Parents cleared to set up mutual child care

Parents who arrange to look after each other’s children no longer need to worry about breaking the law, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls ruled today.

His intervention came after two women police officers were told an arrangement by which each cared for the other’s child while the other was at work was in contravention of the new Childcare Act.

Ofsted, the children’s services watchdog, said the arrangement meant they were providing a service for reward – i.e escaping childminding fees – and had to be registered as nannies and subjected to regular inspections.

An outcry followed the original case with Margaret Morrissey, of the parents’ pressure group, ParentsOutloud, claiming Ofsted had “lost the plot”.

Now Mr Balls has indicated he will bring an end to the regulation of reciprocal childcare arrangements between friends provided there is no financial payment for the service.

In a letter to Christine Gilbert, chief executive of Ofsted, he said: “When parents make their own reciprocal childcare arrangements with friends they retain full control and responsibility fior the care their children receive and I am clear this should not be a matter for regulation.

“It has never been our intention to intervene in these kind of arrangements between friends.

“From now on and with immediate effect, I would ask that Ofsted always treats such situations as beyond the scope of the childcare arrangements that you regulate under the Childcare Act 2006.

“I would be grateful if you would communicate this to all your childcare inspectors as quickly as possible.”

Mr Balls’ decision follows advice from Sir Roger Singleton, the Government’s chief adviser on the safety of children, who told him: “My view is the Government should not seek to regulate the sensible and responsible arrangements which parents make between themselves for the care of their children.

“Provided the arrangements have been freely entered into and are not complicate by payments from one parent to another, I consider that Government should regard these as matters for parental discretion and decision.”

The two police officers – Detective constables Leanne Shepherd, from Milton Keynes, and Lucy Jarrett, of Buckingham – they were told to cease the arrangement. Ms Shepherd said: “A lady came to the front door and identified herself as being from Ofsted. She said a complaint had been made that I was illegally childminding. I was shocked when she told me I was breaking the law.”

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