Mothers are banned from looking after each other’s children
(DAILY MAIL) Two working mothers have been banned from looking after each other’s toddlers because they are not registered childminders.
The close friends’ private arrangement had let them both return to part-time jobs at the same company.
However, a whistleblower reported them to the education watchdog Ofsted and it found their informal deal broke the law.
This was because little-known rules say friends cannot gain a ‘reward’ by looking after a child for more than two hours outside the child’s home without agreeing to a number of checks including one from the Criminal Records Bureau.
Although the mothers never paid each other, their job-sharing deal was judged to be a ‘reward’. Campaigners fear thousands of working families could be innocently breaking the rules by relying on close friends for informal childcare.
A Downing Street petition in protest at the treatment of the two mothers has already received 1,600 signatures.
Educational campaigner Dr Richard House labelled the case as ‘absolutely scandalous’.
He said: ‘There is no conceivable rationale behind it. It’s like making the assumption that all parents are paedophiles and they have to prove that they aren’t. As soon as we create a society like that then family life ceases. Parents have to have the confidence to make their own choices about their own children. This is absolutely extraordinary.’
The women, who have not been identified, had given birth at similar times. When their daughters passed their first birthday, they decided to return to work part-time at the same firm.
The colleagues agreed to look after each other’s children as part of the job share. They are said to be ‘very good friends’ and the girls were so close they had grown up ‘like sisters’.
However, it is understood that someone believed they were acting illegally as childminders and reported them to Ofsted.
The women have now put their girls into official childcare ‘meaning they can’t work as they wished due to the elevated costs’, friends say.
Ofsted regulations state that where a person cares for at least one child for ‘reward’ in their own house for more than two hours in any one day they must be registered with them as childminders.
Reward is interpreted as ‘the supply of services or goods’ or ‘reciprocal arrangements, not just money changing hands.
The rules particularly affect close friends because relatives, such as grandparents, do not have to register with Ofsted. Nor do nannies as they provide childcare in a parent’s house.
Some 1,654 people have signed the No10 petition, calling for a change of the meaning of ‘reward’ to ‘money and gifts’ in the Childcare Act to allow reciprocal deals.
A circular with the petition says: ‘Caring for a child for reward is classed as childminding and requires the carer to be registered with Ofsted. In this case, Ofsted say that the reward is free childcare when the mothers themselves go to work!’
It adds: ‘In an age when the Government want women to return to work, why is it made so difficult for people?’
An Ofsted spokesman confirmed it had been called in after a complaint.
Children’s Minister Vernon Coaker said: ‘The legislation is in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all children. But we need to be sure it does not penalise hard-working families. My department is discussing with Ofsted the interpretation of the word “reward”.’