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It's not child's play to work with children; UNTIL three months ago the number of childminders in Kirklees was falling but there's been a reversal in the trend, with the number now growing once again. Hilarie Stelfox reports on what it takes to set up a childcare business.

Byline: Hilarie Stelfox

THE CARE of the very young is, quite understandably, a tightly regulated business.

No-one knows this better than Allison Lee, a childminder for 15 years and now the proprietor of a playgym.

Allison, who lives in Lepton, has written books and courses on the subject of childcare and childminding, but taking over the Woodlands Playgym in Meltham earlier this year has involved whole new layers of paperwork, inspection and red tape.

It is the paperwork, says Allison, that deters some people from working in childcare at all.

"There's the record keeping, observations and assessments, as well as the fact that the Early Years Foundation Stage means that we all have to be following the same kind of teaching strategies,'' she explained.

However, Allison, 42, who has two teenage sons, was not deterred from her new venture. In fact, she was hoping to open a day nursery, which would have involved even more in the way of checks and red tape.

Only the fact that she couldn't get planning permission for either of two properties near her home in Lepton - deemed to be unsuitable because they were on major roads - stopped her.

Instead, she bought out the Woodlands Playgym as a going concern. Plans for a nursery have been put aside for now but are still part of her future plans.

Allison, author of The Parent's Guide to Childcare and other 'How To' books, ran a childminding business with her mother in a specially converted outbuilding at her home. Her mother's retirement prompted her to think bigger.

"Because I'm so experienced it doesn't faze me, but there's a lot to do when setting up or running a childcare business,'' said Allison, who is working towards a degree in childcare..

Her advice to others thinking of going into childcare is to take the advice offered by Kirklees Early Years Service, which has a team of co-ordinators and early years consultants. Business support and grants are also available.

Kirklees has a register of 479 childminders and there are 83 out-of-school clubs, 90 nurseries and 94 pre-schools in the area. Numbers of childminders have been gradually falling nationally, but there are signs that this trend is now reversing. Kirklees is seeing a renewed interest in childminding opportunities.

Those working with children have to be Criminal Records Bureau checked and establishments other than playgyms (where parents are in attendance) have to be Ofsted registered and inspected.

Because Allison is going to offer a holiday club during school breaks she has had to seek Ofsted registration.

Over the years Allison has taken advantage of training opportunities offered by Kirklees and is now a Level 4 childcare practitioner.

She also has a Food Safety certificate and is a qualified first aider. "I learned a lot in 15 years of looking after other people's children.

You develop an instinct for what poses a risk or hazard,'' she says.

The days when childminding was an informal arrangement by which one parent (usually a mum) cared for children at home, often alongside their own, is long gone..

Today's childminders have to be vetted and trained and must offer basic early years education to their young charges.

Tighter regulation has given childminding a more professional status and parents more peace of mind.

According to Diane Bell, Childcare Improvement Manager: "Kirklees Early Years Service (KEYS) has a dedicated team of childminding co-ordinators to promote and support the development of high quality childminder services throughout Kirklees to ensure that all children and families have access to childcare in a home-based setting.

"KEYS supports potential new providers to complete market research to look at childcare in their area. We encourage providers to look at creating a quality environment, staff training, business planning, long term sustainability and their own unique selling points.'' * For further information on childcare issues or a career in childcare, Kirklees has a Children and Families Information Service on 01484 223041 email


TAKING FUN SERIOUSLY: Allison Lee (left) and Julie Waddington with youngsters at the Woodlands Play Gym. Left: some of Allison's books
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:May 27, 2009
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