When Skye Jolly arrived in the small village of Aberlour, she faced a familiar dilemma for Scottish parents: choosing between her job and childcare.

Private childminders are often critical for working parents. They offer flexibility that traditional childcare centres can't while remaining subject to high standards and regular inspections.

Once Mrs Jolly realised that there was no childcare in her village, she had to quit her job with the NHS.

Then she went a step further.

“I thought: If I'm in this position, a lot of other people will probably be in the same position.”

So, in 2022, Mrs Jolly became one of 47 new childminders who started new services with support from the Scottish Childminding Association's (SCMA) Rural Childminding Partnership.

But that only scratches the surface of Scotland’s shortage.

The number of childminders in the country has dropped by 34 per cent since 2016. And the SCMA estimates that the rate of decline could double by 2026 if left unchecked.

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Limited options trigger a change


In 2022, Mrs Jolly opened her childminding service in Aberlour and had a full roster on the first day.

She credited the SCMA’s support with getting her off the ground, and she hopes more people will consider making the career change as she did.

Despite her immediate success, however, Mrs Jolly hasn’t been able to end the crisis in her own village.

Because she is at capacity, it means there are families in Aberlour who have been waiting for care for almost a year.

She hopes that her story can inspire others to consider starting a career in childminding to help parents in their area.

A caring business, but still a business


Mrs Jolly’s childminding business allows her to provide flexible hours for families in her area while spending more time with her own sons, ages 10 and two.

“It doesn't feel like I'm working,” she said.

“When it's sunny, you go out to the park and you're sitting there with these kids that are just having a ball and you're thinking: ‘I'm getting paid to do this!’”

When asked what advice she has for anyone interested in starting a childminding career, she said it’s important to keep one thing in mind: at its core, childminding is a business like any other.

On top of tax forms and standards checks via the Care Inspectorate – a process that can take up to six months – there is also the stress of owning and operating a small business.

“It’s a big learning curve but it’s also very exciting,” she said.

What’s behind the decline?


An ageing workforce, the cost-of-living crisis, increased demands for new qualifications in the care sector and the vulnerable economics of small communities all play a part in the decline of childminders, according to Janine Ryan, head of childminding services with the SCMA.

The Scottish Government’s provision of 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare to all three-, four- and eligible two-year-olds has made care available to thousands of families.

But the provision doesn’t help families with children outwith the eligibility ages, and it means that not everyone in a childminder’s care is eligible for funding.

Childminders can look after children ages 0-12, or up to 16 in the case of young people with additional needs.

The SCMA reports that only 27 per cent of children in childminding settings are eligible for funded ELC.

And in order to receive government ELC funding for the eligible children in their care, childminders need to complete extra certifications.

This puts a strain on older carers, Ms Ryan said.

After decades of service, these providers are faced with the choice to either retrain – sacrificing more of their valuable time – or switch careers.

In many cases, they choose the latter.

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Still work to be done


In light of these struggles, Ms Ryan said that the trend is becoming unsustainable and new childminders like Mrs Jolly can keep communities afloat.

“Families tend to move out of rural areas if there's a lack of opportunity to have childcare and to work.”

This creates a revolving door of scarcity: Childminders need families in their area in order to start a viable business, but families are likely to move away if there isn’t childcare already available.

"This is going to take ongoing, sustained commitment and concerted action," Ms Ryan added. "Not only to halt the decline but to turn it around."

The second phase of the plan is opening the scheme up to urban areas in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, while continuing to target the Highlands and western Scotland.

The Scottish Government is backing the SCMA’s latest recruitment drive and its goal to recruit 100 new professional childminders.

The programme offers fully-funded support for new childminders in these areas.

A government spokesman said that high-quality childcare can have long-lasting impacts on families and communities and that childminders are an invaluable resource, especially in underserved rural communities.

“That is why we are working with the Scottish Childminding Association and other partners to address the decline in the childminding workforce – a trend that is mirrored elsewhere in the UK.

“This includes contributing funding to the innovative childminder recruitment pilot being led by the Scottish Childminding Association.”

Anyone interested in becoming a childminder can visit the SCMA’s online resources and application portal or contact childminder-recruitment@childminding.org with questions.