In past decades, there have been a raised interest on the availability and the quality of early education and care (ECEC) in the European Union: this is due both for an increased understanding about the role played by early years in children’s development, and to the need of supporting women’s labour force participation. However, the fragmentation of the childminding offer in Europe is still high: in particular, domiciliary childminding is often not-regulated, neither in terms of professional profile, nor in terms of labour contracts, even if European families greatly rely on domiciliary care for children.
Childminders in fact have a crucial role in society: they take care of the needs of the children in an active manner, they stimulate cognitive development, and overall they are part of the human environment preparing children for life within the community. In spite of this, their professional role is not completely recognised and access to appropriate learning pathways to acquire professional skills for the role is also not always available.
A recent study from the European Commission (2014) on the effective use of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in preventing early school leaving (ESL), highlighted instead that the risk of lowering the quality of services is increased with poor staff qualification and precarious employment conditions (case studies were analysed from Belgium and Spain).
A comparison of the required educational levels of child caretakers in European countries shows that these levels range from personal skills to university education. In some countries private childminders, working from home, have no educational requirements – only personal skills (e.g., Denmark, Germany, Portugal or Norway). Other countries, such as i.e. France, have tried to raise the educational standard of this professional profile (European Commission 2002:12, Barcelona Declaration), by providing training and certification for the “Assistant maternel” and “Garde -d’enfants” profiles.
Training for domiciliary childminders, although not always available as certified training, is however quite common across Europe: if France and Poland have professional training also for home-based care, Sweden and the Netherlands have established educational pathways, other countries have learning opportunities to enhance professional development of the profile, also in cases where certification for the professional profile is not available – these could be promoted by regional authorities or by communities, single training agencies etc. according to detected needs of the families.
A preliminary research carried out by the consortium, have highlighted that there are some common features among the curricula available for the profile, which, even if not always corresponding to the skills and competences described as related to the profile according to ESCO (ISCO 5311) that doesn’t still have a specific description for home-based childminders in terms of skills, can have a high degree of comparison (e.g. hygiene and health; communication, care practice). Further work, from the policy and practitioners’ sides, will allow in the future to better harmonise the profile toward a common curriculum.
At present, available paths have a common weakness which impacts both on the employability opportunities of childminders, and on the availability of skilled workers for families: specific learning for children with special needs is not included as separate and full developed modules, but integrated in general modules of care. Some short lifelong learning modules are available for some of the most common disabilities. These are largely inadequate to address the need of skilled caretakers of families dealing with children with special needs, and actions should be undertaken to the purpose.
On the basis of these considerations, the ChildIN project aims at providing specific blended training for childminders for children with special needs, by focusing on autism. The reason for this choice is related directly with the need expressed by the communities to which the partners of the consortium belong, and to a general need of Europe related to the increased diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children.
This will impact directly on the addressed target group, childminders, and on the final beneficiaries of the action, families dealing with autism, contributing therefore to increase wellbeing of the overall community – through inclusive practices, quality of training and care, improved professionalisation and employment conditions.