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Childminder Agency Update

There are now 20 childminder agencies being piloted in England and, despite extensive lobbying against the concept of an agency by PACEY and others, legislation making them a legal reality is on its final stages through Westminster. From next September, agencies will become part of the childcare landscape. So PACEY has taken time to review its current policy on agencies.

Through this review, PACEY reaffirmed that it will continue to raise the following key policy concerns:

  • the negative impact agencies could have on the perceived quality and professional standing of childminding to decision makers, childminders, parents etc
  • the risk of increased costs (in agency fees) to parents and childminders
  • the available evidence that shows agencies do not drive up quality of care for children
  • that childminders do not have to join an agency – it must never be compulsory

PACEY will continue to raise awareness of the fact that agencies are an optional route to registration and childminders can choose to remain independently registered with Ofsted. Childminders do not have to join an agency.

Indeed PACEY will continue to encourage childminders to retain their individual registration with Ofsted for all the positive reasons we have communicated so far. Where a childminder remains independent, PACEY will continue to raise awareness that a local authority must continue to provide them with support (as set out in their statutory duties).  This will be especially important in childminder agency pilot areas where independent childminders are concerned they may be left without the support they would traditionally access from LAs.

As part of all this, PACEY will now regularly review the pilots as they develop, to better monitor their impact on the issues above, and will be asking members to support it by providing local intelligence.

Up until now, PACEY has not provided government or regulators with any advice on the development of childminder agencies nor the regulation that will set the minimum standards they will be required to meet by Ofsted. Going forward, this will remain the case for the development of agencies e.g. PACEY will not advise government or organisations running pilots how to ensure a successful business model, one which is viable, attractive to childminders and parents alike, and navigates the myriad of tax, insurance and other liability issues that come with agencies delivering services to families via self-employed individuals.

PACEY remains concerned about agencies and does not want to help them to succeed. However, PACEY exists to ensure high standards of care and learning to all children in childcare, and has recognised that there will be increasing numbers of children cared for by agency childminders as they become law in September 2014. So PACEY has decided that it now needs to start to advise government and regulators on how to develop a robust registration and inspection framework that ensures minimum standards for childminder agencies; keep children safe and still enable childminders to deliver quality childcare to children and families.

PACEY will be providing this advice and scrutiny at a national level. Where PACEY is currently under contract, to support a local authority's childminding development and that local authority is also piloting an agency approach, PACEY staff will mirror that advice and scrutiny on what an agency will for required through regulation to do. However, PACEY staff will not assist pilot childminder agencies to develop their business model nor with the marketing and promotion of the agency to local childminders.

In summary PACEY will continue to oppose the agency model on the grounds of cost, the negative impact it will have on childminder professionalism and a lack of evidence that they will drive up quality for children but will provide advice and scrutiny on proposals for the regulatory framework for agencies.

On behalf of our members, PACEY will scrutinise the childminder agency models by gathering information from staff working in the pilot areas, reviewing public domain information on pilot agency programmes of support, and via direct member feedback. This position will allow PACEY to focus its efforts on defining the minimum standards any agency should meet, whilst continuing to highlight the risks the model presents and the need to provide the vast majority of childminders (who choose not to join an agency) with support. The agency pilots will be evaluated in summer 2014. PACEY will review its position on these issues again, in light of this evaluation.

Queries from childminder agency pilots with which PACEY has contracts will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis during the pilot period, to ensure consistency of messaging.  Please email agency.monitor@pacey.org.uk if you have any queries.