Childminder agencies 'push up cost'

ChildcareGovernment plans to introduce new childminder agencies could push up the cost of childcare for parents, a survey suggests.

It reveals that many childminders believe these agencies could leave them facing higher business expenses, which they could pass on to families.
The survey of more than 1,000 childminders found that many doubt whether the Government's reforms will make childcare more affordable, and are concerned that it could undermine quality. Ministers announced plans earlier this year for new agencies which they have described as "one-stop-shops" to help childminders with training, business support and advice.

Agencies will be registered with and inspected by Ofsted, the Government said, which should reassure parents about the quality of childcare they offer. Childminders will not have to join an agency and can retain their independence and undergo individual Ofsted inspections instead.
But the new IPPR survey reveals that almost nine in 10 (86%) childminders believe that introducing agencies would increase their business costs because of membership fees, which would mean that the costs to parents could rise.

Just 7% were in favour of moving away from childminders being inspected individually and towards agencies being inspected collectively. The study also found that many believe there should be specific requirements for becoming a childminder.

Almost three quarters (73.2%) would like to see minimum requirements to practise - such as having or working towards a relevant qualification in early years education - and nearly half (45%) said that childminders should have to gain a level 3 qualification - the equivalent to A-level - within two years of registering. Over half (58%) said more regulation would be positive for the sector, the study adds.

The report comes weeks after the Government was forced to ditch proposals to relax rules on the numbers of youngsters nursery staff and childminders could care for.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "It is simply wrong to say parents will be forced to pay higher costs because of childminder agencies. Agencies will share administrative burdens currently undertaken by individual childminders, cutting out duplication and delivering greater efficiency.

"At the moment individual childminders are responsible for their own training and development, but the introduction of agencies will allow childminders to concentrate on what they do best - caring for children. Agencies will also be optional for both childminders and parents - so childminders can continue working on their own should they choose to do so, and parents can still opt for an individual childminder if they prefer."
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