BLOG: Adapting settings, new ways of working and hope for the future

BLOG: Adapting settings, new ways of working and hope for the future
Pauline McInally is a childminder in Wishaw in North Lanarkshire.  In our latest blog, Pauline tells us how she has adapted her service and developed new ways of working during COVID-19, and about her concerns if current restrictions on blended care continue when schools start….

I’ve been childminding for 25 years!  When I had my own children, I wanted to be at home to look after them too, and I decided that the time was right for me to make the leap and become a professional childminder.   

I’ve been a member of SCMA right from the very start as I felt that the training, help and support received through membership would be invaluable in guiding me through my new career as a professional childminder, and I wasn’t wrong!  

Testing Times 
Like many other childminders across the country, I decided to stay open to provide critical care for key worker children.  Very early on in the crisis I received a call from parents who had never used a childminder before and were both key workers. I quickly agreed to take their son, Conal, age two, into my setting.  He settled really quickly and I was just delighted to be able to provide support for the family during what was a really unsettling time. 

I then received a call from another key worker parent asking if I had space for her two year-old, Imogen, as the nursery she attended previously had closed. I was delighted to be able to help and since then, these completely new children to me have become so special.  

New territory 
It became apparent very quickly that if I was going to choose to stay open, I would need SCMA’s help and advice to guide me through the changes I would need to make to my practice and within my setting. I have found the videos from SCMA particularly helpful in guiding me through changes, any new guidance which has been published, and how this could affect my childminding setting.  This support, tailored specifically for our sector, was invaluable to me in helping to navigate the ever-changing landscape and phases of lockdown recovery.  

I have adapted my setting by holding zoom meetings online for new parents, meaning I was able to show them my setting and let them get familiar with where their children would be cared for. I’m not very ‘tech-savvy’ but, like everyone else who has had to adopt new ways of working, I feel like I can now ‘zoom’ standing on my head! 

I’ve changed my practice so that drop off and pick-ups now take place outside in the driveway and all the paperwork, such as sending policies and procedures and contracts, is all sent by email so the parent can complete this in advance.  

Imogen’s parents were understandably anxious and a bit unsure about leaving her for a settling-in visit but I worked to reassure them and Imogen too, and sent photos and videos to the parents throughout the first day to provide updates on what we were doing and how happy she was.  When it came time for her parents to collect her, she didn’t want to leave, so I think this helped to reassure them she had enjoyed her first day.

Current restrictions on blended care 
One of my main concerns for childminding at the moment is the current restrictions on ‘blended care’ and how this is going to affect childminding businesses.  I know from speaking to colleagues that it is a worry across the board. I also worry about how many childminders might not choose to return to a profession they love, if they can’t make it work for them financially.    

Imogen was previously in a nursery when she was a baby due her parents' work commitments and they hadn’t considered a childminder before, but since starting with me, her parents have asked if they could have a ‘blended placement’, which would mean coming to my setting three days a week and two days in nursery from August. I have agreed to this as I have capacity, but this is on the assumption that current restrictions on blended care are lifted by the time schools go back.

The current restrictions on blended care are also a huge worry for the parents.  For example, I have one child I have cared for since he was four months old.  He is due to start pre-school nursery in August, yet I might not be able to support his family with childcare - based on current guidelines on blended care.  His mum has been really upset because she doesn’t want her son to be in nursery all day. 

She chose to place him with a childminder when he was a baby because she recognised the benefits of a smaller setting and being able to tailor care towards her child.  She’s also worried that she’s not able to confirm arrangements with work - the uncertainty is really stressful for her.  

SCMA Support 
SCMA has been instrumental in supporting childminders throughout this crisis but I was also really delighted to see them taking onboard the concerns of childminders and helping to draw attention to these concerns nationally, throughout the media. I feel that this has been critical in highlighting the great work that childminders carry out to support thousands of families, but also in focusing attention on current restrictions on blended care.  

Many of my childminding colleagues are asking what they can do to help. Some of them might not be directly affected by the current restrictions; but many are - and want to know how they can support SCMA’s efforts.  I’ve advised them to download the template letter SCMA developed and send it to their local MSP and speak to the parents they work with to help them understand how it could affect their childcare – after all, parents have the right to access the quality childcare which they chose for their child.  Read more

If we can take any positives from this crisis, I think that more parents are now more aware of childminding generally and that childminding is available to them as a high-quality childcare option and the ways in which it can provide flexible support to their family.  They may not have realised this fully before.  I hope that this is something positive that professional childminders can use to help build their business in the future.  

Pauline McInally is also Vice President of SCMA and serves on the Scottish Executive Board.