Working with your husband as your assistant

Judith, from St Ives in Cambridgeshire, has been childminding since 2013. She runs a busy childminding business with 20 children on her books. She has taken on apprentices and now her husband, Neil, has joined as her assistant and has a central role to play in the success of the business.

I love childminding – I have worked in childcare all my adult life, but I much prefer being home-based and seeing how the children grow and flourish whilst they are with me – we have so much fun together.

I started off on my own but there was so much demand that growing my business felt like the right next step.  I took on an apprentice from the local College and she was fantastic. She quickly bonded with the children and was a real asset to my setting. When she moved on, I was keen to take on another apprentice, but this didn’t go so well. She did not seem motivated to be at the setting and was very unreliable, often letting me down with little advance warning.

I found this really tough as I had had such a great experience with the first apprentice. I knew that I had to take action early before the situation got worse. I had a very frank discussion with her and she agreed that she didn’t feel childcare was for her, so we agreed to end the arrangement amicably. I think it’s really important to take prompt action as I’ve heard that you can get further problems down the line – I have heard of some disgruntled apprentices who have made malicious complaints to Ofsted, so prompt action protects your business. Being really clear about expectations, roles and responsibilities is also really important when you first take on an apprentice – and have everything written down so there is no room for misunderstanding.

When my husband suggested joining me as my assistant, I thought this was a great idea and he’s now been my assistant for 18 months. The children love having him around - he’s the funny one and is often on his hands and knees crawling around and laughing with the children.

I have good links with the local community; I work fairly closely with children’s centres and local primary schools due to drop offs. I decided to deliver the free entitlement as I felt it was a good way to help families as well as getting extra business. At first I didn’t foresee problems as the rate my local authority was charging was quite comparable to my rate. For this reason I don’t charge parents any extras.  However, now the majority of my children take the funded hours so I am starting to see an impact on my income so from September I will be looking to introduce charges for extras such as food, nappies and sundries.

For many childminders who go into the business because they are motivated by working with children, it’s hard to think of yourself as a business owner. But at the end of the day, I can only give my best to the children in my care if I am able to sustain my business. My husband tells me “You need to have your business head on”. I can see why it’s so important to treat your business as a business and being clear with parents about the costs.

I get lots of help and advice from the PACEY magazine, training courses and PACEY support visits. Both myself and my husband did the HBCA training with PACEY – we found it really helpful when we were starting out. People told me that you couldn’t get Outstanding at your first Ofsted visit – but I did ! I’m always looking to improve my services as much as possible so that I can help my families to the best of my abilities.

My advice to anyone thinking of growing their business would be to get support and advice from other childminders and from PACEY advisors also. For me, the biggest benefits have been watching children grow and progress, being kept on my toes, having an exciting and rewarding career and having professional and financial developments.

I would like to see more funding for childminding , but if you’re in this profession and you enjoy it then it’s a fabulous career to have.’

Judith's top tips:

  • Taking on an apprentice can be a real asset – but you need to be really clear about expectations, roles and responsibilities. Have everything written down so there is no room for misunderstanding and take action early if things start to go wrong.
  • It can be hard to think of yourself as a business owner. But building a sustainable business is the only way of ensuring you can continue to give your best to the children in your care.
  • Get support and advice from other childminders and from PACEY advisors also – you’re bound to come across someone who’s been through it before.
  • Keep updated on your training – it keeps you fresh and means you’re not in a panic when Ofsted next comes to call. Online training is a great option for flexible learning.