Jackie Millerchip is a childminder and founder of Diverse and Unique Care; a childcare business that was established as a direct result of the difficulties she and the people she knew had encountered when seeking help for children that required special care.
After caring for her own daughters who had complex medical needs, Jackie went on to become a childminder specialising in looking after children with special needs. Jackie took on her first disabled child 10 years ago and went on to open Diverse and Unique Care in 2010; since then she's been providing outstanding care to individuals of all ages and abilities.
We got in touch with award winning PACEY member Jackie following the Levelling the Playing Field campaign. The campaign highlights the issues families with disabled children face in accessing suitable free childcare. The campaign revealed how significant the barrier accessing provision is, including how one parent had to approach around 30 providers before finding one that would support her child. It calls on the Chancellor to address the inequality so often faced by disabled children in the current childcare system.
To help support the Levelling the Playing Field campaign we want to shine a light on the benefits of caring for children with SEND. We talked to Jackie to highlight her experiences to help inspire and educate more of our members.
What first inspired you to start caring for children with SEND?
I had two daughters both of whom were registered disabled in their younger years. I couldn’t find any individual willing to care for my children so had no choice but to give up work.
I then started childminding from home as this suited the needs of my children and allowed for a financial income. It was as though my children were alienated because they had additional needs that people did not want responsibility for.
What was your first experience of caring for children with SEND as a childcare professional like?
I was first approached by a mother who had been a long term friend; her child was born with Downs Syndrome and was having difficulties accessing provisions for her child due to their needs.
I was more than happy to accommodate the child, in most cases caring for a child with SEND is no different to caring for a child without SEND. In some instances they may require additional support, however support and training is provided for childcare practitioners to ensure they are competent in meeting the needs of the child concerned.
Tell us about the process for applying for funded hours for those with SEND
The process itself is no different to applying for funded hours for children without SEND, it was straightforward; certain criteria and terms and conditions do apply and these can be discussed with provider. PACEY has a helpful factsheet to help you apply for funded hours.
The family information service in your local authority will support you with the application and will address any concerns that you may have. Registration can take several weeks and in some instances inspections may be needed.
How do you think the process of being a childcare professional caring for children for SEND could be improved?
Positive promotion to ensure that families have access to a varied selection of provision within the area by encouraging providers to provide care for children with SEND.
Why do you think there is such difficulty for parents with children with SEND finding high quality childcare professionals to care for their children using funded hours?
I think for many people it's the fear of the unknown and the extra responsibility often associated with caring for children with SEND. However, I feel the care they receive is not different from a child without SEND; every child who accesses the setting is treated equally but at the same time regarded as unique; a principle underpinned by the EYFS, the statutory framework implemented in all childcare settings in England.
How did the experience with your own daughters have an impact on your perspective on childcare and SEND?
I often felt as though my children were alienated and disassociated from friends. People had a fear and did not want the added responsibility or pressures that are often associated with caring for a child with disabilities. This impacted heavily on their learning and development, more specifically socialising; particularly for one of my daughters who lacked confidence.
How do you feel inequality is an issue with families that have disabled children finding childcare? What do you feel is the solution to this?
Inequality is an issue when attempting to access care for a child with SEND, ultimately I feel that it comes down to the responsibility, which is more often than not the case. People, although reluctant to admit it, will also have fears and concerns. However with adequate support and training they should be more than competent to care for children with SEND. If more providers were willing it would give greater choice to families and allow for children to engage with other children of different ages and abilities.
What would you say to someone looking to care for children with SEND?
Access training and support where possible, make an informed choice and ask questions when needed to ensure you feel competent to care for a child with additional needs and most importantly, give it a go. It is difficult to explain in words, but it is very rewarding and the support you provide to families is needed.
PACEY offers free training for members that could help boost your knowledge and confidence including:
What feedback do you receive from parents in support of your work as their childcare professional?
It allows them to spend time with their other children and family members, confident that their child is cared for in a secure, loving, home from home environment where their needs are met.
Parents of children without disabilities often say how it educates their children about disability which in turn helps prevent discrimination. For many children, children with SEND are no different from themselves.
What are your proudest moments in your childcare career?
- Being recognised as an outstanding provider by Ofsted.
- Allocated funding to construct a sensory cabin within the setting
- Winning Inspirational Woman of the Year in 2011, having been nominated by a parent for the contributions and work efforts I have given to many families during my career.