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Childminders getting back to work 'after crucial role recognised'

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Northern Ireland Childminding Association director Patricia Lewsley Mooney

Northern Ireland Childminding Association director Patricia Lewsley Mooney

Northern Ireland Childminding Association director Patricia Lewsley Mooney

More childminders are getting back to work after Stormont expanded the list of key workers.

Patricia Lewsley Mooney, director of the Northern Ireland Childminding Association, said the Executive had realised the sector's importance after it failed to include childminders in the five-step recovery.

Less than half of childminders have stayed open in lockdown, and only for families on the original list of key workers.

But that's begun to change this past week, Ms Lewsley Mooney said.

She added: "We're at a more positive position than we have been before.

"I think the Department of Education and the Executive realised that childcare is a linchpin to any process moving forward."

In May she told Stormont's education committee childminders had been "brought to their knees" by Covid-19.

Now about 50 people have registered their interest to become childminders, which she said was promising for a sector hit hard by the pandemic.

But families are still calling on Stormont for clarity as more parents return to work.

This week more than 100 people, including SDLP MP Claire Hanna, signed an open letter to the Health and Education Ministers for a roadmap for the sector reopening, and a long-term childcare strategy.

Ulster University's Ciara Fitzpatrick, who drafted the letter along with FactCheck NI founder Orna Young, said some families felt they had no choice but to send their children to grandparents or people who are shielding.

She said there also needed to be more information on what the Executive's new bubble policy meant for childcare, adding: "I think parents feel like they have been forgotten about and they haven't had the space to actually discuss how challenging the current situation has been for them."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said childcare would be key in future "return-to-work" decisions.

She said the number of providers operating was expected to increase with demand. She added: "Childcare providers are available to support workers who have been required to go to work to support the response to the Covid-19 pandemic or who have been permitted to return to work by the NI Executive."

From June 8 childminders have been able to extend their care from two families to three at one time. That number is expected to increase to four next month, and five in August.

Belfast Telegraph