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In September 2017, each childminder will have to decide for themselves whether to offer parents some or all of the 30 funded hours. With the new funding rates, some childminders will find themselves better off and that offering the 30 hours could even be a good business opportunity. But many childminders are worried that they will HAVE to offer funded hours, and at less than their current hourly rates, or risk losing business to nurseries and other childminders. The uncertainty of the hourly rate, poor communication from some local authorities and anxiety about planning ahead is making this a very stressful change for many childminders.
What should you do if you feel you HAVE to offer at least some of the funded hours?
Not everyone feels they have a choice when it comes to offering the funded hours. Many childminders feel they will HAVE to offer the 30 hours or they will lose business to nurseries or other childminders who do. So if you are going to offer the 30 hours, here are three things you should consider:
1. Look into how you can exploit the ‘top up loop hole’.
The legislation is leaving a nice loop hole that you can and should exploit about “extra charges”. Many local authorities refuse to call them “top up charges”, but that is essentially what they are. For example, if you are currently charging £5 an hour and your local authority says it will pay you £4 an hour for funded children, then you should seriously consider charging parents £1 an hour directly for ‘activities, outings and food’ etc. so that you are not out of pocket. I’m sure with a bit of creativity you can work this loop hole to make sure you don’t end up worse off under the funding. You will have to be careful about how you phrase this because the extra charges are not supposed to be “compulsory” or “conditional on taking up the space”. But I do feel that these extra charges give you some flexibility around your hourly rate and could be applied creatively where needed.
2. Look into “blended care” and find a partner now
Lots of parents are expected to split their 30 hours between different carers, such as a pre-school and a childminder. The government thinks that lots of parents will want to do this, and it could be a good business opportunity for you if you grab it now. If you plan to offer “blended care”, then you should get in contact with your proposed partner as soon as possible. Check out some working models of how you might offer blended care on the 30 Hours Toolkit published by the Families and childcare Trust.
3. Consider putting your prices up on under 3s and after school care
While this sounds awful, it may be necessary and I know that some nurseries will make up the shortfall in their funding this way. Many nurseries charge more for baby rooms now because of the extra staff needed, so if nurseries will make up the funding shortfall by putting their prices up in their baby rooms, why shouldn’t childminders? If you feel pushed into offering care at a lower rate than works for you, then this is certainly one option you could consider.
Approach this an opportunity not a threat
Really consider carefully whether you should do the funded places or not. Don’t just throw the idea out as impossible, or reluctantly take that pay cut and feel angry at the world. Make a business plan and work out how much this is likely to cost you (or benefit you) with realistic estimates of how many children you are likely to have on your books at any point in time.
It is also important that you talk to YOUR parents so you get a feeling for what they will be likely to do – will they stay with you even if they have to pay a “top up fee”, or will they run for the cheapest care option going?
The most important thing to remember over the next few months is to have the attitude that you are not going to let nurseries or other childminders steal your business. Don’t let yourself slip into the feeling of inevitability, that it is all somehow out of your control and the government is going to destroy your childminding business! Every childminder is in a different situation so do be very careful not to pay too much attention to every horror story you read on Facebook which could be very different from what will be happening in your local authority. You can and will retain and even work all this change to your advantage, if you stay on top of the changes, plan ahead and keep a positive attitude.
Two articles from industry leaders with sensible 30 hours’ information
If you are worried about the introduction of the 30 hours – then have a read of these two articles which are the two best sources of sensible information I’ve read on the subject to date:
This article by Pacey will put your mind at ease about a lot of the rumours you might have heard, so read this, including the comments section. It’s a good article and answers a lot of questions.
This article from Nursery World gives you information on the national funding formula minimum rate and what that means for childminders.
You might also want to read my blog about hourly rates and setting sensible pricing:
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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.
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