Two policewomen have been told they could be prosecuted for caring for each other’s children.
Detective Constable Leanne Shepherd, who has a 2-year-old daughter, Edie, and her colleague DC Lucy Jarrett, mum to Amy, 3, share a full-time job. For over two years, they have also been looking after each other’s children while the other was at work.
Following an anonymous tip-off, Ofsted told the mums that their arrangement was illegal because they are not registered childminders.
“This arrangement was perfect for both of us as we were friends for many years while sharing a job and then we both had little girls,” said Leanne Shepherd. “The girls were together all day and grew up like sisters. I couldn’t believe it when an inspector turned up on my doorstep and said I was running an illegal childminding business. I thought there had been some mistake.”
Ofsted rules state that friends cannot receive a ‘rewards’ for looking after a child for more than two hours outside their home. Ofsted claim that although the mums never exchanged any money, the fact both were able to enjoy free childcare for their daughters was judged to be a reward.
To legally be able to continue to care for each other’s children, the pair would have to train as childminders. “We’ve thought through all the loopholes and it just wasn’t possible,” said Leanne. “To be a childminder you need to take exams and make modifications to your home such as blocking up fireplaces. I already have a career and my home is perfectly safe but those are the rules for people who are looking after lots of children professionally. There must be so many thousands of women in this situation. Ofsted really needs to change the rules.”
Leanne and Lucy’s job-share and childcare arrangements appear to make perfect sense, so what are they doing wrong? Well, Ofsted rules say that if person A is not related to person B, and provides childcare for person B for more than two hours a day or more than 14 days per year, and receives a reward for doing so, they are legally required to train and register as a childminder. This ‘reward’ is unclear at the moment and so potentially could be anything from payment to a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates – in Leanne and Lucy’s case, their trade in childminding duties has been deemed a reward.
Leanne has now put Edie in a private nursery at a cost of nearly £500 per month – half her salary – and has had to claim childcare benefits to pay the fees.
“These children were looked after in a secure environment with people they knew,” Michelle Elliott, director of the children’s charity, Kidscape, told the BBC’s Breakfast programme. “There must be thousands of people out there who are doing the same thing who are now going to think, ‘Do I have to spend £300 or more a week on childcare?'”
An Ofsted spokesman said yesterday, “Ofsted applies the regulations in the 2006 Childcare Act. We are discussing with the Department for Children, Schools and Families the interpretation of the word ‘reward’ to establish if we might be able to make a change.”
Sign the online petition started by two of Leanne and Lucy’s pregnant colleagues asking the government to change the law to allow reciprocal childcare.
Make sure you know the childcare regulations.