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Community / Council working on solutions to plug Unst childcare gap

THERE are hopes that the Baltasound Primary School nursery in Unst will soon be able to take in two year olds after the closure of a local childminder.

Shetland Islands Council’s early years manager Sam Flaws said the local authority will also offer additional, paid-for hours for bairns attending the nursery over the usual entitlement.

There has been concern over the childcare provision in Unst after the local childminder stopped trading.

But this mirrors what happened in neighbouring Yell, after that island’s childminder closed.

Flaws said in Yell the “impact has been really significant for the isle, with young families having to make the decision to move to other parts of Shetland so that they have access to childcare”.

At the moment across Scotland children aged three to five can access 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare a year, as well as eligible two-year-olds. Photo: Pixabay

At the moment across Scotland children aged three to five can access 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare a year, as well as eligible two-year-olds.

Services like childminders can provide a vital service for families outside of nursery hours and these age groups.

But in Unst the set-up had been for the school nursery to take three and four year olds, and for two year olds to access the childminder.

Flaws confirmed that the council is now in the process of registering the Baltasound school nursery with the Care Inspectorate to enable it to provide for two year olds.

When it does accept two year olds, priority will be given to eligible bairns, such as those from families on low incomes – but ‘non-eligible’ two year olds will also be able to access the service, at a charge.

“This requires a fair bit of work but I am hopeful we will be able to offer this service very soon,” Flaws said.

“We will also make additional hours available for families, which they can pay for, above their funded entitlement of 1,140 hours for 2-5 year olds who attend the nursery.

“This is similar to what we have done in Yell, which helps a bit.”

The council is also working with the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) on a recruitment campaign for childminders across the isles.

“The childminding model really meets the needs of remote and rural areas, where numbers are small,” Flaws said.

A new partnership pilot project launched at the tail end of March to support the recruitment and training of more than 100 new professional childminders in specific communities within ten defined areas of Scotland, including Shetland.

The Scottish Rural Childminding Partnership pilot is led by the Scottish Childminding Association with £170,000 of partnership funding from South of Scotland Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland.

Those who apply and are accepted on to the pilot will be supported through the process, from induction training and support through the registration process to establishing their new business.

No previous childcare experience is required to become a childminder but “applicants do need to be passionate about working with children”, the partnership said.

More information can be found online. 

In the meantime Flaws said she is also in the early stages of working up some other possible solutions for school-aged childcare in the North Isles.

The real challenge, she said, is that childcare is “not cheap, and given it is non-statutory, it is not funded in the same way as early learning and childcare”.

“However, childcare is a core element in the new Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan and I am hopeful that we can begin to work up delivery models, which suit the Shetland context, so we can be on the front foot if funding becomes available.”