Frankly, childminding has changed a lot since I started in 2004. There was more training; excellent financial and professional support from my local authority early years team including regular network meetings. I felt connected and part of something bigger, as opposed more isolated in my local area like I am now. Childminders have been leaving the sector at an alarming rate and honestly, I’m shocked I’m still here. I’ve faced all the same challenges as everybody else and overcome them, but the extended offer for 3 and 4 year olds would prove to be more challenging than I could ever have imagined.
Simply put, I was in a position where if we didn’t offer it then families would go to a provider who did. But then if we did offer it, it would be at 80p per hour less than our hourly rate. I agonised over how I could make that work. Asking parents to voluntarily make up the difference could make them look elsewhere, where they really could get the offer for “free” as advertised. The choice was stark - not offer it, and lose income: offer it, and lose income. Last May a local nursery unexpectedly offered 3 of our children their universal FNE from the day after their 3rd birthday rather than waiting until the start of autumn term. Parents couldn’t resist. We couldn’t blame them. That cost us £900 a month. That same month our gas payment went up from £98 to £145 per month. Our water rates, council tax and home insurance had just gone up in April and of course we couldn’t compete with that offer.
I was worried that if we tried to get by with less then standards and quality would surely slip – and it would soon show. Would we have sufficient to keep up with our commitment to ongoing training and development? Would we have enough to replace and replenish resources? We had children on our waiting list but they weren’t due to start until September. Could they start any sooner at all? Could we manage for the next 4 months or should we call it a day? I decided we’d press on but without offering any funded hours at all for 3 and 4 year olds. We’d work with 0-2’s and privately funding parents only and reassess the situation at the end of summer term.
I promoted vacancies fiercely but expected a drop in uptake without the shiny new “free” childcare offer and so I applied for new job. At interview I was honest: I explained I would still be managing my own business so that my sister could still work and that I must be able to do any admin work from home during weekends and evenings. Well anyway I got the job and that’s when I decided to do one of my lists: pros for remaining a Childminder; pros for becoming a Family Mediator.
Childminding for me meant being able to raise my son (he’s 20 now), not having to commute, being able to make my own rules and decisions, having a better work life balance and being able to be outdoors all day long with the little ones. It reduced stress for me and made my family happier overall. To cut a long story short, there were no pros for becoming a Family Mediator.
So I geared up. Numbers dropped initially as parents went to settings that were offering something for “free” but two terms later, numbers bounced back up. I was honest with our families and they were understanding and supportive and determined to help us make it work. I spent every spare minute creating a brand new website with a whole new look and feel. Looking at my business from a fresh perspective was the best thing I ever did. It was like starting all over again and it made me focus on everything I loved about my work. Marketing my business takes up more time than it ever has in the past and can be like a job in itself. Contracts were renegotiated with parents which streamlined our working week, gave us longer weekends, and gave us a decent wage. And I’ve never been happier.
My advice to other childminders is to think very carefully about why you became a childminder in the first place. The advantages of working from home, for you and your family will probably be the same now as they were then. I would always consider anything you could save money on. If you’re printing out lots of information for learning journals (and you do still want to do learning journals), then stop and start thinking about more cost effective ways of doing this, or change how you do it completely. When it comes to activities for the children, my advice would be to not waste anything. Lids from felt tip pens often get thrown away with dried out pens but why not keep them for loose parts play? Think about everything you throw away and ask yourself if and how it can be re-used (it’s good for the planet too!)
You could also start thinking about other methods for bringing in funds and resources. I began writing for early years magazines and writing product reviews, which not only provides us with regular good quality free resources for my setting but means we can donate anything we don’t need to families, other settings and local charities.
Childminding… the love affair is back on.
About the author
Andi Turner is a triple outstanding childminder who writes from the heart on the day to day trials and tribulations of early years providers, with an emphasis on putting the joy back into childminding.