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Ofsted has 'lost the plot' over childminding case

Ofsted has “lost the plot” by telling two police officers they broke the law by caring for each other’s children, it was claimed today.

Margaret Morrissey, of the parents’ pressure group, ParentsOutloud, said: “If we have reached the point in our society when we cannot trust our very close friends to look after each other’s children, I think it is time to give up and go and live in another country.”

She was speaking after the children’s services watchdog said the police officers’ arrangement contravened the Childcare Act because they were providing a childminding service for a reward. As such, the two mothers would have to register as childminders and subject themselves to regular inspections by Ofsted. The Children’s minister, Vernon Coaker, has ordered a review of the case and officials from his department are discussing with Ofsted how to interpret the meaning of the word “reward”.

The legislation, which came into force three years ago, is complicated. It says mothers who look after each other’s children are generally exempt from the requirement to register as childminders if they provide the service for less than two hours a day or 14 days a year. If one mother, Mrs A, goes to the house of another, Mrs B, to look after Mrs B’s child, she is also exempt because it is considered home care. But if Mrs A took Mrs B’s child to her own home, it would be deemed to be offering a childcare service.

In the case of the two police officers – Detective Constables Leanne Shepherd, from Milton Keynes, and Lucy Jarrett, of Buckingham – they were deemed to be receiving a reward by saving each other from paying childcare services.

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.”

The complicated rules also seek to exempt babysitters from having to register by stating that registration is not necessary if the service is provided between the hours of 6pm and 2am. Sleepovers would be exempt, provided they did not happen at the same address more than 14 times in a year.

Also, if parents take their children to another location for four hours and stay in the vicinity, there is no need for registration. This is designed to protect creches at places such as shopping malls and sports centres.

Mrs Morrissey, who was involved in talks about the introduction of the childcare legislation, said: “This was never the intention. It has been taken to an extreme of political correctness. You cannot as a Government say to parents, ‘OK, we want you all to go back to work but unless you pay up to £100 for childcare in some areas and at least £40 everywhere else you can’t do so. I would like to say to the Government: let hundreds and thousands of parents have just a smidgen of a say in how they bring up their children.

“What happens if parents refuse to stop looking after each other’s children? Are they fined and, if they cannot pay, are they sent to prison?”

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said of the situation: “Ofsted applies the regulations for the registration of childcare as found in the 2006 Childcare Act. We are currently discussing with the Department for Children, Schools and Families the interpretation of the word ‘reward’ in the legislation to establish if we might be able to make a change.”

Mr Coaker added that it had never been the intention of the Government to “penalise hard-working families”.

More than 5,000 people have signed a petition on the No.10 website to scrap the rules governing reciprocal childcare.

How to avoid having to register as a childminder

It is often said that rules are open to interpretation and there is no doubt that those stated in the 2006 Childcare Act could provide a bonanza for lawyers.

For instance, if you, as a working mother, ask a friend to look after your child in your own home, she is exempt from having to register as a childminder, according to Ofsted. If you are working part-time and leave your child for fewer than four hours and “stay in the immediate vicinity”, you are also exempt. The message appears to be: find someone near your place of work to look after your child. Finally, the legislation appears to protect babysitters by saying they are exempt from registering if they provide a service |between 6pm and 2am. What happens, though, if the parents return from a party at 4am?