Call For Action On Childminding

Northern Ireland is facing a childminding crisis unless urgent financial incentives are introduced, Stormont Ministers have been warned. With acute shortages in many areas, representatives of the profession called on the Executive to take immediate action to halt the exodus and attract new recruits.

Bridget Nodder, Director of the Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NICMA), claimed parents could be forced to abandon work plans because of the shortages. She said: “Some parts of Northern Ireland quite literally have either no childminder vacancies, or just a handful. That`s really bad news for parents who depend on being able to find good quality, affordable childcare in order to take up or stay in employment.”

With a Government-commissioned study finding a 20% expansion was needed to meet a shortfall within the profession in Northern Ireland, NICMA claims its proposals would help achieve that growth. Its proposed start-up package includes grants similar to those available in the Irish Republic, England and Wales.

One to one mentoring support for childminders during the initial registration process and first year in business has also been suggested.

Registered childminding is the most popular and affordable form of full-time daycare in Northern Ireland. It accounts for three quarters of full-time places and nearly half (44%) of all childcare places. Yet aid packages would persuade more to take the plunge, according to one woman daunted by the prospect of setting up business.

Suzanne Devonport, a mother of three from Newtownards, Co Down, is training to become a childminder but is still not totally sure whether she will go ahead with her plans. “I really love the idea of spending the day looking after children, but I do realise it`s a challenging job,” she said.

“Suddenly you`re responsible for the welfare of other people`s children, you`ve got all the business administration to sort out, and the buck really does stop with you. I`d certainly be much more confident about going into childminding if one-to-one mentoring support was available for the first year.”

Ms Nodder stressed the start-up costs have also seen many shy away. “Obviously, unless you have young children of your own, you do have to go out and buy safety and play equipment, and every childminder needs to have insurance,” she added. “A start-up grant which assisted with some of those initial costs would make a big difference for many prospective childminders.”