‘Make child­care free from age one’

Lat­est can­di­date to join Welsh Labour lead­er­ship race says party needs ‘new vi­sion’

Western Mail - - FRONT PAGE - MARTIN SHIPTON Chief re­porter martin.shipton@waleson­line.co.uk

FREE child care should be avail­able from the age of one, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est en­trant to the Welsh Labour lead­er­ship con­test.

Og­more AM Huw Ir­ranca-Davies, the Welsh Govern­ment’s Min­is­ter for Chil­dren, Older Peo­ple and So­cial Care, said his party needed to re­new it­self with a bold vi­sion for the fu­ture.

He said Wales should aim to have the best pack­age of child care, preschool ed­u­ca­tion and in­fant health care in the world.

But he ac­knowl­edged it would take time to de­liver all the el­e­ments, and it was likely to be a project for two Assem­bly terms.

Mr Ir­ranca-Davies’ idea would see the Fly­ing Start pro­gramme for two to three-year-olds, cur­rently only avail­able in the de­prived com­mu­ni­ties, rolled out to all chil­dren.

There are four key el­e­ments to Fly­ing Start:

Qual­ity, part-time child care for two to three-year-olds amount­ing to two-and-a-half hours a day, five days a week for 39 weeks. In ad­di­tion, there should be at least 15 ses­sions of pro­vi­sion for the fam­ily dur­ing the school hol­i­days.

An en­hanced health vis­it­ing ser­vice, with one full-time-equiv­a­lent health visi­tor per 110 chil­dren aged un­der four in the tar­get ar­eas. The pri­mary func­tion of the Fly­ing Start health visi­tor is to sup­port the fam­ily in the home, as­sess­ing both the child

and the fam­ily in terms of high, medium and low risk). Fly­ing Start health vis­i­tors should con­tin­u­ally as­sess those fam­i­lies iden­ti­fied as medium and high risk, and make ap­pro­pri­ate re­fer­rals. Typ­i­cally, chil­dren in Fly­ing Start com­mu­ni­ties re­ceive seven vis­its from health vis­i­tors, and the aim would be to pro­vide that num­ber of vis­its for all chil­dren.

■ Ac­cess to par­ent­ing pro­grammes, with ev­ery fam­ily of­fered for­mal par­ent­ing sup­port at least on an an­nual ba­sis. This can be in groups or one to one in the home with a mix of for­mal and in­for­mal sup­port de­pend­ing on need.

■ Speech, lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, with ev­ery fam­ily hav­ing on­go­ing ac­cess to an ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage and play group. Ev­i­dence shows that speech, lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion abil­ity is an im­por­tant pre­dic­tor of later progress in lit­er­acy and has an im­pact on so­cial skills as well as be­hav­iour of chil­dren.

Mak­ing such a pro­gramme avail­able to ev­ery child would give all the best chance of de­vel­op­ing and re­duce the num­ber of prob­lem chil­dren who would later be at risk of get­ting in­volved in crime.

In­creas­ing the avail­abil­ity of free child care firstly to two-year-olds and then one-year-olds would make it eas­ier for their par­ents to re­turn to the labour mar­ket, Mr Ir­ran­caDavies be­lieves.

There would, how­ever, be no obli­ga­tion to take part in the scheme.

Such an of­fer would ri­val pro­vi­sion in the Nordic coun­tries, where tax­a­tion is no­tably higher than in the UK and other western Euro­pean coun­tries.

Un­der Welsh Labour’s rules, can­di­dates for the lead­er­ship must be AMs and need five nom­i­na­tions from their col­leagues be­fore they can get on to the bal­lot pa­per.

So far Fi­nance Sec­re­tary Mark Drake­ford is the only can­di­date to have gained the nec­es­sary sup­port to stand.

Mr Ir­ranca-Davies hopes that a se­ries of pol­icy an­nounce­ments he plans to make in com­ing weeks will se­cure him the five nom­i­na­tions he needs.

Speak­ing to the Western Mail af­ter the launch of his cam­paign at the Fly­ing Start Cen­tre in Sarn, near Brid­gend, Mr Ir­ranca-Davies said: “I didn’t come into pol­i­tics sim­ply to tread wa­ter. I came into pol­i­tics be­cause I want to change things.

“If peo­ple rightly say to me this is go­ing to cost, I’ll say yes it will. Is it a pri­or­ity? I’ll say it should be.

“This has to be a col­lab­o­ra­tion. Let’s de­cide first of all what our vi­sion is. Do we agree this is the right thing to do, and if we do, let’s talk about how we do it in steps to get there – how many years it will take to get there. Be­cause even in Nordic coun­tries they did not do this overnight.”

He said he thought Wales was “a small enough, dy­namic enough, pro­gres­sive enough coun­try to grasp this op­por­tu­nity and say yes, by damn we should be do­ing this”.

He said: “It’s an ex­pen­sive pro­gramme – but it de­liv­ers the re­sults.”

The AM said just over £70m per year was spent cur­rently on Fly­ing Start across Wales.

Two other ex­ist­ing pro­grammes would also be rolled into the of­fer: the Foun­da­tion Phase of early years learn­ing and the ex­ist­ing child care pro­gramme for three to fouryear-olds.

He said: “I would ar­gue the first thing we need to do is say how do we stream­line th­ese pro­grammes so that early ed­u­ca­tion and child de­vel­op­ment should un­der­pin ev­ery in­ter­face with a young child aged be­tween one and four? You end up with an early child­hood de­vel­op­ment and care set­ting. Sim­plify it, and you do it more cost ef­fec­tively. It’s all to do with qual­ity, ed­u­ca­tion, so­cial­i­sa­tion, fam­ily sup­port and so on.”

Ex­plain­ing the value of in­ten­sive in­ter­ven­tion in fam­i­lies, Mr Ir­ran­caDavies said: “What we know is ab­so­lutely cru­cial to child de­vel­op­ment is speech, lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion ther­apy spe­cial­ists: peo­ple who go out to work in the fam­i­lies where there is a lack of ca­pac­ity to de­velop this and the child is de­vel­op­ing slower in those ar­eas. You give them pro­vi­sion and you work with that fam­ily in or­der to de­velop the child’s skills, but also the fam­ily’s skills – that old adage: teach a per­son to fish, you don’t give them a fish. You teach the fam­ily to be the ones who de­velop with the child in terms of speech and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Such pro­vi­sion would be ex­tended through­out Wales, said the AM, so there wouldn’t be a child who “went with­out”.

The Foun­da­tion Phase of very early years ed­u­ca­tion, cur­rently pro­vided in schools, could in fu­ture be based in a co-set­ting with Fly­ing Start pro­vi­sion in a fam­ily and child hub, where there is en­gage­ment with chil­dren and their fam­ily be­fore they start school. It could also pro­vide el­e­ments of child care.

Mr Ir­ranca-Davies said: “Wouldn’t it be won­der­ful to see that? Our cur­rent child care of­fer [of 30 hours a week] is ground-break­ing. There’s some crit­i­cism of it be­cause peo­ple say it’s only for three and four-yearolds. It is – but it’s pro­vi­sion for that age group that we’ve never had be­fore. Child care providers are telling me it’s help­ing them sus­tain their very good busi­nesses.

“But we know that the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who are tak­ing up the child care of­fer in ex­ist­ing ar­eas are below the me­dian Welsh wage. That means poorer fam­i­lies are tak­ing ad­van­tage of it.

“We are speak­ing to fam­i­lies into whose bud­get we are putting back £200 to £250 a week in state-spon­sored child care. That’s a ben­e­fit. And other par­ents are say­ing they can ac­tu­ally now go to that place down the road – the su­per­mar­ket, the bar, that’s of­fered them a job be­fore and say they can now take it, be­cause they can now get child care paid for by the Labour Welsh Govern­ment.

“The ev­i­dence tells us that for many par­ents you need to look at two and one-year-olds.

“If you’re a young mum who does not want to fall be­hind in your work­place, who does not want to fall into that clas­sic gen­der pay gap be­cause you’ve had to take two to three years out be­cause you can’t af­ford child care, you might want to go back if you can be given by the state say 10 hours per week. And maybe when they’re two years old 15 hours a week. And then when they get to three to four, the full 30 hours per week. Now that be­comes in­ter­est­ing. If you can com­bine that with the best el­e­ments of Fly­ing Start and the best el­e­ments of Foun­da­tion Phase, there is the early years in­te­gra­tion that starts to make a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence.”

> Og­more AM Huw Ir­ranca-Davies

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