Desperate Ullapool parents are calling for cash and support to solve an “unprecedented childcare crisis” in their community.
Two of the Wester Ross village’s four childminders will retire this year, a huge blow to a village with around 1,500 people in it.
Many parents said the child care shortage has made life hard for their families. Some are having trouble finding work or returning to existing jobs.
Members of the local Childcare Action Group recently wrote to MSP Maree Todd, previous Minister for Young People and Childcare, asking for help.
They asked Ms Todd to help them find funding for out of school care and to incentivise locals to become childminders.
Ullapool parents looking for answers to childcare shortage
In their letter to Ms Todd, the Childcare Action Group said that they worry about the long-term effects of Ullapool’s childcare shortage.
The group outlined some of the resources that used to be available in the village, as well as current ones that are struggling. A Care and Learning Alliance after school club closed when funding dried up during the first lockdown in 2020.
Parents believe that, if the facility gets support from Highland Council or another source, it may be able to reopen. They also hope to add wrap around childcare services at the primary school, or make use of the nursery to offer care for younger children.
Perhaps most urgent is the fact that two of Ullapool’s four childminders will retire this year. That means parents need to find new solutions for the 18 children who were in their care.
“Ullapool is facing an unprecedented childcare crisis which in our opinion will negatively impact on the long-term economic prosperity of our village, as well as the wellbeing of families with young children.”
Dawn Slaughter, a spokesperson for the action group, said that Ms Todd’s office replied and offered to speak to the parents directly.
How are families affected?
Of the 40 families that responded to a community survey, 29 said they would be affected by the retirement of the childminders.
Others indicated that they would use before or after school wrap around services if they were available. Almost half of the 39 who responded said they would use both.
Many parents worry about having to pass on promotions, turn down job opportunities or miss out on higher learning if they can’t find local childcare.
Expecting mum Jocelyn Napier works two part-time jobs while studying for a masters in psychology. Without childcare, she will no longer be able to work.
“My husband works away which means childcare rests solely on my shoulders. The loss of childcare provisions both at school age and pre nursery will mean that I would have to give up both of my jobs.”
Ms Napier said that it’s easy to feel short on options in a small village. She hopes either Highland Council or Ms Todd’s office can help.
“It seems a shame that there is a lot of incentives to encourage mothers back to work after having children and then the thing that stands in their way is lack of childcare.”
‘My career has suffered’ due to the childcare shortage
Local father Andrew Hayton has also made career decisions based on childcare options.
“My career has suffered due to lack of child care provision as I have been offered promotions in the past which I have turned down as it would take me away from the area & not able to help with our kids.”
He added that he realizes childcare is expensive, and suggested a compromise might help everyone. He suggests the opening of a day care centre partially funded by the council.
What can the council do?
Ullapool parents hope Highland Council will extend funding to out of school care in the village.
A council spokeswoman said: “There is no statutory requirement for The Highland Council to provide out of school care for pre and primary age children, although where there is sufficient demand to make that sustainable, it is provided.”
And despite earlier efforts, calls for locals to take up childminding struggled to gain traction.
“A previous recruitment campaign for childminders in the Ullapool area was unfortunately unsuccessful,” the spokesperson said. “Childminding provision in Ullapool, as in other areas in rural Highland, is very challenging.”
The spokeswoman added that council officials are still working to commission childminders in the region. A flyer sent by the school instructed anyone interested to contact a family resource coordinator and ELC commissioner.