This month the Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NICMA) officially opened its new premises, Elizabeth House, in East Belfast and launched a social media campaign to reinforce the importance of parents using registered childminders to care for their children in the Western Trust area.
For the last 35 years NICMA has been delivering supporting services for registered childminders who provide 16,284 day care places for children across Northern Ireland.
Patricia Lewsley-Mooney CBE, NICMA CEO, discusses the integrated communications campaign, which is being funded by the Western Childcare Partnership and supported by Family Support NI.
“We felt that it was important to get parents to think about their choice of childminder. We know that parents ultimately want to keep their children safe, and some parents will feel that they have a choice to make between using a registered childminder or an unregistered childminder.
“However, quite simply there is no choice. The law is very clear, anybody looking after children for more than two hours a day, for reward, must register with the Health and Social Care Trust. This is to keep children safe. Registered childminders will have completed Access NI Checks on all individuals in the household over the age of 10 and will have Public Liability insurance.
“A registered childminder will also be required to update mandatory training every 3 years. They will be registered by the Trust and inspected on an annual basis by Early Years Social Workers. These checks help to keep your child safe, so you really should mind who is looking after your child. In addition, we provide advice and work in partnership with other organisations such as Family Support NI and the Western Childcare Partnership, who detail local services and information to support you and your family.”
The integrated communications campaign which runs until January 2020 focuses primarily on the Western Trust area. Patricia adds:
“Over a four year period the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) area has seen a decline in registered childminders from 580 in March 2015 to 504 in March 2019. This represents a decrease of 12% and a reduction of 456 day care places in the WHSCT area.
“We believe that this campaign will reinforce to parents the importance of using a registered childminder and that it may prompt unregistered childminders to get registered. By completing the relevant mandatory training, Access NI checks and getting public liability insurance in place, they will be helping to not only keep the children in their care safe, but to protect themselves.”
During 2018-2019, the Childcare Partnerships commissioned several regional organisations to undertake a review of the issues impacting on their specific areas of the childcare sector. NICMA reviewed the Childminding sector and had identified the need to increase awareness amongst parents of the benefits of engaging a registered childminder to look after their children. The Western Childcare Partnership was approached for funding to implement a campaign within the Western Trust Area for this purpose, which they were happy to support.
In NICMA’s State of the Sector Report (2017) 37% of respondents stated that they knew an unregistered childminder operating in their area and 55% of all respondents believed that unregistered childminders undermined the childminding profession.
The purpose of registration is to protect children, to provide reassurance to parents using childcare and to ensure that childminding services meet minimum standards.
The Minimum Standards for Childminding & Day Care for Children Under Age 12, which were launched in July 2012 by the Department of Health, ensures quality childcare for all children and parents who use registered services. For the first time, they mean that all parents and children who use registered childcare can expect to receive a consistent minimum standard of care, no matter where they are in Northern Ireland.
Throughout 2019/20, the Western Childcare Partnership (WCP) will be supporting the awareness campaign to which it is hoped will also promote childcare as a career option to address the decreasing number of childcare places within the area and also to challenge unregistered childcare within the WCP locality.
NICMA’s evidence also implies that parents are sometimes unaware of the difference between using a registered versus and unregistered childminder. Grainne Scullion from Dungannon, who is the new Development Officer for NICMA in the Western area, discusses some of the findings:
“Anecdotal evidence obtained by NICMA would also suggest that when parents are choosing childcare there is a lack of understanding in the difference between a registered childminder and an unregistered childminder. This campaign very clearly sets out the differences.
“Evidence also implies that parents are sometimes unaware of the financial benefits of using a registered childminder. There are different types of help available for qualifying childcare costs through the benefits system or tax relief. Employers For Childcare Family Benefits Advice Service<https://www.employersforchildcare.org/parents/family-benefits-advice-service/> provide free, confidential and impartial advice setting out your best options for support, and what is the best choice for your family depending on your specific circumstances. The Advisors are available on Freephone 0800 028 3008 Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm.”
Fiona Scallon Farrell, a registered childminder from Enniskillen who has been childminding and a member of NICMA for over two decades, talks about the job:
“I love childminding. I’ve been doing the job for over 23 years and every day I have a real sense of job satisfaction. The interactions with the children in my care are fun. You can really see children grow, develop and learn. Childminding plays a transformative role in children’s lives. The training, checks and visits are critical to keep the children safe and it’s only what you would expect, if you were leaving your child with someone to ensure peace of mind.
“Children are precious, they need to be safe. As a registered childminder, I am professional in my approach and I am committed to continuous personal development and training to ensure I deliver a service to the best of my ability. I would encourage others to consider childminding as a career. It is so rewarding and the flexibility it offers means you can choose how many hours you wish to work every week.”
For further information please contact Grainne Scullion, Development Officer for NICMA in the Western Trust, on M: 07517472271