CHILDMINDING services across Scotland are facing a crisis despite moves to expand services for the under fives, officials have warned.

The Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) said members were being excluded from a multi-million pound drive to almost double the current free entitlement to 1140 hours a year of early learning and childcare by 2020.

The Scottish Government has committed more than £969 million to deliver the expansion and said childminding would play a crucial role.

However, the SCMA said councils were not going into partnership with childminders as planned leaving very young children with the only option of being looked after in large nurseries.

There are currently nearly 6,000 childminders in Scotland, caring for over 32,000 children.

Writing in The Herald, Maggie Simpson, chief executive of the SCMA, said: "At the moment there is a fly in the ointment. Currently local authorities hold the purse strings regarding the commissioning of services and this is not going well for childminders."

"Since the existing 600 hours of funded childcare has been on offer, local authorities have steered parents towards using nursery provision, with childminders only commissioned if no nursery place is available.

"This is a real worry because it means parents are being forced to move their young children in order to access funded early learning and childcare."

Mrs Simpson said of the 6,000 childminders in Scotland only 100 were currently commissioned by local authorities to deliver funded childcare.

She added: "As a result, childminding is now potentially facing a crisis, even though childminders are adept at providing quality childcare within family settings.

"Funded early learning and childcare is now extended to some two-year-olds and, unless we are careful, these very young children are going to be restricted to ever larger group settings instead of allowed to develop at their own pace in a setting more appropriate for their needs."

A spokesman for Cosla, the umbrella organisation for councils, said all local authorities had included childminders in their plans for expansion.

He added: "Our position is that childminders play a key role in the expansion and could offer opportunities for a targeted approach for children and their families.

"Quality is the most important element of the early learning expansion and we look forward to the quality standard being developed which will ensure that all parents can be reassured that their child will receive the same quality provision no matter who they choose to provide their early learning and childcare."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said ministers recognised the contribution made by childminders and community childminders, especially in relation to the needs of younger children.

She added: "Our commitment to increase funded early learning and childcare to 1140 hours by 2020 will be based on a new funding model that enables providers - including childminders - to deliver the funded entitlement in a more open, proportionate and consistent way, providing families with increased choice.

“Families are also already starting to benefit from participation in our trials, which are testing innovative approaches and new models, many of which involve childminders.”

An earlier consultation on the expansion also emphasised the role of childminders stating: "We know that in many local authority areas, childminders are entering into partnerships to deliver the 600 hours of entitlement, particularly for the eligible two-year-olds."