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Commissioner urges Welsh Government to rethink its childcare policy

Every three and four year old in Wales should have the same opportunities to receive high quality free child care, whatever their background, according to Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, who publishes her Annual Report today (09 October 2017).

The Welsh Government’s new childcare offer of 30 hours free childcare every week for 48 weeks a year, extends only to working parents, but the Commissioner is concerned that children whose parents are not employed will fall even further behind their peers if they miss out on this provision Children from the poorest families are already around 10 months behind those from better-off backgrounds in terms of development by the age of 3, according to the Millennium Cohort Study.

The Commissioner believes that ensuring that all children receive the same offer of high quality childcare will reduce the school readiness gap and help all children in Wales fulfil their potential.

Here, Professor Holland explains more:

“I recognise that I’m making a bold plea here with Government, as I am acutely aware that we live in an age where every penny counts. But the Government needs to re-think its childcare policy and consider the serious long-term consequences this policy could have for the children who need the most support. There is clear evidence that if you invest in early years’ education and, high quality childcare it makes a significant difference to the life chances of children from the poorest backgrounds and promotes social mobility. It also saves money in the long-term as those who receive early help go on to contribute more to society and need fewer services.

“Of course, I absolutely welcome the planned expansion of free childcare as it will assist considerably with childcare costs for working families, recognising that the majority of children living in poverty have working parents. However, I want to avoid a situation where children of non-working parents miss out and are denied their right to reach their full potential.”

The Commissioner’s annual report acknowledges strides forward in Welsh Government and local government policies and provision for young people leaving care, following her ‘Hidden Ambitions’ report published in March. Her annual report goes on to detail other key areas for improvement:

Home education

The Commissioner is repeating a call for a register for electively home educated children and for those children to be seen from time to time by a professional. This follows concerns that a small number of children may not be receiving the education and care at home to which they have a right.

Adoption

Care experienced young people have raised concerns with the Commissioner about not being able to maintain contact with their adopted siblings. Young people report feeling they are being punished when contact is not promoted. Professor Holland is calling on the Welsh Government to work with Wales’ National Adoption Service to ensure that siblings’ rights to contact are fully considered during adoption care planning.

Deaf children and family access to British Sign Language (BSL)

Following meetings with hearing parents who have expressed being unable to communicate fully with their Deaf children, and other Deaf children and their families who have expressed concerns at the lack of provision and support available to them, the Commissioner is calling for Welsh Government and local authorities to ensure appropriate support is put in place, including accessible and affordable BSL learning opportunities.

Highlights of the Commissioner’s work this year

  • Consulted with over 2000 children and nearly 300 professionals about their feelings and experiences of bullying in Wales.
  • Launched ‘Hidden Ambitions’ report about society’s commitments to Wales’ care leavers. It led to a £1m investment from Welsh Government towards a care leavers’ bursary.
  • Created a resource to promote and celebrate intergenerational relationships with the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, which was viewed 9000 within first few months on Facebook.
  • Engaged with 10,550 children and young people from across Wales.
  • Published ‘The Right Way: A Children’s Rights Approach in Wales’. Organisations including the Wales Ambulance Trust and National Museum of Wales have committed to taking a child’s rights approach to planning and service delivery.
  • Assisted 528 cases via the Commissioner’s independent advice and support services, tackling issues ranging from special educational needs to the closure of a sports centre.