Childcare pledge to offer new hope for parents

Zoe and Cara-Mae. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Zoe and Cara-Mae. Pic: Ian Georgeson

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WORKING parents in the Capital are set to enjoy more flexible free childcare after council chiefs signed up for a new trial.

All three and four-year-olds in Scotland, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds, are currently entitled to 600 hours of free childcare each year. In Edinburgh, this care is restricted to rigidly timetabled nursery places – but now childminders are set to be drafted in to offer more parents more choice over when they use their free hours.

Council chiefs are acting now to prepare for 2020, when the number of annual free hours almost doubles to 1140.

The move follows calls from the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) and has been backed by parents. There are currently 322 registered childminders in the Capital.

Maggie Simpson, chief executive of SCMA, said: “Childminders provide high-quality care and offer low adult-to-child ratios, which is particularly important for raising attainment and supporting families.

“Childminders are essential to the early learning and childcare workforce, offering a unique blended childcare approach to suit the vital needs of children and their families – and parents can be confident that quality is not comprised when local authorities commission childminding services.”

Mum-of-one Zoe Grayson, from Craigentinny, has been using a childminder for her daughter Cara-Mae, two, and said the service had huge benefits for working parents.

Zoe, 37, said traditional nursery hours could be difficult for parents to fit around their jobs.

She said: “I think it would be great, it would encourage people to consider childminders more and it would give childminders a higher profile.

“I don’t know if people appreciate the fact that they have to adhere to all the same standards that a nursery does.

“It’s not just having a babysitter, it’s someone who provides high-quality childcare but in a home setting. If this doesn’t come into play for some childminders it’s almost not worth them working because they’ll lose their regular clients when they hit that nursery age.

“They should be given the same opportunities as nurseries to be given the funding.”

Zoe’s daughter is looked after by Edinburgh childminder Shannon Lindsay.

Shannon, 52, said some children coped better in the small home environment and stressed choice was vital.

She added: “It’s not that nurseries aren’t doing a lot right it’s just not giving people the choice.

“The bottom line is parents should have the choice.

“With childminding services it’s flexible, it’s very nurturing and it results in strong attachments. The children become part of your home.

“It’s a nice job but sometimes I do wish it was a wee more valued, I don’t mean by parents [but] just take on board what we offer.”

City education leader Cammy Day said the council was committed to offering affordable childcare for working parents.

Councillor Day said: “We recognise the valuable role childminders play in a child’s development and have made a bid to the Scottish Government to take part in a trial with childminders on providing more flexible childcare models.

“As part of our phased approach to implementing the 600-hour increase we have been building up capacity in our own early years estate before extending our provision to partner organisations.

“As we move forward to delivering the target of 1140 hours by 2020 we are absolutely committed looking at more flexible opportunities for parents and the use of childminders who offer high-quality childcare is one way forward. The Capital Coalition is committed to establishing affordable childcare for working parents.”

florence.snead@jpress.co.uk