Although the details of how the policy will work have yet to be fleshed out, children and families minister Robert Goodwill announced the move during a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday.
Mr Goodwill said, ‘Our 30 hours childcare offer is proving popular with parents - in its first term around 202,800 children were in a 30 hours place, with over 305,000 already signed up to access the offer in January.
‘We want to build on this great start, which is why I’m pleased to announce today that we will be extending our 30 hours offer to foster carers. We will set out more detail about how we will deliver this shortly.’
During the debate Mr Goodwill said, ‘Since the current exclusion from the 30-hours policy for children in foster care was brought to my attention, I have been looking at it carefully. I have instructed my officials to work up plans to allow children in foster care to take up the additional hours when it is right for the child to do so. We will work with local authorities, fostering service providers and others in the sector to ensure we implement this change in a way that promotes the best interests of the child. I will set out more detail about how we will deliver that shortly.’
In response to a question from Ms Brabin about when all excluded fostered children would be able to use the 30 hours, Mr Goodwill said that, ’If there are no glitches along the way, I would like to think that we will have this in place in September.’
Earlier this month the chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon said it was ‘indefensible’ that foster carers were excluded from the 30 hours and proposed cutting the earnings threshold from £100,000 per parent to £65,000 to fund an extension to foster children.
There has also been lobbying from Labour MPs and shadow early years years minister Tracy Brabin on the issue.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said, ‘We welcome the decision made by the Government to extend 30 hours funded childcare to all foster children to give them the best start in life. However, we remain highly concerned that the Government has not responded to our concerns about underfunding of the 30-hour offer.
'As MP Lisa Nandy said during the Parliamentary debate yesterday, NDNA has grave concerns about underfunding, which is putting the viability of some nursery settings at risk. Extending the scheme, however welcome, needs to be thoroughly costed with meaningful investment put in to at least cover providers’ costs. The Government cannot just rely on the goodwill of nurseries and parents to pay for the shortfall in funding.
‘Robert Halfon MP, chairman of the Education Select Committee, suggested earlier this month that the earnings threshold for 30 hours could be reduced to allow more money to be made available. The Government needs to set out its plans to ensure the offer is sustainable, otherwise this issue won’t go away.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘We have always said that all children, regardless of background, should get the best possible start in life and so we warmly welcome the Government's decision to allow foster children to benefit from the 30 hours policy.
‘All too often, discussions around the 30 hours are fixated on the back-to-work agenda with little consideration given to the impact of policy decisions on the child, and so today's decision marks a welcome change of focus.
‘It is of course vital that, alongside much-needed general early years funding reforms, the sector is adequately supported to deliver the additional places that will be needed as a result of this change, and we await further information on how the Government intends to ensure this – but we're clear that this was the right decision to take.’
Ms Brabin said after the debate, 'Foster children are some of the most vulnerable in our society and it’ll be welcome news to foster carers that they’ll now have the same right to access funded childcare as their peers.'