Ofsted has ‘lost the plot’ over childminding case

Author: By Richard Garner, Education Editor

Margaret Morrissey, of the parents? pressure group, ParentsOutloud, said: ?If
we have reached the point in our society when we cannot trust our very close
friends to look after each other?s children, I think it is time to give up
and go and live in another country.?

She was speaking after the children?s services watchdog said the police
officers? arrangement contravened the Childcare Act because they were
providing a childminding service for a reward. As such, the two mothers
would have to register as childminders and subject themselves to regular
inspections by Ofsted. The Children?s minister, Vernon Coaker, has ordered a
review of the case and officials from his department are discussing with
Ofsted how to interpret the meaning of the word ?reward?.

The legislation, which came into force three years ago, is complicated. It
says mothers who look after each other?s children are generally exempt from
the requirement to register as childminders if they provide the service for
less than two hours a day or 14 days a year. If one mother, Mrs A, goes to
the house of another, Mrs B, to look after Mrs B?s child, she is also exempt
because it is considered home care. But if Mrs A took Mrs B?s child to her
own home, it would be deemed to be offering a childcare service.

In the case of the two police officers ? Detective Constables Leanne Shepherd,
from Milton Keynes, and Lucy Jarrett, of Buckingham ? they were deemed to be
receiving a reward by saving each other from paying childcare services.

Ms Shepherd said: ?A lady came to the front door and identified herself as
being from Ofsted. She said a complaint had been made that I was illegally
childminding. I was shocked when she told me I was breaking the law.?

The complicated rules also seek to exempt babysitters from having to register
by stating that registration is not necessary if the service is provided
between the hours of 6pm and 2am. Sleepovers would be exempt, provided they
did not happen at the same address more than 14 times in a year.

Also, if parents take their children to another location for four hours and
stay in the vicinity, there is no need for registration. This is designed to
protect creches at places such as shopping malls and sports centres.

Mrs Morrissey, who was involved in talks about the introduction of the
childcare legislation, said: ?This was never the intention. It has been
taken to an extreme of political correctness. You cannot as a Government say
to parents, ?OK, we want you all to go back to work but unless you pay up to
£100 for childcare in some areas and at least £40 everywhere else you can?t
do so. I would like to say to the Government: let hundreds and thousands of
parents have just a smidgen of a say in how they bring up their children.

?What happens if parents refuse to stop looking after each other?s children?
Are they fined and, if they cannot pay, are they sent to prison??

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said of the situation: ?Ofsted applies the
regulations for the registration of childcare as found in the 2006 Childcare
Act. We are currently discussing with the Department for Children, Schools
and Families the interpretation of the word ?reward? in the legislation to
establish if we might be able to make a change.?

Mr Coaker added that it had never been the intention of the Government to
?penalise hard-working families?.

More than 5,000 people have signed a petition on the No.10 website to scrap
the rules governing reciprocal childcare.

How to avoid having to register as a childminder

It is often said that rules are open to interpretation and there is no doubt
that those stated in the 2006 Childcare Act could provide a bonanza for
lawyers.

For instance, if you, as a working mother, ask a friend to look after your
child in your own home, she is exempt from having to register as a
childminder, according to Ofsted. If you are working part-time and leave
your child for fewer than four hours and ?stay in the immediate vicinity?,
you are also exempt. The message appears to be: find someone near your place
of work to look after your child. Finally, the legislation appears to
protect babysitters by saying they are exempt from registering if they
provide a service |between 6pm and 2am. What happens, though, if the parents
return from a party at 4am?

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