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As well as ‘free hours’ of Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) being available to all three and four year olds, ‘free hours’ are also available to some two year olds, specifically, two year olds who are looked after or who live in households where no one is in paid employment - I hate the term ‘workless households’ because while parents may not have a job, being a parent is, of course, itself hard work!
ELC needs to respond to the needs of individual children in a tailored way recognising that one size does not fit all. This is particularly true for two year olds where nursery may not be what many of them need. This is why we were delighted that the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 included provision for support to be provided in other ways where ELC may not be appropriate (Part 6, section 49). Unfortunately there is very little awareness or use of this part of the Act.
We would like to see this section of the Act used more and belive that there needs to be guidance on how this section could be used to benefit children and their families. There are a number of reasons why we believe that this would be beneficial for some children and families.
Where a child is looked after, whichever particular status they fall under, this is likely to be because of abuse or trauma in their background. In these circumstances, it is more beneficial for children’s wellbeing to stay with their ‘new’ carer and to form a secure attachment rather than be removed from them. Here, providing alternative support rather than an ELC place could be used to help new parents and carers to build secure relationships with the children in their care before moving into ELC when the connection is well established and the child is in a better position to benefit from it. Nurturing care and forming an attachment with the new carer should be the primary objective, and can be fostered by support from skilled workers.
One of the major impacts on children’s wellbeing is their relationship with their parents; most children spend the majority of their time with parents. Some parents may have difficulties parenting due to their own poor parenting experiences, external difficulties or family events. Often additional support at home is what is needed to allow families to establish routines, care for their child, and give them the confidence to engage with external services.
Family support in the home would enable families to provide a better, more secure family life for their children, from which they would be more prepared to move onto ELC at a later stage, and better equipped to benefit from it.
One of the Government’s policy priorities is narrowing the attainment gap. Evidence shows that this starts very early and that ELC is one of the most effective ways of tackling this. It is crucial that home learning and parental engagement goes hand in hand with this. Supporting parents to achieve this is critical. Again, this is an area where we believe could the use of Section 49 could be beneficial.
We believe that extending and promoting the use of Section 49 would make sure that we get it right for every child, providing tailored support to meet families’ needs and enhancing wellbeing for individual children.
It could be used to facilitate a wide variety of support for parents including family support, community childminding and attachment based practice. Childminders are a particularly effective option for many two year olds offering individualised care and flexibility to meet the needs of child and family. Where home based support is required, community childminding is an option that can build family resilience.
As ELC is expanded, we hope that alternative support through this section of the Act can be provided to more families benefitting children and families, and the crucial relationships that foster children’s wellbeing.