We're now a week into April. March was a tumultuous month, one in which the whole world has been turned upside down. I've certainly never known a situation as all-encompassing and fast moving as the one created by the current Coronavirus pandemic. The government enforced closure of schools and childcare settings, while completely and understandably necessary, has resulted in endless issues for childcare providers and parents alike.
We have heard of nurseries and larger childcare settings closing because they cannot afford to operate for just a handful of key worker children. Key workers are reportedly struggling to find childcare and as a result there has been an influx of unregistered childcare springing up. Parents who now are keeping their children at home have been terminating contracts with their childminders because the service is not available and they cannot afford to pay, leaving childminders uncertain of their future. All the while, newly registered childminders are struggling to find any hope with the financial packages on offer from the government.
I am a childminder myself, and am facing the same uncertain time as you. I went, and am still working through the gamut of emotions that I’m sure you did - when we had to close our settings with just two days' notice; the uncertainty over who could open and what care we could provide. The stress over lack of information concerning what support the government would offer to self-employed childminders. Where would my money come from to pay next month’s bills? Will I work again?
My childminding setting is closed. I don’t have vulnerable children and the only key worker children I have also have another parent who is working from home. It meant I had parents contact me and give notice almost immediately. I knew that my contracts stated that if I can’t work then the parents don’t have to pay. But this is not my fault! How unfair that I was forced to close! Where did that leave me? All I felt I could do was throw myself on the mercy of any of my parents who were still receiving a full income and ask them to support me. A couple of them responded by offering to pay a retainer, but some of my parents are impacted financially as well - they are self-employed, too. How could I expect them to pay me? None of us know how long this will last for. Can I really ask for an indefinite retainer from them? Some are concerned about what might happen next, so are conserving their funds - who can really blame them? I am now getting quite creative at keeping in touch with those families in the hope that they will come back at the end of this all, but how many will do is uncertain.
These issues are all adding to what was already an extremely worrying time for our early years sector.
Anger is a natural emotional reaction to have to this uncertainty, but this situation is no one’s fault. Everyone has been affected by this crisis. All around the world. Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down. Right across the globe.
More than ever, at this time of uncertainty we need to come together and talk. We need to be kind to each other. As childcare providers we need to understand our parents and their financial concerns and explain to them our own concerns. We know as consumers ourselves, we wouldn’t expect to pay for a service we are not receiving. Add to that the fact that some parents may not be financially able to pay a voluntary contribution. Nevertheless, parents need to understand the financial difficulties childminders are facing at this time. We have to speak openly and honestly with them.
We know that when things eventually return to normal, the nation's children will once again need childcare. So how can we work together to ensure that there's a vibrant and robust childcare sector at the end of this? This pandemic could change the shape of the early years sector forever - but we, together with PACEY, could be part of shaping that change.
As PACEY Chair I am having regular discussions with our Chief Executive and other PACEY staff, I am listening to what is being done and ensuring that any grass roots concerns I receive are fed through. I know just how hard PACEY works for the sector at any time and never more so than now. I know this because PACEY is always the voice of childminders when that voice is needed and I know this because PACEY will never stop campaigning and being there for you, even when everything feels lost.
We need to talk to each other. We are all in this together and so we need to work together.
If you have questions please ask PACEY. They’re there to help you.