17 April 2014

Agriculture Minister celebrates creation of 400 new childcare places


NICMA – the Childminding Association is celebrating the fact that it is on course to create 400 new childcare places through an innovative rural childminding scheme.

The pilot project, which was funded by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Rural Childcare Programme, was designed to help tackle the shortage of childcare places in many rural areas.

135 individuals have successfully completed a special training programme, designed and managed by NICMA, and are now in the process of being registered as childminders.

The achievements of the project and its participants will be marked this evening [7pm, Monday, 9th March] at a special event at Parliament Buildings when certificates will be presented to some of the individuals who have completed the programme.

NICMA's Director, Bridget Nodder, says the charity is delighted that it has been able to enable some rural parents to access high quality childcare more easily.

"We're extremely grateful to the Agriculture Minister and to her department for providing the funding which enabled this project to go ahead," she says.

"We're very aware of the acute difficulties which many parents in rural areas face in trying to find good quality, affordable childcare.

"The provision of an additional 400 childcare places will undoubtedly help make a significant impact in the areas on which this programme has focused."

The project concentrated on 15 rural areas across Northern Ireland. It used media publicity and advertising to encourage individuals who might not otherwise have done so to consider a career in childminding.

"It is amazing how many people did come along to our recruitment sessions who hadn't seriously considered childminding as a career before," says Maeve Milne, the project's co-ordinator.

"Some have since told us how they wish they'd made the move years ago, and it's been really heartwarming to have enabled so many people to make a really satisfying career change."

The programme concentrated on providing participants with comprehensive introductory training and support. Participants were also encouraged to consider working flexible hours to help meet the needs of rural parents.

Bridget Nodder says she hopes the pilot scheme will provide a model for future use.

"As a pilot programme, this project was confined to a limited number of areas, and we are well aware that many parents in areas not covered by this scheme still face problems in accessing childcare," she explains.

"What we have been able to show is that there are many potential childminders in rural areas who may not consider a career in childcare unless their awareness is raised through suitable publicity.

"The project has also highlighted the importance of high quality training and support. If that is in place, the drop-out rate is likely to be much lower.

"We hope these lessons will be taken into account when the Northern Ireland Executive develops its forthcoming Childcare Strategy, and we hope that, in the future, it will be possible to replicate this scheme on a wider scale."

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