The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) have just released new draft guidance on ‘Home Childcare (HC)’. The draft guidance for local authority children’s services comes as a result of concerns by Ofsted that all children in England should have the right to:
- be ‘protected from all forms of violence, abuse and bad treatment by their parents or anyone else who looks after them’ (Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child/UNCRC);
- ‘relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities’ (Article 31 of UNCRC);
- ‘a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and social needs and support their development’ (Article 27 of UNCRC)
Please note, the guidance will be particularly relevant to those parents who do not use registered childcare in the early years, and for those that do not access registered childcare provision during school holidays, in the evenings or at weekends; but it will also cover all parents, family members, neighbours and friends who, at any time, have responsibility for the care of a child.
A summary of some of the key points of the guidance are as follows:
1.1 Home Childcare (HC) is a term used to describe a choice by parents to provide childcare for their children at home or in some other way which they choose, instead of sending them to a registered childcare provider.*
2.1 Parents may choose home childcare for a variety of reasons. The local authority’s primary interest should lie in the suitability of the childcare being provided and not the reason for it but the latter can have a bearing on how well a family is likely to carry it out.*
2.2 Some of these reasons mean that home childcare will be undertaken as a positive choice which is expected to lead to a better outcome for the child than other alternatives; in other cases however home childcare may be attempted almost as a last resort. When the impetus is a negative one, that may well have implications for the quality of home childcare which can be provided – although it should not be assumed that this is the case.*
3.4 Local authorities currently have no specific duties or powers relating to home childcare per se… However, few people would argue today that parents should be able to exercise their right to care for their children at home with absolutely no independent oversight… The job of the local authority is therefore to find an appropriate balance between parental autonomy and its overall responsibilities for care of children in its area.*
3.7 Children cared for at home are NOT ‘vulnerable’ by definition; but some children cared for at home do fall into that category, and therefore Oftsed will look at the way each authority deals with this issue, in particular the ways in which it identifies children who are not receiving suitable childcare and what steps the local authority takes to deal with that.*
Children who have never attended registered childcare settings (this is, of course, of particular importance to parents who do not take up a childcare placement from birth, but who choose instead to organise less formal home-based childcare):
4.1 One of the most significant issues for local authorities in maintaining adequate oversight is the initial identification of children who are being cared for at home. As already noted, some children never attend a registered childcare setting in the first place, and therefore an authority may be unaware of the very existence of a child who is being cared for at home. There is no legal duty on parents to inform the local authority that a child is being cared for at home. There is no overall database of children who live in particular areas… Local authorities are therefore encouraged to use any other data sources available to them to identify children living in their area who are not on the roll of a registered childcare provider.*
4.2 Identification of children who have never attended a registered childcare provider and may be cared for at home forms a significant element of fulfilling an authority’s statutory duty to make arrangements to enable the authority to establish, so far as it is possible to do so, the identities of children in its area who are not receiving suitable childcare. Until a local authority is satisfied that a child cared for at home is receiving suitable childcare, then a child being cared for at home is potentially in scope of this duty. *
4.4 some local authorities already actively encourage referrals from doctors and hospitals of children whom there is reason to think may be being cared for at home.*
5.4 … the department recommends that local authorities: ordinarily make contact with parents who care for children at home on at least an annual basis so the authority may reasonably inform itself of the current suitability of the childcare provided. This will enable the local authority to fulfil its duty to serve a notice on any parent who does not appear to be providing efficient and suitable childcare*
6.5 The most obvious course of action is to ask parents for information about the childcare they provide. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but if a parent does not respond, or responds without providing any information about the childcare, then it will be very easy for the authority to conclude that the child does not appear to be receiving suitable care.*
6.6 Informal enquiries can include a request to see the child, either in the home or in another location.*
6.10 … in the absence of other information that suggests that the child is being suitably cared for and that the parents’ refusal to answer is for some unrelated reason, the only conclusion which an authority can reasonably come to, if it has no information about the childcare being provided, is that the home childcare does not appear to be suitable.*
7.2 The department’s view is that there is no proven correlation between home childcare and safeguarding risk… However, it must be acknowledged that a child being cared for at home is not necessarily seen on a regular basis by professionals such as [nursery nurses, childminders, nanny’s] and this increases the chances that any parents that are using home childcare to avoid independent oversight may be more successful by doing so.*
If you are a parent, or you provide informal care for a child, how do you feel about these draft guidelines? Presumably those who take on the majority of childcare of children up to the age of 3, or 5 if they do not take up nursery placements, would be most affected by this. But seeing as only 13% of a child’s time is spent in school, any parent who does not use registered wrap-around/holiday childcare would also presumably be affected.
I don’t know about you but the tone of the guidance seems to come across as rather heavy handed. Surely the case has always been that we trust parents to care for their child and unless there is evidence to contradict this we will let them get on with it. But the gist I get from this guidance is that parents really ought to register their home childcare with the authority and provide evidence that it is suitable, because if they do not the local authority will pretty much assume that it is not suitable. And this could lead to the family having no option other then to use registered childcare provisions. And I find that worrying. We know that a name on a list (register) does not in and of itself ensure a child is being well cared for so we can assume that the local authority will follow ‘the most obvious course of action’ and ‘ask parents for information about the childcare they provide’. But what sort of information would be deemed acceptable? Who decides on the quality of care, and how? If an inspector requires information about the provision for a child to ‘relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities’ what will this look like? What does ‘a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and social needs and support their development’ look like in the family home? In one home, children may choose to spend their free time playing computer games alone, whereas in another they might be signed up to a different ‘enrichment’ activity every night of the week. Which option will be considered better, more suitable? In some families the children can help themselves to an array of different food stuffs whenever they like, whereas in others they eat what has been prepared for them at set times of the day. Is one way better than another? Who makes that decision?
However, this is not the full story. There is also a bill going through the House of Lords that aims to change the law so that registration of children being cared for in the home, and annual monitoring of the care provided, becomes enforceable. The guidelines outlined above will therefore become statutory requirements. Are we as parents supportive of this? Do we see annual monitoring of the care we provide for our children a small price to pay to ensure that no child ‘slips through the net’? Are we happy for a stranger to assess how we care for our own children and, if they find us lacking, insist that our child attends an institutional childcare setting? I have ‘nothing to hide’ but I still do not want to have to prove to Ofsted that I can care for my own child in a way that is right for them and our family.
And now I have to apologise because, as you may have guessed, I have twisted the truth a bit. The government are not proposing that parents have to register in order to care for their child, or receive annual checks to assess the care provided. That would be ridiculous. It is a parent’s right to care for their own child, without local authority oversight, unless there are serious concerns that that duty is not being met in that family. Right? Yes.
That is also currently the case for education. It is the parent’s right by law to educate their child in a manner that is suitable to his age, ability and aptitude either by attendance at school or otherwise. Yet home educators are under a lot of scrutiny at the moment. The guidelines listed above (indicated with *) are all lifted straight from the new Draft Guidance for Local Authorities on Elective Home Education. All I did was replace ‘Elective Home Education’ with ‘Home Childcare’; ‘education’ with ‘childcare’ and ‘home educators’ with ‘parents who care for children at home’. All other phrasing/language is the same. Any concerns that you had whilst reading the bullet points above are the very real concerns of the home education community. The new guidelines are heavy handed and even, I think, threatening in places. They seem to be coming from a place of distrust. We will be asked to prove we are doing a good job of educating our children rather than the current stance which is to trust that we are unless there is evidence to the contrary. (Which is the case for parental care of a child.)
I have not written this to trick people. But I have been seeing a lot of justifications flying around for why home education should be monitored. They usually fall into the ‘but some slip through the net’ or the ‘but if you have nothing to hide’ categories. I wrote a bit about this a few years back in my blog post ‘No’ to Monitoring and Registration. And I have a lot more to say on the subject so watch this space!
[If you have any questions please comment below, and if you feel you would like to comment on the revised guidelines you can do so here.]