Childminders want ‘commitment’ to easing care restrictions

Under the Scottish Government's guidance, parents are advised to avoid blended care from multiple providers.

Less than a fifth of childminders believe their business can survive a year under the current restrictions, a survey has found.

A poll by the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) found 58% think restrictions to “blended” arrangements – when children move between providers – are having a negative impact.

Under the Scottish Government’s guidance, parents are advised to avoid blended care from multiple providers.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has questioned how they are supposed to deal with “these impossible constraints”.

Approximately 70,000 children are looked after by childminders, predominantly from working families, according to the SCMA.

But the poll found if the current measures remain in place after schools return, just 19% of Scottish childminders think their business would still be viable in 12 months’ time.

The survey of more than 1,300 professional childminders also found 68% of all childminders and 74% of childminders who have remained open during lockdown believe their business will still be afloat in a year if current restrictions on blended care are lifted before pupils go back to school in August.

The Scottish Government is expected to review the restrictions at the end of July but the SCMA has written to Education Secretary and Deputy First Minister John Swinney calling for “urgent clarity” and to remove restrictions on blended care.

Graeme McAlister, chief executive of the Scottish Childminding Association, said the Scottish Government should give an “unequivocal commitment and statement of intent to remove all restrictions on blended placements before the schools go back”.

Mr McAlister argued that, with the virus increasingly suppressed, it should consider the “economic and social impact of Covid-19 on families and childcare providers, which is becoming more critical by the day”.

He said: “SCMA has worked very closely and constructively with the Scottish Government and others to contribute to national recovery planning and have supported the cautious and considered approach adopted by the Scottish Government which has enabled us to suppress the virus.

“The public health situation continues to evolve. Schools will be returning full-time without restrictions on capacity in August and many sectors will be opening more widely over the summer and resulting in wider social mixing.

“As such, it would be difficult to see how restrictions on blended placements can be justified or maintained at that time.”

Mr Rennie said: “The Scottish Government have a big challenge on their hands. If they do not change course, the majority of childminding businesses will be in deep trouble.

“The decision to reopen businesses without making appropriate childcare provision available presents parents with an impossible choice between looking after their kids or risking their job.

“The present rules prevent childminders from operating and grandparents from sharing the load.

“Government ministers need to explain how anyone is supposed deal with these impossible constraints.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to reopening childcare in a way that prioritises the safety of children and staff.

“While registered childminders have been able to reopen since June 3 and all childcare settings can operate from July 15, children won’t yet be able to attend more than one location – otherwise known as blended placements – unless it is essential to support critical childcare for key workers.

“Scientific and expert advice continues to stress that minimising overall contacts is important for the suppression of the virus and efficacy of Test and Protect but that advice is being kept under review.

“We understand the value of blended placements for childcare and will reintroduce them when it is safe to do so.”

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