INVERCLYDE is leading the way in offering families more flexibility for childcare.

When the number of early learning hours for three and four year olds double in two years time, local parents will be able to choose to place their youngsters with childminders as well as nurseries.

Inverclyde Childminding Network has worked closely with the local authority on a pilot scheme allowing a 'blended care' option to be rolled out.

The move has been hailed by Greenock mum-of-two Kirsty Brown, who works full-time as staff nurse in Inverclyde Royal.

She relies on her childminder Susannah Knox and will benefit from the additional hours when her five-month-old baby Melanie reaches the age of three.

Kirsty, 30 , of Drumillan Hill, said: "When I had my ten-year-old son Charlie I was a single mum, on my own working full time as an auxiliary nurse.

"I had no family to help, my mum lives in New Zealand.

"Every mum has guilt when they go out to work.

"I wanted to my baby to be in a home which is why I initially chose a childminder.

"I would never have been able to study for a degree, work full-time and then quality as a nurse if it wasn't for the support of Susannah.

"I knew when I left my son every day he was in the best possible care.

"Susannah has helped me raise my son.

"I want the same for Melanie. She can have the best of both worlds. When she is three she can go to a nursery for some of the day and then I know she is with Susannah the rest of the time.

"It gives me a choice rather than being told my child has to go to a nursery all day at three years old.

"There is a place for nursery, but I want my children cared for by a childminder as well."

Kirsty, who married husband Jordan, a joiner, in 2014 is delighted at the government's move to increase funding to 1,100 hours.

Inverclyde Council will receive £21 million in additional funding to increase capacity in their nurseries but childminders are set to play a key role in fulfilling the policy too.

She added: "It will make a big difference to us when she is three.

"We are both working and there is no help for childcare."

Over the years Kirsty has developed a strong bond with Susannah.

She added: "Susannah is part of our family. Her daughter Carys was my bridesmaid when I was married."

Greenock childminder Susannah is part of the active Inverclyde Childminders Network and an elected member of the Scottish Childminders' Association.

She has worked with education managers to deliver a third 'blended care' option.

She said: "Inverclyde is way out in front in planing for this compared with the picture nationally.

"We have this option which gives parents choice.

"From 2020 parents can choose to use their additional hours at a childminder who is grade four and above.

"I also hope this changes the ideas people have about childminders, as babysitters.

"We are inspected by the Care Inspectorate, the same as nurseries.

"In Inverclyde 91 per cent of all our childminders are grade four and above and 65 per cent are grade five and above and we follow the curriculum of excellence."