The children's charity says that its findings show the potential of children's centres 'as ideal locations' to provide places for the expansion of the twos offer.
The analysis, initial findings from the charity’s annual Children’s Centre Census, due to be published next month, reveals that half of all children’s centres, around 1,650, already offer childcare, providing a total of 18,300 places for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
This is despite the fact that the requirement for children’s centres to deliver childcare was removed in 2011.
According to 4Children's census, over the coming year, a further 6,200 two-year-old places will made available at children's centres, an increase of more than a third.
The results on two-year-old childcare places are based on a sample of 344 centre managers, who work across 699 children's centres, more than 21 per cent of the total number of children’s centres.
Of the children’s centres that took part in the census, one in three said they could provide more childcare for children of all ages if asked by their local authority. One in ten that currently does not provide childcare said it had the space to do so.
4Children estimates that if local authorities took these centres up on their offer, it would more than double the available number of childcare places from 50,000 to 118, 000. Many or all of these places, it says, could be used to deliver the two-year-old offer or to meet growing demand for three- and four-year-old places, particularly in deprived areas.
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, ‘Our census shows that a significant number of children’s centres are planning to provide more childcare over the next year. Around 1,100 could provide additional places if given extra support or direction from local authorities.
‘This is an important development which could support the expansion of the offer of 15 hours a week of free childcare for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds. Children’s centres are located in some of the most deprived areas of the country and provide the wider family support that children and their families need. This makes them ideal locations to deliver the offer with a real potential to develop new childcare places for three- and four-year-olds too.’
‘There is a well recognised shortage of high-quality childcare places in areas of disadvantage, which children’s centres are clearly able to respond to. We urge local authorities to examine the potential for more childcare places in children’s centres and work with partners to deliver them. This will reinstate the childcare that many ceased to deliver when the requirement to provide was removed in 2011.’
She added, ‘During the next decade we would like to see the amount of childcare extended to 25 hours a week for all children aged between one and four. We are calling on all the main political parties to sign up to a universal guarantee of quality, affordable childcare for every parent who needs it.’