Coronavirus: Childminder anger over 'impossible' restrictions

Children playing on a beach Image copyright SCMA
Image caption The Scottish government is recommending children visit only one location for childcare

Childminders are urging the Scottish government to "catch up" on Covid-19 guidance for childcare, or face seeing the sector collapse.

Under current measures, parents are advised to avoid "blended" care from multiple providers.

That means they are unable to combine school or nursery with any other childcare.

Childminders say parents will struggle to manage work and childcare and their own businesses may not survive.

The Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) says that if restrictions are not removed by the time schools return full-time from 11 August, only 19% of childminding businesses believe they will still be financially viable in 12 months' time.

The Scottish government is expected to review the restrictions at the end of July.

It has said it is "committed to reopening childcare in a way that prioritises the safety of children and staff".

The SCMA has now asked Deputy First Minister John Swinney for "urgent clarity".

They want him to remove the restrictions on blended care.

Susannah Knox, 56, is a childminder in Greenock. She says parents need to know now so they can plan for the new term.

And she fears she will have to choose between her families.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Childminders cannot look after children before and after school under current restrictions

She said: "Many childminders were open throughout the lockdown to care for key workers' children.

"We did not have to social distance, kids could be dropped off and we kept using PPE only where we would have before.

"Now all of a sudden we can't pick up from school because parents can use only one provider and that is nursery or school.

"So the childminder can't pick them up, and can't have them before school."

Ms Knox looks after eight children - of those, five are at school, one in nursery and two are under three. She can only look after the toddlers under the rules.

She added: "Out of my five children at school, two are siblings of the under threes - so they can mix with brothers and sisters in their home without social distancing. They can all meet after school in a park with as many children as they like under 12, but they can't meet in my setting.

"And employers will now be thinking they can't let half of their workforce leave at 14:30 to pick children up from school at 15:00."

Image copyright Susannah Knox
Image caption Childminder Susannah Knox says parents may have to ask employers for time to pick up from schools if current rules stay

Ms Knox says she can't expect parents to pay for a service they are not getting so she - and many other childminders she speaks to - are worried about their businesses.

The SCMA poll found 58% of participants think restrictions to "blended" arrangements - when children move between providers - are having a negative impact.

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

Graeme McAlister, SCMA chief executive, 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".

'Not justified'

He 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.

"Schools will be returning full-time without restrictions on capacity in August and many sectors will be opening more widely over the summer, 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."

Image copyright SCMA

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has questioned how parents and childminders are supposed to deal with "these impossible constraints".

He 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."

'Minimising overall contacts'

A spokesman for the Scottish government said it was committed to reopening childcare in a way that prioritises the safety of children and staff.

He said: "While registered childminders have been able to reopen since 3 June, and all childcare settings can operate from 15 July, 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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