Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 10:08 UK

Babysitter or childminder?

Nursery pupils
Childminders must register with Ofsted if they receive a "reward"

An uproar has broken out after two police officers were told they had acted illegally by caring for each other's children.

Detective Constables Leanne Shepherd and Lucy Jarret cared for each other's children when they were working shifts, but Ofsted said they were breaking the law.

But what is the legal position on the issue?

Ofsted said the arrangement broke the 2006 Childcare Act because it lasted for longer than two hours a day, and constituted receiving "a reward".

According to an Ofsted spokesperson: "Reward is not just a case of money changing hands. The supply of services or goods and in some circumstances reciprocal arrangements can also constitute reward."

The watchdog said the women would have to be registered as childminders.

Ofsted says close relatives of the child such as siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles are exempt from registration.

According to the Childcare Act, carers who are not a close family member also do not have to register if:

  • The childcare takes place in the parents' home
  • or it only takes place between 1800 and 0200
  • or the childcare takes place fewer than two hours a day, or 14 days a year.

Registered childminders must pay an annual fee of £103 to Ofsted.

Ofsted's guide to registration says registered childminders must attend an appropriate training course, carry out a risk assessment of the premises on which the childcare takes place and prepare a written statement of procedures to be followed in the event of complaints.

The law also allows Ofsted to carry out checks to ensure that childminders comply with these rules.

Critics reacted angrily after the case was publicised.

The charity Kidscape said it defied "common sense" and Thames Valley Police, who employs the two women, said the pair had its "full support".

However, the watchdog said it was in discussion with the government about how the legislation is applied.

Minister for Children, Schools and Families Vernon Coaker confirmed: "My department is speaking to Ofsted about the interpretation of the word 'reward' in this particular case."

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