It’s time to make the 30 Hours Childcare Offer available for two year old children
Undoubtedly, the Childcare Offer (30 Hours) has changed lives in Wales during recent years. From increasing opportunities for children to play and develop and enabling parents to work more hours or in a more flexible way, to changing the landscape of the early years childcare and play sector, it is a far-reaching policy.
I can speak from personal experience when I say that the Offer enabled me, as a parent, to return to work sooner than expected – a change that has been of benefit to me and my entire family.
Given its success, it is a good time to discuss extending the 30 Hours Childcare Offer to two year old children. This move would be consistent with the childcare offer provided by Flying Start provisions (the Welsh Government’s early years programme targeting areas of deprivation), and would be a key contribution to post-Covid social and economic reconstruction.
Mudiad Meithrin believes that play is vital to the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of children. We know that development between the ages of 0-5 sets the foundation for lifelong well-being and skills.
During the pandemic, babies and children missed out on opportunities to socialise, leading to a realisation of the importance of play opportunities, as well as the opportunity for early intervention when any needs make themselves apparent before a child starts school. Considering the positive impact play has on the formative 0-5 early years, extending the scheme to 2-year-olds would be a small investment which would have a big impact.
Of course, as in my case, the Offer encourages parents to return to work; but the majority will wish to return to work long before their child reaches 3 years of age. Offering the funding at two years old would ensure that parents have the option of using the childcare offer early on. There is a strong economic argument for investing in childcare; the Women’s Budget Group said (in a report published last year proposing a care-led recovery to Covid) that any investment in care would produce 2.7 times as many jobs as an equivalent investment in construction: 6.3 times as many jobs for women and 10% more for men.
This move would also be advantageous in terms of creating a million Welsh speakers. Children benefit from acquiring Welsh, and immersing a child in the language provides them with a firm foundation; so much so that 90% of parents who send their child to the Cylch Meithrin later send them onwards to Welsh-medium education. We need to normalise and make Welsh-medium care in the early years a mainstream option, in current schemes such as Flying Start and beyond, so that we are moving towards an opportunity to give each child the chance to acquire the Welsh language.
The financial burden on childcare and early years settings has been immense, and it will take a long time for them to return to a situation of financial security. Despite this, there’s no denying the value of the provisions to communities as part of the foundational economy, as the lockdown periods proved.
Settings are held to high standards and the qualification requirements are stringent, but the salaries and respect accorded the profession are, on the whole, low. The Childcare Offer (30 Hours) should be provided for 2-year-olds at a higher rate of funding, considering staff salary pay rates. As the current Offer shows, there are exciting opportunities for sector growth and offering a stable career in childcare.
The last government showed a readiness to listen to the mass of research emphasising the importance of investing in the early years. However, the gaps and inconsistencies in the sector point to the need for the opportunity for every 2-year-old child to have the opportunity to receive care and education – and at the same time, opportunities for play, development and language acquisition. It’s time to give serious consideration to making the childcare offer available to families with 2-year-old children; and time to invest in an area which will repay this investment fourfold.