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Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) has been a policy priority for the Scottish Government for some time. Recently the Scottish Government consulted about its plans to expand the free hours of Early Learning and Childcare. It has already introduced 600 hours of free ELC for three and four year olds and for some two year olds through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014; this is still being rolled out and changes being made to how ELC is provided in local authority areas in Scotland.
PAS submitted a consultation response based on the experience of our partner organisations working with parents throughout Scotland. We were particularly keen to put forward the voices of parents and carers who often get overlooked in policy – families affected by disability, lone parents, parents on low income and others. Our partner organisation, Aberlour also hosted a consultation event where the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, heard from parents about their concerns around childcare.
What we said in our consultation response:
We emphasised that it is crucial that quality is at the heart of the childcare expansion. Good quality childcare can improve children’s wellbeing. However, if childcare is not of high quality then this is detrimental to children.
Currently it is still an issue in many areas of Scotland that parents are finding it difficult to access their free hours. This is often because they are working and need to use a private nursery/childminder to obtain sufficient hours. They need to do this at a nursery/childminder which has been designated a ‘partner nursery’ by the local authority. Many parents have found this difficult. We asked the Government to make funding for childcare fairer so that parents have more choice about where to obtain their free hours.
Child minders offer a very special caring childcare environment for children. However, currently too few parents can use child minders for their free hours as many local authorities are not taking on child minders as ‘partner providers’. We asked Scottish Government to ensure that more parents can choose to use child minders for their free hours.
We said that what is needed for two year olds may be different from what is needed for three and four year olds. Some of the two year olds who are eligible under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 are looked after children, and may have specific needs rather than childcare. This could be provided under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014; we asked the Government to consider using alternative support to childcare when appropriate.
We asked for the Government to reconsider how local authorities should be asked to consult with parents. Currently, there is no guidance and there is a hotchpotch of approaches by local authorities in Scotland. Consulting with parents about what they need or want from childcare is a wonderful opportunity to assess what is needed throughout Scotland. Currently this is not being used to its full potential.
Many families affected by disability are unable to access childcare at all. This is unfair to both parents and children. We suggested some ways to Government that this might be improved.
The Government asked if the expansion should be rolled out in the same way throughout Scotland, or if it ought to be phased in, and if so, in what way. We urged the Government to ensure that single parents were prioritised for childcare. This is because single parents are required to find work from the time their youngest child is three and can be penalised for failing to take up work opportunities. Childcare is often a major barrier to taking up work.
Other articles published in our June 2017 newsletter:
Other articles about childcare: