Keeping in touch
For many childminders who have had to take the difficult decision to close their doors during the coronavirus pandemic it has been a huge wrench to not see their minded children every day.
We naturally become very close to our minded children, with them often becoming akin to a second family, so this is hardly surprising. It is difficult for the children too. Many will be too young to understand why they can’t visit any more and may be worried they are no longer cared about by their childminder.
In my first blog I mentioned some ways in which childminders and their mindies can stay in touch with their families that will benefit everyone. I have updated this to take into account the significant changes that have occurred since that was written, not least the ‘lockdown’ situation we are currently in.
Issues around money bring out the best and worst in people.
Over the past few weeks, I have encountered numerous acts of altruism and generosity: people with very little, giving what little they have; people with £millions giving millions. I have also heard many stories of selfishness and pain: people lacking sympathy and consideration for others and putting themselves first at all cost. Most of us live somewhere in the middle of this though.
There is no doubt that the national emergency ensuing as a result of COVID-19 is causing enormous financial hardship to many and putting huge economic pressure on businesses both large and small. The various forums I belong to are strewn with stories of childminders, nurseries and preschools struggling to survive, with questions regarding how to deal with issues such as parents paying fees or retainers, furloughing staff and claiming benefits.
I am not an accountant, financial or legal expert. I’m not a business manager, although in a time years ago I was a retail manager with a team of staff. I am a childminder, as well as being a trainer, though and I am also in the position of supporting other childminders through my training and mentoring. I have taken time to consult with fellow trainers and to read the various government guidance documents. I’ve even attempted to decipher the relevant sections of the new Coronavirus Act 2020 which received royal assent and became law on 25th March.
I want to offer my own take on the money situation and hopefully provide a useful perspective. These responses are aimed specifically at registered Childminders, but the principles will apply to group settings as well.
If you have further questions that you would like me to attempt, do email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
What should I be charging parents whilst I am closed and cannot have their children?
This is the biggie! There is no clear answer I am afraid.
Your first port of call should be your contract with the parent. What does this say about charging during closure? Have you covered this scenario in it? I have seen it said that all contracts are null as a result of the pandemic, but I am not convinced this is true. This is something you would need to seek legal advice on if you are concerned.
However, in my opinion, you cannot insist a parent pays fees whilst you are closed and not offering a service, unless you have this provision already in your contract, remembering that you are not closed due to holiday and may not be due to illness, so it is unlikely you would have the relevant clause in there. You can give notice to terminate the existing contract (assuming you believe it to still be valid) and offer an amended version with this clause, but parents could just say no and go elsewhere.
There are a number of options for charging: including requesting full fees; partial fees; or no fees during closure. All present problems of different kinds. For me it is about balancing what is fair and reasonable against what is necessary and appropriate. You will need to examine your own situation and that of your families to decide.
How can I survive financially if I’m not charging parents?
The Government have started to put support plans in place (see below) and there are other ways we can save money.
What financial help can I get from the Government?
I have seen a lot of people complaining about the Government support package for the self-employed (see below for details of the offer). My first thought was, what an ungrateful lot we are – before this announcement we were being offered nothing and were entitled to very little beyond possibly Universal Credit. Surely, something is better than nothing? It is actually a very generous package considering, though I accept there ARE limitations and it is obviously disappointing for those in their first year of trading. I think that this had to be created in a very short space of time, hence the flaws and lack of full information.
I have tried to respond to some of the questions and comments I have seen:
Below are the links to the official documents. Please read them carefully and sign up on the .Gov website for updates, which are frequent and usually hit inboxes late in the evening. This is a lot safer than asking questions on Facebook, where you are guaranteed to get multiple, conflicting responses. I have included the key points from these documents below the relevant link.
What additional business support is available to childcare settings during this period of disruption?
Furlough = Placing employees on an extended leave rather than making them redundant
So bear with me, I have never written a blog before, or at least not for myself.
There is so much happening at the moment however that I feel the need to put pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard.
The coming weeks are going to be testing times for everyone. For Childminders, we are faced with the stark options of closing our doors for the foreseeable future and coping with no income or staying open to provide care for essential workers or vulnerable children, potentially putting ourselves and our own families at risk in doing so. It is an unenviable decision to have to make, not helped by lack of clarity from the DfE, including tardy guidance that seemingly changes by the hour.
The current position appears to be that:
What is not clear is whether Childminders can advertise emergency spaces to new clients on the key worker list or if they can only accept children directed to them by the Local Authority. In the absence of clear guidance many Childminders have taken the decision to make their spaces available directly to parents, until told otherwise, to give as many key workers as possible the security of knowing their child has a safe place to be whilst they work.
For those Childminders who are having to close for all or some of their children this is not just difficult from a financial perspective, it is also a difficult time emotionally.. We develop very close bonds with our minded children and their families and the prospect of not seeing and interacting with the children is painful for many of us. We are also used to being busy and do not always cope well with having time on our hands or being on our own.
There are ways that we can keep in touch with our families that will benefit them and us.
Think about your own well-being during this time. If you or a member of your family have an underlying health condition that puts you at increased risk, you should not feel under pressure to open and offer emergency care. This is currently an optional process and you must not feel guilty for putting your family's safety first.
My name is Rebecca.