QUALITY childcare could be put at risk if planned changes to the profession come into force, childminders and nursery leaders in Hampshire have warned.

They have roundly criticised the package of measures announced this week by the Government which would see childcare providers allowed to look after more children in a bid to improve the choice of childcare and bring down the costs.

The reforms would also see a change in qualifications, along with the setting up of childcare agencies with which childminders could register.

However, the plans have attracted criticism from all sectors of early years carers, who say the proposals just don’t stack up.

Anna Watson, a registered childminder for 15 years, said the proposals could put quantity before quality, while the owner of a Southampton nursery branded the idea “horrendous”.

The carer-to-child ratios are set to rise under the plans, enabling more young children to be looked after by fewer adults, according to children’s minister Liz Truss.

Announcing the plans this week, she said the move would bring the UK in line with countries such as France and Sweden, as currently the English system leads to higher costs for parents and lower pay for staff.

She added that the proposals were ultimately about raising standards, but that has been questioned by childcare professionals.

Mrs Watson, who is also a qualified nurse and supports new childminders coming into the profession, said: “In Chandler’s Ford, where I am based, there is a need to create more childminder places as there just aren’t enough, but I don’t see how this plan will necessarily achieve that while maintaining the quality.

“Creating more provision does not equate to good quality childminders, so I fail to see how a better choice of childcare will be available. Parents often choose childminders because they want care within a smaller group.

“Ultimately childminders will have to assess whether they feel able to take on more children but it has to come down to safety and I would question whether that would be possible in an emergency situation for all childminders if they had two babies and toddlers.”

She also argued that childminders already had the option of increasing numbers if they met elevated Ofsted standards, so simply increasing the numbers without that assessment could put children’s safety at risk.

That view was shared by Suzanne Owen, who runs the Redroofs Day Nursery in Southampton.

She said: “I can totally see that they want to bring the cost of childcare down for parents, but personally I think this is an horrendous idea. The quality would definitely suffer. I do not believe you could give the same care to more children with fewer adults.

“It has to be about quality, not ramming the children through |the door.” Mrs Watson also said it was unlikely that costs would come down under the plans.

“I don’t see how the addition of a child would necessarily see a reduction in costs to parents. For the childminder another child means more cost. For example, there would be outlays for buggies, prams, cots, food, travel expenses.

“It is not like we are doing this for the money – childcare is a vocation. In some cases childminders would be paid less than the minimum wage if they had fewer children to look after. I don’t see overall that the plans would result in parents paying less.”

Mrs Watson also criticised plans to create childminder agencies that the Government suggests would make it easier for parents to find care in their community.

“I find that idea completely ridiculous and can’t understand what they are thinking. Childcare is a personal choice for parents. In my experience parents want to do the vetting themselves.

“There is also a suggestion that the agency would find alternative care if the childminder was ill, but would any parent just ship their child off to a stranger their child did not know?”

A universal qualification would also be brought in alongside a new qualification that would see similar standards to teachers in a bid to encourage more schools to provide early years care.

The idea is that children would then be better prepared for the school environment if they had already experienced classroom-style learning.