Childcare help 'could be illegal'

BBC News | September 27, 2009

Parents in England who regularly look after friends' children and receive a "reward" for doing so must register as childminders, regulator Ofsted says.

It said most parents would be exempted but those who babysat for more than two hours at a time, or for more than 14 days per year, should be registered.

The "reward" could be money or free baby-sitting in return, it said.

It comes after Ofsted told two police women to end an arrangement to care for each other's children.

According to the Mail on Sunday, Ofsted told two detective constables, Leanne Shepherd, from Milton Keynes, and Lucy Jarrett, from Buckingham, to end their arrangement.

Ms Shepherd told the newspaper: "When the Ofsted inspector turned up, the first thing she said was: 'I have had a report that you're running an illegal childminding business'.

"I straightaway thought she must be mistaken, so invited her into my home to explain we were police officers and best friends helping each other out.

"But she told me I was breaking the law and must end the arrangement with Lucy immediately. I was stunned, completely devastated... I couldn't see how I could continue working."

Petition started

According to the article, the Thames Valley officer is believed to have been reported by a neighbour.

Thames Valley Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the pair had its "full support".

Secretary Andy Viney said: "Both of them are experienced professional officers.

"They just want to return to work after having children and have found that the system is working totally against them.

"They've been threatened with prosecution by Ofsted if they continue doing this."

An Ofsted spokesman said it applied regulations found in the 2006 Childcare Act, but was currently discussing the interpretation of the word "reward" with the department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).

"Reward is not just a case of money changing hands. The supply of services or goods and in some circumstances reciprocal arrangements can also constitute reward," he said.

"Generally" mothers who looked after each other's children were not providing childminding for which registration was required because the care was for less than two hours or took place on less than 14 days in a year, he said.

Close relatives of the child such as grandparents, siblings, aunts or uncles were exempt from the rules, he added.

A petition to scrap the rules governing reciprocal child care on the Number 10 website has gathered more than 2,000 signatures.

Anyone required to register to become a childminder would also have to undergo a criminal records check.