavirus measures.”