Continuing our series looking at people who work in the care sector, we look at the role of a local authority childcare opportunities manager.
Childcare is one of the essential props on which our economy and society depend. Without childcare, how would working parents with pre-school children be able to go out and do their jobs? Even when parents are working from home, they still need childcare if they are to work at their maximum efficiency, as experience during the lockdown has shown.
It is also an empowering profession for those who work in it, whatever their age. It’s not all about nursery nursing and childminding, though they are the bread and butter of the sector. Many people who start off as a nursery nurse progress into higher management, perhaps with a private sector childcare provider, a third sector charity or a local authority. One who did so was Claire Bevan, childcare opportunities manager at Swansea Council.
Claire’s team includes a mixture of people from different ages and backgrounds, not all of them in childcare. They are united by a passion for helping families access the childcare they need.
Most parents in this country have to pay for childcare, which is usually provided by self-employed childminders or third sector nurseries and daycare centres. Some parents get help with the costs from their local authority, who can fund up to 30 hours childcare with their chosen provider, while those in the greatest need can access free services. Deciding who can receive help with costs or get free childcare is one of Claire’s main responsibilities.
In a typical year Claire and her team deal with more than 800 applications for childcare funding. There are more than 200 childcare providers in Swansea, from full day care and sessional care centres to childminders. But the demand for childcare exceeds the supply of providers, so another of Claire’s responsibilities is to recruit childminders.
Claire is acutely aware that the cost of childcare is a major issue for many families. “It’s great to hear a parent say that because of this funding, they can now go and get a job and have a better quality of life,” she says.
At 16, Claire had no idea what she wanted to do, but she was inspired by a cousin who had studied nursery nursing at college on a course that included a week-long placement every second week.
“That really appealed to me, the thought of being in a work setting and learning what went on was really interesting. I really enjoyed the course, there were lots of hands-on activities. It wasn’t just about assignments, it was about understanding how children would learn by doing practical things.”
After qualifying Claire went on to work in a succession of day nurseries. When she had a daughter of her own she registered as a childminder, then became deputy manager of a new day nursery that was opening in Swansea. She trained in assessment and became an accredited childcare assessor, getting a job at Swansea Council assessing students and childminders.
“The common perception is that once you get into childcare it’s very limited, but actually it opens the door to a whole world of opportunities in terms of careers,”
A career for life
Many childcare providers stayed open during the lockdown, one in Swansea remaining open 7 days a week and up to 10 in the evening. Claire is frustrated that they didn’t get the recognition that others, such as schools, received. However, she feels that appreciation for the professionalism and importance of the sector is improving overall.
And she has words of encouragement for anyone considering a career in the field.
“Do it, as long as you are passionate, have empathy, and want to learn and understand,”
It’s not just a profession for young women either, she insists. Whatever age you are and whatever you want to get out of your career, there’s a place for you in it. As Claire’s story shows, there are plenty of opportunities for career progression if that’s what you’re after. But if childcare for you is just about caring for children in your care, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Older people with experience are important as well, across the sector.
“We do see older people wanting to become childminders too, but we also want them in day nurseries and sessional care, they come with a wealth of experience and have a lot to offer,”
Making a difference to parents and children, helping society, and opening up a world of opportunities for yourself – what better reasons could there be for considering a career in childcare?
Claire herself has no plans to leave childcare until she retires.
“It’s a job for life, but it can change in many ways during your career too,”