As childminder numbers continue to decline (now down 27% from 2012), it’s a good time to take a look at your childminding business and check that you will not become the next statistic. I asked real childminders to share with me what they see as the biggest threats to their childminding business. Being aware of the ‘threats’ to your business is the first step to finding ways to deal with those them.
1. Mums and dads doing childcare favours/ granny care – resulting in lots of children using part time spaces
While many childminders do lose business to mums doing each other favours, one childminder writes that “I have a number of my parents who have a similar agreement with friends but over time the friends don’t want to tie themselves to the commitment of caring for someone else’s little one on a regular basis. The casual basis of the relationship means that it can break down easily. I often warn parents that, although favours are a nice idea, in practise these arrangements often break down and this can leave parents in a sticky situation. Grandparents are more of a threat than friends because they are more reliable.”
Another childminder finds that she gets less full time children these days, because people try to mix granny care with a childminder. “I find it rare these days to get full timers as in a lot of families grandma does one or two days a week for them.”
This childminder of 22 years writes: “Me and my co-minder have a lot of kids on our books 22 in all. Not one of them do more than 3 days a week, some only come for 1 day a week. This is very different from how it was even 10 years ago.”
2. Negative press on childminders
Childminders are frequently haunted by people referring to them as “babysitters” in the press and there have been many high profile media moments where childminders are portrayed as unqualified and not as good as nurseries. One childminder writes, “there is just not enough positive press promoting our profession and highlighting differences from nurseries in a positive way.” Another childminder read an article in which childminders were described as “allowing children to eat junk food all day. Utter rubbish. I am complemented by my clients on the meals I prepare. I don’t give them sweets at all!”
3. 30 hours “free” childcare
For many childminders the 30 hours ‘free’ funding continues to be the biggest threat to their business with many childminders feeling obliged to offer the funded hours so as not to lose business to nurseries, but then operating at a loss. One childminder writes: “If we don’t offer it then parents look elsewhere. If we do offer it then we are over £1 per hour out of pocket (£30 a week per child).” Many childminders find that children have now reduced their hours to take advantage of the funding. Other childminders find the funding paperwork overwhelming alongside cash flow problems with delays in getting paid.
4. Cheap after school clubs at schools
One of the worst things that can happen to many childminders is learning that their local school is going to open an after school club or a holiday club. One childminder writes: “we have a holiday club here that is £15 per half day but if you use a code to book then it’s half price. So 8-1 for £7.50 Everyone round here knows about the code now and I just can’t compete.”
5. Health visitors and other professionals like nursery workers not working with childminders
While some childminders have told me that health visitors have found their Progress Check reports very helpful, there are still many health visitors who treat childminders as unqualified and don’t even read them. One childminder writes: “I would like to recognised as a professional. I would like health visitors to promote childminders to parents, not to brain wash them to think that nurseries are the only and best option.”
Another childminder finds the lack of information sharing between nurseries and herself very hard to deal with which she describes as “professional snobbery, partly due to our title (I feel). There is the attitude that you’re just a childminder and can’t possibly be as qualified as them. So why should they work with you?”
6. The demands of Ofsted!
Many childminders hark back to a time before Ofsted did inspections and feel that it is unfair to be graded on the same criteria as a nursery. One childminder writes: “I would love to be assessed as a home from home, not in line with nurseries.” Another childminder hates the “growing amount of red tape, paperwork, Ofsted telling me I need a policy for example but won’t tell me what I need in it.”
7. The word ‘childminder’ is not professional
Even though the scope of the job of a childminder has come to mean so much more than it did 20 years ago, the word ‘childminder’ remains and many people see the word as part of the problem of being treated unprofessionally. One childminder writes: “I think we should change our name as childminder does us no real justice. Early years practitioner sounds better. The amount of people that say I’m just a childminder or a babysitter, even though we do everything that a nursery would. We offer support to parents that other services can’t.”
8. Lack of support and large training costs
Having a support worker at your council can be very helpful, especially when you are new to childminding or when you want to be kept informed of changes introduced by Ofsted. In many parts of the country, childminders get literally no support at all from their councils. Childminders without local support find my newsletters especially helpful I find, so please sign up (it’s free).
Training costs of safeguarding and first aid courses are also very expensive especially for new childminders or those who are out of work.
9. Strict ratios make it hard to compete with nurseries – unfairness that it is different
Strict ratios on the number of EYFS children that childminders can look after make it very important to really do the math in terms of taking on part time children. It also seems enormously unfair that nurseries have such different ratios – many experienced and qualified childminders could easily look after more children. One childminder writes: “I think that it’s ridiculous to think that a childminder is unable to care for more than 3 children under 5! you should be able to take on a new family and have 4 children + (not just continuity of care.) An individual childminder knows what workload they can cope with.”
10. Nurseries and play groups
Nurseries, play groups and other childcare providers will always represent a threat to childminders as parents have lots of choice. Schools often hand out flyers for the local nursery, but won’t hand out flyers for childminders. One childminder writes, “My biggest threat is the number of cheap nurseries opening near me!!”. Another childminder with a new nursery opening near to her writes, “I live within walking distance to the nursery and I’ve had parents round but have chosen the nursery because they offer more learning experiences. Can’t compete with them really can I?”
Being aware of threats is important in any business – including childminding
You can’t keep running along with your eyes closed hoping that if you don’t look at a problem that it will go away. Your business is important and I am sorry if you have been or are being affected by any of the issues listed here. Being aware of the competition, knowledge of what issues affect you is generally the first step to finding a solution.
Turn ‘threats’ into ‘opportunities’
In business one strategy is to turn ‘threats’ into ‘opportunities’. In other words, if a nursery opens in your neighbourhood, you need to be aware. Then you need to make a plan for how you are going to make sure you don’t lose business to the new nursery. Why is the service you offer BETTER than that nursery for example? How do you communicate this message to parents in your area?
Take control of the issues you can:
Promote yourself. What makes your business unique? Why should parents continue to choose you over nursery or cheaper option?
Be smart about what childminding paperwork you do. Don’t do too much. Don’t do the paperwork FOR Ofsted; do it because it is useful.
If you want to be seen as a professional by parents, nursery workers and health visitors, your Progress Checks, Learning Journeys and other information that you share need to be of professional quality.
Remember that this is your BUSINESS, so do the math. Check your hourly rate is sustainable. If you can’t afford to take on part time children then don’t let them fill up your spaces. Don’t offer funded hours if you can’t afford to. Write it down properly and work out what you can afford. Don’t be afraid to say no!
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About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.