Career change to childminding

Sarah and Drew have between them clocked up 20 years working in the police force, and another 12 years of army life. It was an inspiring encounter with a male childminder that gave Drew the idea for them to start a new career as childminders. After completing their HBCA with PACEY in September 2016 they haven’t looked back. Here’s their story.

The story of how we became childminders is very much part of our ‘sales pitch’ to potential parents. We are called Hayton Family Childcare – and our family is central to our brand. We made a choice to end our careers in the police so that we could achieve a better work / life balance with our two boys. It’s a choice that we think brings something a bit special to the business. We realise that finding flexible, affordable, reliable – and high quality – childcare is absolutely vital to support family life. It’s something that we struggled to find as police officers, and it forms a central part of our offer.

We met while Drew was in the army, and the police force seemed a natural progression once we were married. At first it was a great career choice for both of us, but when children came along it soon became clear that it was going to be impossible to sustain. After four years juggling childcare when we both worked long and unpredictable shifts in the police, enough was enough. We found that we’d never have quality family time together – you can never plan ahead. If you’re in a marked police car and you see an incident on the way back to finish your shift, you have to deal with it – whatever time of day it is. At that point you have to extend your childcare and have no idea how long for – it was so difficult for us to find a childcare option that worked for us when our working pattern was so unpredictable.

One day Drew had an encounter that would have a life-changing impact. He was called to a house where a young boy had witnessed a distressing domestic incident. The boy was emotionally distraught and when my husband found out that he had a childminder, he took him there as a safe, known place until the incident was dealt with. When the male childminder answered the door, Drew saw the transformation in the boy – there was clearly such a strong bond between them and the boy immediately relaxed and was comforted by the childminder. Drew got talking and found out that the childminder was part of a husband and wife childminding team. That was the inspiration Drew needed – he came home and immediately began researching the options for training as a childminder. It didn’t take long to persuade me that this was a great idea for us and since then we’ve both been focused on making our business idea a reality.

It was clear that we would need a helping hand financially to start with – as we were in full time employment we couldn’t qualify for a training grant. We set about doing our market research and developed a business plan which helped us successfully apply for a business loan through the Business Enterprise Fund which covered the cost of the training. The PACEY HBCA provided us with a great kick-start and we were impressed with the amount of resources and free training available.

We also got one of the Government’s £500 Business Grants which covered some of the costs of buying resources and home improvements we needed to make so we could operate our business.

From then on, everything quickly fell into place. We joined the Northumberland Church of England Academy Childminder Agency and at our first CMA inspection we were delighted to receive a ‘good’ -  when we are both completely new to childcare this felt a real achievement. 

It won’t be a surprise that two children of police officers were amongst our first customers. We can care for up to 12 children, but don’t have any more than 10 at a time so that we provide that flexibility that we craved when we were working. Parents pay for the hours they use – we don’t charge late payments – and children can stay overnight if they need to. We currently have four children who use funded childcare, and for three of our children, we share their funded hours with the local pre-school. Our local authority rate matches our private rate, so we don’t need to charge extras – but parents bring along their own nappies and wipes which means that it works for us financially.

A lot of childminders worry about the amount of paperwork they have to do – but after a career in the police both Drew and I found this a walk in the park. In the police, paperwork is a huge part of the job. You have to write a report of what you’re going to do – and afterwards, you write down what happened, what you did and if it went wrong what you’re going to do to correct it. The paperwork in childminding is nothing compared to that.

Our boys have really relished having more time with us and play a big role in the success of our business. When the children go home for the day, we enjoy ‘turning the house around’ together. One of the most significant aspects of this is literally ‘turning the board around’ - we have a white board with ‘next steps’ on one side and a photo of our family on the back, so this helps us to reclaim our family home at the end of the day.

One of the things we’ve been struck by is the comments that Drew has had about his choice to end his police career for childminding. Some have even asked him ‘is it legal for you to be a childminder?’ He is a keen advocate for the need for more men in childcare – it is really important that children have positive male role models in their lives and I think he makes a fantastic childminder.

Drew has found childminding a great outlet for his creative skills – he’s the one who comes up with amazing ideas for crafts and ridiculous games that have the children rolling around in glee. I am the one who is strong on the policies, procedures and planning – so we make a great double act.

Together we have drawn up a vision for how we want to develop the business. First we’d like to take on an assistant; then in 5-7 years we want to open up a setting on non domestic premises, but with very much the same home-setting feel and Hayton family brand. Then in 10 to 15 years we can see ourselves opening up several properties under the same brand as part of a small franchise – let’s see what the future holds!

It’s clear that you can never take anything for granted when you’re running your own business. It takes a while to get established – it doesn’t happen overnight. We are still building up our business and having a long term plan and vision helps. One thing that we’ve learnt is that you have to be ready for the constant turnover of children and continually look ahead for children moving up to school or nursery and keeping an eye on your vacancies coming up. We did find that both being in the police force helped us to establish credibility and trust with parents – when you’re starting out you need something that helps persuade parents to trust you with their precious children.

For us, it has been a wonderful journey of discovery – of us learning  more about ourselves as well as helping our family grow into our new ‘normal’ as a childminding family. We are already reporting a profit –  and we have a sense of pride that we did it ourselves - we had a plan, we made it happen and we’ve never looked back.

Sarah and Drew's top tips:

  • Doing your research and setting out your business plan when you’re starting out will help – both in terms of getting a business loan, but also in setting a clear direction for your business
  • Don’t be disheartened if it takes a while to establish your business – it doesn’t happen overnight, but once you have a few families, you’ll start to build credibility and your reputation locally will quickly grow.
  • Your business brand is as important for you as it is for corporate businesses. When it’s your own business, your brand IS you. Think about those qualities that you bring personally that you can build on to make your business a natural extension of who you are.
  • Never take anything for granted – always have an eye out for the future and think about when you might have children move up to school or nursery so that vacancies don’t take you by surprise.
  • Don’t be afraid to set short, medium and long-term goals for your business – it’s important to have a vision so you know how you want your business to develop.

Helen's top tips