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Child care figures paint bleak picture for rural parents

Private childminders play an important role in smaller communities, but rural and remote areas are struggling to recruit new people to the role. Supplied by the Scottish Childminding Association.
Private childminders play an important role in smaller communities, but rural and remote areas are struggling to recruit new people to the role. Supplied by the Scottish Childminding Association.

Childminders are a valuable resource in rural areas, but data shows that is also where they are the hardest to find.

The Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) is kicking off a recruitment drive to register more childminders in rural and remote communities.

They recently began a training programme in Orkney, introducing locals to the basics of the business.

But Orkney is just one of the areas across the north and north-east where childminders are in short supply. In some communities, such as Skye and the whole of the Shetland Islands, there is only one SCMA registered childminder.

Islands and rural Highlands short on childminders

The list of SCMA registered childminders doesn’t include every carer in Scotland, but more than 80% of the country’s childminders are members. Looking at the regional spread of SCMA minders highlights the regions where childminders are scarce.

While childminders are more concentrated around major cities, they are spread thin in rural areas. The SCMA only has one registered childminder in Skye and Lochalsh, and they are located on the mainland side of the Skye Bridge.

All but one of the six SCMA minders in the Western Isles are on Harris, and only one SCMA childminder is listed in Shetland.

What makes rural childminders so important?

Childcare plays a key role in the economy. It’s a service that gives parents the freedom to work without having to worry about who is looking after their children.

The stakes are even higher in rural and remote communities. Smaller populations mean less overall demand for childcare, but it doesn’t eliminate the need entirely.

Parents in the Highland village of Ullapool have been campaigning for more childcare services since they lost a council-funded option and two of their long-serving private childminders retired.

Unfortunately, a small population also means it’s more of a financial risk to run a larger childcare setting.

SCMA workers are focusing on recruiting more childminders in rural areas. Supplied by Scottish Childminding Association

Janine Ryan, head of childminding services for the SCMA, said that situations like Ullapool’s are common.

“Essentially, a group setting–whether that’s a playgroup or a nursery–would need a certain number of children in order to set up.

“You can actually have playgroups with a pretty small number of children. But you tend to find that because of the resources required, you need a certain number of children to make it viable.”

Recruiting efforts in Orkney

The SCMA recently launched a training programme in Orkney to recruit and support childminders on the islands.

There are currently eight registered with the SCMA, four of whom are located in or around Kirkwall, and all are found on the mainland island.

This leaves families on other islands with few options. The training programme introduces locals to the business and caregiving side of childminding.

Having a childcare background isn’t necessary for getting started in childminding. Supplied by Scottish Childminding Association

Suzy Fraser, an employability keyworker with the Orkney Islands Council’s Community Learning and Development team, said being a childminder helps the community on multiple levels.

“There has been a high demand for childminders for several years in Orkney now. This demand is likely to continue and it’s therefore an ongoing self-employment opportunity there for people to tap into.”

And Janine said it’s a misconception that you have to have childcare experience before starting a childminding business.

“Not having experience isn’t a barrier. It’s actually what makes childminding so rich and varied. People are coming from such different backgrounds and bringing such different experiences with them.”

What are the first steps?

Although you don’t have to join the SCMA, all childminders must register with the Care Inspectorate.

The SCMA’s “Becoming a Childminder” guide provides information on starting a career in childminding. The SCMA also provides support for childminders across the country, including tips for getting started and support throughout your career.

For more information on getting started, you can visit the SCMA website or contact the SCMA at information@childminding.org.

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