Belfast Telegraph

Illegal carers: the risk to our children

By Aine Fox

Parents are being warned of the dangers of using illegal childminders.

The findings from a survey by the Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NICMA) reveal that more than a third of newly-registered childcare professionals said they know at least one childminder working illegally in their area.

As the law stands, child carers should not be paid for more than two hours’ work a day unless they are registered with their local health and social care trust.

The risks parents are taking by leaving their children in the hands of an unregistered childminder are huge, according to NICMA’s director Bridget Nodder.

“We’re very concerned at these findings,” said Ms Nodder. “They suggest that there is widespread use of unregistered childminders.

“Our main concern is that the use of illegal childcarers — who have not been inspected, have not had a criminal records check, and have no insurance — is putting the safety of children at risk.

“But the survey findings also show that unregistered childminders are making it more difficult for some legitimate childminders to fill their places — it’s quite unfair that those who follow the rules and adhere to proper standards are being penalised at the expense of those who are flouting the law.”

The popularity of unregistered childminders is also thought to be a direct result of cash-strapped parents trying to save a few pounds, added Ms Nodder.

“From what we’re hearing, it would seem many unregistered childminders take more children than they would be allowed if they were registered,” she said.

In response to the findings, NICMA has pledged to raise awareness among parents in the hope they will be persuaded to use properly registered childminders in future. Postcards containing information and advice on choosing a registered childminder will be available at libraries, doctors’ surgeries and other public venues from today.

More information on choosing a registered childminder and on becoming a registered childminder is available from NICMA on 0871 200 2063 or at www.nicma.org

Case study 1:

Parents need to know

When Cathy Nelson began her registered childminding business 18 months ago near Maghera, she was full of anticipation.

She had taken part in a training course and learned first aid because she was determined to offer a professional service. Now all she needed were some kids.

That was when reality began to hit. Cathy was new to the area and there were already at least three unregistered childcarers operating locally.

“Although I did eventually fill my places, I struggled at the beginning,” she said. But Cathy is convinced that many parents have no idea that childminders are required to register.

“I honestly think a lot of them don’t realise that childminders are supposed to be registered and don’t know that unregistered childminding is illegal,” she said.

“I think parents need to ask themselves ‘What’s the best environment for my kids?’

“Anyone who has registered takes the profession seriously. It’s a very big responsibility looking after a child.”

Case study 2:

Cheap isn’t always best

Deirdre Keenan, who lives near Ballymena, has been a registered childminder for a year. She too faced stiff competition from unregistered childminders in her area who were prepared to charge lower prices.

“I had an awful struggle to get enough children to make my business viable when I first started,” she explained.

“Parents did come to see me but then they’d go elsewhere, and I quickly discovered it was because my fees were being undercut by unregistered childminders.”

Deirdre estimated that parents were able to save up to £35 a week by going to an unregistered childminder.

“The problem is that too many parents are just looking for the cheapest childcare option,” she said.

“I appreciate many parents are under financial pressure at the moment — but I would just ask them to put the interests of their child first.”

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