Below, is a Q&A with childminder Dianne Davis
Dianne runs Happy Feet Childminding in Wiltshire
Q: How long have you been involved in early years education and how did you get into this field?
I started in childcare at the age of 14 babysitting at weekends for 3 children for £1 an hour! I also worked part-time in a nursery whilst at school.
I finished my A-levels and, after a year working in retail, I completed my level 3 in childcare at college. I was married at 20 and had my first daughter at just 22, then my second daughter at 24. I worked as a nanny for a family of 3 boys for 5 years and took my girls with me. Then returned to a nursery taking the girls with me which wasn’t very financially viable so I looked into childminding this worked well and it was great to be around more for my daughter who was quite anxious.
I work now as a childminder 4 days a week plus 1 Saturday per month.
Q: Why childminding? What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of working as a childminder?
I had been a childminder before for 1-2 years so I knew it was rewarding. I was looking for a profession where I could still use my social work experience to support families, but actually spend more time with children 1-1, the advantage being I would be home for my younger daughter more (now 13). Therefore, I feel it combined my nannying, nursery and social work roles with the benefit of working from home and being my own boss. I was also having physical issues being desk or car bound in previous roles and so the opportunity to move throughout the day was a benefit, although I probably underestimated the exhaustion levels! (I have fibromyalgia, failed back surgery syndrome, scoliosis and osteoarthritis in my spine).
The most rewarding parts of childminding are watching children grow and develop; hearing those first words, and seeing those first steps (hopefully after the parents, but not always!). I love being responsible for providing learning opportunities and watching the children develop. I try to ensure they regularly bake and create and get outside as much as possible and love looking back over the photos.
I became full quite quickly so decided to take on an assistant (a family friend who is level 3 qualified) who I trust and we work incredibly well together.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face?
Pre covid- the biggest challenge I had was preparing for Ofsted – it’s a daunting experience and despite my social work training I felt unprepared for a lot of the pre-ref questions. Another challenge was initially finding families – the most successful ways I found were a) to create a Facebook business page and share it regularly, and b) being a member of childcare jobs – I upgraded my membership if work was slow.
Post covid, I lost a few non-key worker families in the first lockdown who had to rely on family for childcare when we weren’t allowed to care for non-key worker children.
I have been closed twice now due to covid – right now as 2 of my daughters are positive, and last August (2021) when I had to refund £950 back to my parents due to my family getting covid and isolating. I have not been entitled to a single government grant for self-employment due to starting in Sept 2019 and having some employment- I was also not entitled to the council’s £500 isolation grant as I’m not in receipt of any benefits. In addition, as my partner was furloughed I was also not eligible to claim benefits.
Q: Have you come across much change in the industry over the time you have been a childminder?
I’m due my first graded inspection in the next 3-6 months- I’ll let you know.
I do feel covid restrictions and a lack of thought from the government has put childminders at risk – we are high risk as we look after young children that spread a lot of germs . We’re also high risk as we’re self-employed and can’t afford to close every time someone gets a cold/ flu virus. Little ones aren’t likely to be vaccinated and no thought has gone into professions that work from home. I can see childminders quitting and going into employment. I’m close to myself. As a last resort I have now had to implement an annual rate increase of £1 an hour, I’ve increased child sickness and holiday from 50-100% and asked for a voluntary £10 per day per child retainer for any covid-related child or their family absences.
Another issue that childminders have had to face is that children’s needs have changed as a result of the first lockdown. We are seeing more isolated and less socialised babies and toddlers struggling to settle in, more and more illnesses such as hand foot and mouth, impetigo, conjunctivitis, slap cheek, high temp, sickness bugs etc – if we exclude all of these parents are going to find it difficult to retain employment.
Q. What are some personal characteristics and traits that make someone suitable to be a childminder?
- Resilience: you need to be able to adapt to change and bounce back. The whole EYFS has changed again, although the underlying principles are the same. Covid has forced us to change the way we meet/ greet/ hand wash and clean / rotate the toys.
- To be able to put the child first: their growth, their development, the support they need… parents supported after. Always keep the child at the centre.
- Communication: keep a constant open dialogue with parents. Be honest about any concerns and be quick to develop a positive plan. We might make a joke about how many times x has taken time “thinking”, but I reassure you this is a normal stage etc or if it’s not, this is what we’re going to try.
- Feel privileged: I always feel proud to be looking after a whole human being (sometimes more hours than a parent does). I feel privileged to be trusted to care for and keep them safe.
Q: What steps would you recommend to anyone thinking about starting to work as a childminder?
Don’t think it’s easy! I’m exhausted every day… physically and emotionally.. being a social worker was easier!
Don’t do it if you get lonely or isolated unless you are prepared to take on an assistant. This for me was a hugely positive experience as I was concerned about popping to the loo or dishing up dinner and not properly supervising, so having another adult makes me feel more professional and that I’m taking less risks as well as having someone else to share the ups and downs with
Q: Do you have any insider tips for someone starting as a childminder?
- Try and retain some employment whilst you set up as it can take 9 plus months to get registered. Eg reduce full-time work to 2 days a week and set up 3 days like I did (plus I worked Saturdays too to start)
- Be prepared for Ofsted’s disorganisation and frustrating backward and forwards of paperwork. Hold on in there!
- Spend your time before pre-reg preparing, eg toys/ resources/ activity ideas/ cleaning products, Rita’s, menu planning/ training etc- food hygiene/ first aid etc
- Register whole family as assistants if you can at the beginning- partner/ adult children etc- it means that you can use them in the future if you have one-off situations etc… I registered mine a few months after and it would have been easier to do at the time.
- Consider an assistant
- Create a business Facebook page to share
- Register with childminding.co.uk you can print off all their free policies etc and adapt them to suit.
- Register with childcare.co.uk basic and increase membership when you need to look for work,
- Use the pre-reg Facebook group when preparing for pre-reg and use the other FB groups after they are great sources of ideas and support