What's Involved In Starting And Running A Childminding Business?
Allison Lee has been childminding for over 11 years and has cared for children aged from 10 weeks to 11 years. A mother of two boys, Allison's career has provided her with the opportunity to work for The National Childminding Association and she is currently employed.
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A GOOD CHILDMINDER
The most important reason for wanting to become a registered childminder has to be that you enjoy being with, and caring for, children. However, this is certainly not the only aspect you must be good at if you want your childminding business to flourish.
Working with parents
Parents looking for day care for their children are making one of the hardest decisions of their life. It is up to you to prove to them that they have made the right decision and to ensure that you will not let them down. They have trusted you with the most precious person in their life and they will come to depend on you, not only as a childminder, but as a friend and confidante. They may ask you for help and advice and it is very important, from the start, that you value the relationship you have with both the child and their parents, and build on this.
Childminding is very much a partnership and you must learn to work with the child’s parents in order to provide the best care for the child so that they feel happy and secure.
Planning and providing activities and resources are a very important and enjoyable part of being a childminder but there are also aspects of the job that you need to be aware of which are not as appealing and can, in fact, be quiet daunting.
Are you, for example, prepared for a life of mostly children for company with very little adult input? Childminding can be a lonely profession if you are stuck in the house all day with only very young children for company. It is possible to get around this by making use of drop in centres, mother and toddler groups etc, or you could consider working with another childminder, and we will look at this in more detail later in the book.
The effect on your family
Before embarking on a life as a childminder you must also ask yourself what the implications of the job will mean to the rest of your family. You may absolutely adore having children running around your home, wreaking havoc on your furnishings and painting the cat, but how does your husband feel when he is trying to get ready for work and a four year old is dressing up in his suit and carrying his briefcase? How does your 11 year old feel when a two year old has just scribbled all over the homework he has to hand in that morning? These are all aspects of childminding that you have to look at closely and questions that you have to ask yourself, and the rest of your family, and answer honestly.
Unless you are fortunate enough to work in a separate part of your house, which is completely cut off from your family space, then your childminding business will affect your home life. You must make sure, from the very outset, that everyone understands the implications that running a childminding business from your home will have.
It is perfectly possible of course to ensure the smooth running of your business so that it does not become a nuisance or annoyance to the rest of the family, but ground rules must be set and everyone must be organised sufficiently so that your business can run effectively.
Many parents choose a childminder over a nursery for flexibility. Some parents like the fact that their child is being cared for by one person in a home-based environment and it is very important therefore that you understand this, and your service must be available when it has been arranged. Of course no one can help being ill, but parents won’t thank you for ringing them up, half an hour before they are due to drop their child off, to say that you have a headache and can’t care for their child that day.
So to be a good childminder you need a number of qualities you must:
- enjoy being with and caring for children;
- be organised and use your time and space effectively;
- enjoy your own company or consider working with another adult;
- like people – be kind, considerate and helpful; and
- be flexible.
IS THERE A NEED FOR THE SERVICE IN MY AREA?
One of the biggest fears most people have when starting up their own business is not being sure whether there will be a market for their service. Of course there are no guarantees that your business will work, but there are certain things you can look at and research to get an idea of what you will need to provide, and what kind of competition you are up against.
You could have the most fantastic playroom ever built, with thousands of pounds worth of toys and equipment, but if you live in a quiet rural setting with no families nearby you are unlikely to succeed as a childminder. The service you are aiming to provide must work for the area you live in.
There are some important factors to consider when thinking about becoming a childminder.
Not all people drive and if your premises are easily accessible by a main bus route it will be a more appealing option.
If you are a childminder living near a school you really should provide before and after school care.
If there are other childminders in the area, contact them about the service they provide and ask them for advice. Ask them if they are full and, if so, how many enquiries they have had recently.
Do you know of any plans to build new homes in your area? This is a good sign. If a new housing development is being considered in your area, providing family homes, you will have a whole new market to aim your services at.
Don’t be put off if there are private nurseries close by as parents looking for a childminder often have to consider all the options, including nurseries. It will, of course, mean that you will have more competition and although the service you provide will be very different, your fees may have to be even more competitive. Contact any local nurseries and ask for details of their services and fees so that you know what you are up against.
Contact your local authority. They should be able to tell you whether there is a need for childminding services in your area. They should also be able to let you know if there is a childminding co-ordinator for your area who will be able to inform you how many local childminders there are with current vacancies, and give you an idea how many parents have been seeking childcare services recently.
GETTING TOYS AND EQUIPMENT
Setting up a childminding business is just like setting up any kind of business in that you will need to purchase the basic equipment.
If you already have young children of your own you may well have most of the equipment already needed to start up your business. It may just be a case of ensuring that what you do have is appropriate, and in a good state of repair, and adding any other necessary items.
The basic equipment you will probably need if you are caring for babies and young children is:
- cot and new mattress – a travel cot would suffice;
- clean sheets and blankets;
- pushchair/double buggy;
- car seats;
- changing mat;
- potty/training seat;
- bibs, plastic plates, bowls, cups and cutlery;
- safety equipment
- harness for highchair and buggy
- stair gates
- smoke alarms
- cupboard/window locks
- drain covers (for outside areas).
You will be expected to prove that your home is safe and free from any potential hazards at the time of your inspection by Ofsted. It is a good idea to have all your safety equipment in place prior to this inspection, if possible. It may be worth bearing in mind that some parents will be happy to supply their own pushchairs and car seats and therefore it may not be necessary to purchase these beforehand but this is purely down to preference. If you do decide to use items supplied by the child’s parents you must always ensure that they are safe and conform to the necessary standards.
The basic toys you will need if you are caring for babies and young children are:
- clean rattles and soft toys;
- games and puzzles;
- building bricks and construction toys;
- books with both paper and cardboard pages;
- paper, crayons, paints, collage materials;
- dressing-up clothes and role play accessories.
You can not be expected to have every toy or book to cover every child’s situation or preference, but if you can provide the basic toys listed above you can then add to them as and when finances allow.
Some childminders may only wish to provide care for school aged children and obviously the toys and equipment needed for this age group will differ from that of a childminder providing care for babies and young children. You should think carefully about the kind of resources you will need.
Sharing toys and equipment
You may wish to share your toys and equipment with other childminders and this is an excellent way of acquiring resources. Often some toys or equipment are only required for a short time and can be expensive to purchase. For example, if you are caring for a child who has broken a limb, you may wish to obtain a doll with a plaster cast or one that is in a wheelchair. A childminder you know may have one and it is always worth enquiring. Likewise, dressing-up clothes for doctors and nurses are a good way of introducing hospital visits to children.
In addition to buying or sharing toys with other childminders, you should also consider using toy libraries. Toy libraries lend toys to registered childminders for an agreed length of time, at a nominal charge. They can supply a large number of different toys suitable for a range of ages and abilities.
If you care for a child with additional needs you may find your local toy library particularly helpful as specially adapted toys can be very expensive to buy. Your local Children’s Information Service (CIS) or Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership (EYDCP) will have details of toy libraries in your area.
It is also worth mentioning to your local library that you are a registered childminder as they will often allow childminders to borrow a greater number of books.
OUTINGS AND ACTIVITIES
In addition to providing toys and games you will need to think about, and plan, suitable outings to stimulate the children and provide fresh air and exercise.
It is often quite easy to provide interesting activities for older children for a couple of hours, before and after school, but have you thought of how you are going to fill a whole day if you are going to be caring for them during the school holidays? It is important that the children do not become bored and you should think of suitable outings as well as providing interesting activities.
It may be worthwhile investing in a selection of board games and perhaps, if funds allow, a computer with suitable learning programmes. Books and collage materials are always a sound investment, whatever the age of the child. In the summer months I have found it beneficial to involve the children in planning and preparing outdoor activities such as a cricket match or an obstacle course. Picnics and days in the park are also good ways of filling the school holidays when the weather permits.
FINANCIAL PLANNING AND HELP
You will have initial expenses to get your business up and running, and it is important that you set yourself a budget and plan carefully how you are going to utilise it.
You will have to purchase basic toys and equipment, if you do not already have them, before you begin to work. Your Ofsted inspector will need to see that all your safety equipment is in place and meets the set standards before registration is granted.
In addition to toys and equipment you will need to purchase public liability insurance and pay for your registration and inspection fees.
It is possible to set up your business with limited funds providing you choose your equipment wisely and continue to add to your resources as and when you are in a position to do so. Toys and equipment suffer from a lot of rough handling and wear and tear is inevitable so it is vital that you check and replace toys and equipment regularly.
Start-up grants for childminders are available in some areas of both England and Wales. These grants are aimed at helping new childminders with the cost of setting up their business and can be used to purchase toys, safety equipment, first aid training, insurance, registration and inspection fees and membership to the National Childminding Association.
The funds are distributed by Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships and you should contact your local authority for details, together with any conditions that may apply. You will need to provide receipts for items purchased if you are hoping to pay for them through a start up grant.
As a registered childminder you are entitled to claim for the cost of one third of a pint (189ml or l/5th litre) of liquid milk per day for each child you care for under the age of five years. Infants under the age of one may instead receive dried baby milk made up to one third of a pint. The child must be in your care for more than two hours per day.
When you have become registered you should apply to the Welfare Food Reimbursement Unit (WFRU) at PO Box 31044, London, SW1V 2FD to request a form or telephone them on 020 7887 1212. You will need to supply your name and address together with your Ofsted registration number and the number of children, under the age of five years, you are registered to care for. You will be sent a form which must be completed with the number of children you have cared for each day, together with the cost of the milk you have purchased. The forms are for a four-month period and payment will be made to you accordingly.
Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships have, in the past, offered childminders in proven disadvantaged areas ‘bridging grants’ in order to help them out financially if they have had a vacancy for more than two weeks. This scheme has now been widened and EYDCPs now have funding which they can distribute in a number of ways including:
- continuing to provide ‘bridging grants’;
- producing leaflets promoting childminding;
- providing training to promote childminding businesses;
- funding support workers to help fill vacancies.
Each EYDCP has its own amount and type of funding and it is worthwhile contacting them if you have any vacancies to see if they can help financially.
Information about grants
Finally, it is worth looking at Business Link’s website at www.businesslink.org or telephoning 0845 600 9006. Business Link offers advice to small businesses in England and has invaluable information regarding all aspects of running a business. As a childminder running a small business you may be able to benefit from a number of grants. Childminders working in Wales should contact Business Eye by visiting www.businesseye.org.uk or telephone 0845 796 9798. In Scotland, look at www.bgateway.com, and in Northern Ireland, www.investni.com/index/start.htm.