Early support must be 'turbocharged', says the Children's Commissioner for England

Karen Faux
Friday, July 17, 2020

The Children's Commissioner for England is calling for a new ‘Best Beginnings’ early years investment plan, to deliver a rescue package to nurseries threatened with closure, extend free childcare and increase family support.

A cross-government strategy is urgently needed.
A cross-government strategy is urgently needed.

Providing an emergency recovery package for providers whose finances have been worst hit by Covid-19 is a key recommendation of a report from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, published today.

Ms Longfield recommends ramping up the existing 30 hours free childcare offer and extending 15 hours to one-year-olds, which will help to ensure that early years education is seen as part of ordinary life –  'in the same way that school is’.

Children's services, including children and family hubs, midwives and health visitors, need to be 'turbocharged' and brought together in one system that works for families and all children, including those who are disadvantaged, according to the report.

Entitled Best Beginnings, the report maps the provision of early years services for children across England, highlighting a system which is disjointed and often fails to target support for children who need it most.

Anne Longfield said: ‘In the immediate term, we need an emergency Government rescue package to stop nurseries going under – but there is much more to do beyond that.

‘The Government must make the early years a priority and drive reforms so that all children start school ready and able to learn and progress. Alongside high-quality early education, this means making sure that every family is guaranteed the support they need to help their young child to thrive, and to prevent early challenges turning into serious problems.

‘This Best Beginnings guarantee should make early years a central building block of the national recovery plan to level up children’s life chances, support families and boost the economy.’

While the National Day Nurseries Association  said that emergency funding was crucial, she pointed to other priorities – including a re-think on the funding model for the free entitlements.

‘NDNA has been calling on successive governments to get the funding model right before any expansion of places is considered, otherwise more nurseries and childcare places will be threatened,' she said.

‘The Government must focus on quality of provision and invest what is necessary to build skills within the workforce and attract more quality candidates to the sector.

‘Parents and providers also need a simplified approach to childcare funding. We welcome the recommendation linked to NDNA’s Childcare Passport proposal for a single system of support for parents and their children.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive at the Early Years Alliance also cautioned against extending free childcare schemes.

‘While positive in theory for families, unless the current issues around underfunding are fully addressed first, such a move would only place more pressure on an already-struggling sector, and ultimately result in even more providers being forced to close their doors for good,’ he said.

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) welcomed the call for a cross Government strategy.

Max Stanford, head of early childhood education and care said: ‘The commissioner’s emphasis on improved coordination and connection across the system that supports young children and families is crucial.

‘In particular, we welcome the call to establish clear pathways of support and ensure children cannot fall through the gaps between services. A focus on achieving consistent checks throughout a child’s pre-school years, including making health and education checks before the age of five more joined up, will ensure families can get a more complete picture of their child’s development.

‘Ensuring children are school-ready in all areas of their development, and supporting families whose children face developmental risks, is crucial to the recovery from Covid-19.’

READ THE REPORT RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • An emergency recovery package for the childcare providers whose finances have been worst affected by Covid-19. Government should also reconsider the design of Universal Credit which makes it hard for lower earning families to get help with childcare, as parents have to pay costs upfront and then wait to be repaid.
  • An expanded offer of 30 hours free childcare and early education for all children aged two, three and four, and 15 free hours for all one-year-olds, so that early years education is seen as part of ordinary life, in the same way that school is.
  • A cross-government ‘Best Beginnings’ strategy led by a Cabinet Minister for the Early Years. This would set out how a revitalised and extended Healthy Child Programme, the Early Years Foundation Stage, Children and Family Hubs, antenatal services and the Troubled Families Programme would work together.
  • A Family Guarantee of support for under-fives and their families delivered by health visitors, early help and Troubled Families workers, family nurses or family support workers based in Family Hubs.
  • A national infrastructure of Children and Family Hubs. These would be a centre point of support for children and families and act as a gateway to multiple services. Each hub would be a base for universal services so that every child is reached.
  • A Government review of early education and childcare funding to ensure it is working as effectively as possible to help children and families who need it most.
  • A single system for supporting families with early years education and childcare, with fees charged in relation to families’ incomes as they are in Sweden and Norway.
  • A national workforce strategy for the early years, focusing on staffing across existing health, local government and early years settings.
  • Better sharing of data between different services, so children who need help do not fall through the gaps or go unidentified. This should include more effective use of a child’s NHS number and Unique Pupil Number so it is possible to match children in different databases.

Read the full report here

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