Children Need a Guaranteed Start in Life

‘Childcare services are in crisis: parents are being forced a give up work and the benefits of children’s early years development are being wasted’. says Workers Party representative Ursula Meighan.

In a plain-speaking assessment of current childcare, child minding and early years education, Ursula said, ‘an immediate and comprehensive investment in childcare services is essential if the current crisis is to be addressed.’ 

‘The years from birth to the age of five or six are accepted as the most important years in a child’s early development. Yet, childcare remains a major issue, and a financial burden, for many parents and a serious obstacle to employment, particularly for women’ she explained.

Not getting the results

‘Parents in England Scotland and Wales can avail of 30 hours childcare, free of charge, each week in term time, but not so in Northern Ireland.

‘Other schemes which are available locally, including child tax credits, are just not producing the required results. Parents are being priced out of affording the childcare they need to allow them to work.

The long-overdue, and yet to be delivered, ‘Early Learning and Childcare Strategy’, has to be a day one priority for any restored Executive,’ Ursula said, ‘and must be accompanied by a programme of investment which supports parents to access the childcare they need and to providers to deliver it’.

Ursula went on to say that the current uncoordinated nature of childcare services significantly impacts on the development of many young people at an early age and that disadvantage can stay with them for life.

Guaranteed start in life

‘Working class families, and working-class children are particularly affected’ she said. ‘The right to a guaranteed start in life must be available to all. We must make that a legal entitlement.’

‘Only when children’s early education and development is served by a high quality, centrally planned, publicly funded, accessible and flexible childcare system can we say that we are investing in our future. 

‘Only then will parents have the security to remain in work, training or education. Only then can our society and our economy fully realise the benefits of a skilled and confident workforce, secure in the knowledge that future generations are being given the best start in life’ Ursula concluded. 

#childcare #earlyyears #chikdcarestrategy

Poverty: early years and life-long legacies

Poverty is most often described as having low or no income, a lack of food, shelter or heat. However, looking at poverty and its effects through childcare provision and early years education is less common.

The availability and cost of childcare are key factors in the struggle against poverty. High quality and accessible early education and early years support can play a significant role in combatting the effects of poverty for children and families. Research and practice have shown that by supporting children’s development can significantly improve their educational outcomes.

Affordable, accessible and flexible childcare provision is vital if parents are to be supported in securing employment or in accessing education and training.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where parents are not offered 30 hours of free childcare. Yet another failure by a Stormont Executive more concerned with pursuing their self-interests than addressing poverty.

The first five years of any child’s life are amongst the most formative. During this period a child’s brain develops more rapidly, than at any other time in their life. The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life – positive or negative – helps shape how their brain develops. These experiences have a lasting impact on their health and ability to learn and succeed in school and in life.

Children born into and living in poverty are at an immediate and lasting disadvantage; one that will stay with them and affect them for the rest of their lives.

Germany, France, Finland and Sweden all provide varying forms of free early years / pre-school education. In Northern Ireland parents can access two-and-a-half hours of free pre-school education a day, well short of the rest of the UK and nothing like the availability of some other European countries. To make matters worse, the scheme only operates in term time.

It is totally inadequate for the pre-school needs of the children and woefully insufficient for the needs of working parents, even those in part time employment.

The creation of a comprehensive social system for pre-school age children, preparing children for school and life, was one of the major achievements of the socialist countries. 

Poverty blights the lives and denies the opportunities for thousands of local children, parents and families. Failure to address the importance of children’s early years and provide all the necessary support condemns generation after generation of working-class families to a life time of misery, underachievement, mental illness and lack of self-worth.