Betsy Kehoe started childminding 25 years ago, when her sister asked her to mind her son after she went back to work.
Based in Ballaghkeen in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, she has since lost count of how many children she has taken care of.
Currently she has three pre-schoolers and three after-schoolers in her care.
Ms Kehoe told The Irish Times she feels as though the Government must take childminders’ perspectives into account if they are to change the regulations around childminders in the country.
“Nobody has ever had any complaints, I must be doing something right. And I just have a feeling the Government is just going to make a hames of it, I just know they are,” Ms Kehoe said.
“We are all worried about the inspections. We are not centre-based, it is our home. First of all, it is our house, I cannot make my house bigger – I would love to have a bigger house, but I cannot make it bigger.
“I have to work around what I have actually got here, I have a livingroom, a kitchen, we are all together. I turn my sittingroom into a playroom and [the children] all follow me, they would not leave me alone,” Ms Kehoe says.
The service she offers is a “home away from home”.
“I had an inspection, maybe 12, 13 years ago and I had someone coming to inspect my house – I live in a three-bedroom bungalow – you know what he told me? That my house wasn’t big enough for Tusla-registered children,” Ms Kehoe said.
“No parent has ever come in here and said, ‘Oh your house is too small for me’, ‘No you can’t mind my children’. Nobody has ever said that.”
She also said that she would “guarantee” that the legislation to ensure that childminders register with Tusla would put people off childminding.
“If I was starting off this now, I would not go for childminding, listening to all that, I actually wouldn’t do it,” she said.
[ No ‘big bang’ approach to childminder regulations, says Minister for Children ]
Currently, many parents who use childminders are not eligible for the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), because many childminders are not registered with Tusla, the child and family agency.
There is no centralised registration system for childminders, but it is estimated there are 15,000 in Ireland. Fewer than 80 were registered with Tusla as of last September.
This week Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman secured Cabinet approval to bring forward legislation designed to change the legal status of childminders to make future regulation possible and to allow for the NCS to be opened to more parents.
If the legislation is to go through, any registration process must be kept simple for childminders, because if it is made difficult, fewer will want to register, Ms Kehoe says.
“I would register, because I obviously want to keep it all above board and all right. I’m not saying everyone will, but I have said I would because I wouldn’t have much choice because I would probably be closed down, and I would not like to be doing it backhanded, because next thing you would be reported,” she said.
However, Ms Kehoe would like for childminding be seen as a more respected profession. “I would like to see it more professional, because it is not taken as a serious occupation.”
At present most childminders are not regulated as a result of an exemption in the Child Care Act. The planned legislation would remove the exemption as a precursor to childminder-specific regulations being introduced at a later date.
Ultimately the plan is for childminders to go through a registration process. It could be 2024 before parents using them will be able to access subsidies available under the NCS.