Parents fear childcare quality will be lost as cuts hit

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More than 60 per cent of families in Scotland say they have seen the quality of education services and wraparound care decrease because of funding cuts, a survey reveals.

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Despite this, almost 70 per cent of local authority staff say their authority recognises the importance of investing in education and wraparound care to prevent increased costs to services in the future.

The report by Children in Scotland - 'Protect Learning – in and out of school: learning, play and care in Scottish communities' – includes the opinions of almost 300 parents, local authority staff, teachers and young people’s workers.

It aims to highlight concerns raised by Children in Scotland members that public sector cuts will disproportionately affect vulnerable children.

Among the families surveyed, which made up 14 per cent of respondents, 50 per cent would like to see further investment in extra support for teaching staff and children with additional support needs.

More than a fifth - 41 per cent - want to see more money spent on out-of-school care including breakfast clubs, after-school-clubs and community groups.

Only nine per cent of families say they would like additional funding for early years.

Of local authority staff, who made up 35 per cent of respondents, 65 per cent say providing additional funding was their top priority to improve education and wraparound care standards.

Family and Childcare Trust head of campaigns Rebecca Griffin said the trust’s own research on local authority cuts backed Children in Scotland’s findings.

‘Universal services such as early years provision in children’s centres and youth services shouldered a large proportion of spending reductions with councils focusing more on targeted services,’ said Ms Griffin.

‘This could prove to be a false economy, leaving less money for early intervention which could in turn lead to costlier services in years to come.

‘These are challenging times for local authorities that are under extreme pressure to save money, and we’re concerned that options for where to cut next will become narrower, affecting yet more frontline services.’

Children in Scotland is calling on the Scottish government to prioritise education and wraparound care provision.

It wants Community Planning Partnerships – which link public agencies in Scotland with communities to improve local services – to review the impact of cuts on children, particularly those living in deprived areas.

It also wants the Scottish government to ensure education and wraparound services are maintained even if an authority has no statutory obligation to provide them.

Children in Scotland chief executive Jackie Brock said the Scottish government risked losing opportunities to enhance social mobility and lift children out of poverty by insufficiently funding educational services.

‘We know that councils and their partners across the children’s sector (or their community planning partners) are being forced to make tough decisions as they try to make their own resources go further than ever before,’ said Ms Brock.

‘But we urge that cuts are not made at the expense of our most vulnerable children and families who are feeling their own pressure due to stagnant wages, increased living costs and benefit cuts and who will rely on local council provision more than ever before.

‘Schools and education are the key to a successful, prosperous society and must be supported and resourced in order to allow all our children equal opportunity and support to meet their full potential.’

Holiday childcare struggle for disabled families

In related news, a survey by the charity Working Families finds 90 per cent of parents with disabled children say their ability to work during summer holidays is disrupted by difficulties accessing childcare.

More than 180 parents with children aged between five and 18 responded to the online study, of which a third were not in work.

Of the two thirds in employment, 41 per cent said they had changed their working hours during the holidays to care for their child and 31 per cent took unpaid leave.

A further 28 per cent made a flexible working request and four per cent left their jobs.

The cost of childcare in the holidays was the greatest concern for 30 per cent of families.

More than half of the respondents said costs were higher for their child because of their disability, with 62 per cent saying they paid an extra £5 an hour for their childcare compared to a child without a disability.

Working Families chief executive Sarah Jackson said the results were similar to those collected by the charity in a similar survey held four years previously.

‘It shouldn’t be this way – all parents should be able to find appropriate, accessible, affordable childcare – but many parents are paying an extra penalty for the cost of caring for a disabled child,’ said Ms Jackson.

'Our findings show gaps in childcare provision which service providers should heed. Seventy per cent of parents not working reported that the available childcare is not specialist enough for the needs of disabled children, and two thirds of parents who sought help from their Family Information Services found they were not able to help. 

‘As the Government consults on making childcare more affordable for parents, it must consider the plight of parents of disabled children.

‘There are clear messages here for employers too – with a fifth of parents reporting concerns about the need for employers to be more flexible about leave taking.’

In its 2009 survey, only 10 per cent of families told Working Families their main concern about holiday childcare for disabled children was affordability.

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