It was confirmed today that the childcare offer for wales will be extended to seven more local authorities.
It’s fanastic news, any help with childcare costs is welcomed, but parents are still sharing their concerns with me that they aren’t sure how it is going to work. Many parents have told me they weren’t aware that more funded childcare was coming in and only knew about the existing 10 hour minimum foundation phase that all three and four year olds are entitled to in Wales.
The pressure is on for many of us as applications for the foundation education component opens shortly for September 2019 and Rising 3 places for January and April 2019. If eligble, parents will need to apply for the top up childcare elements of 20 hours when those applications open later on.
If you are in my private Facebook community Welsh Mums Working (join now if not!)you know that I flagged the pilot beginning in Newport and Torfaen already. Cardiff, Neath Port Talbot, Ceredigion, Conwy and Wrexham will now be participating from September. As a parent reliant on private daycare I’ve been tracking it to see when we might get some help from this new offer.
These authorities join Anglesey, Gwynedd, Caerphilly, Flintshire, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Swansea and Blaenau Gwent.
The pilot has been running since 2017 but so far there has been an underspend on the budget with parents not taking up the offer, according to a recent BBC Wales new story.
This is what parents are telling me across my social media and Facebook groups about the offer:
Confusion and alignment with foundation phase
It’s unclear how the new offer will work with the existing one, the 10 hour foundation phase element. There are two separate application processes and timings are different, at least in some areas.
For those using the 10 hour in a school nursery, it may be challenging to find a nursery in the area which will provide wrap around and pick-ups. This might make it unworkable for many working parents, single parents and those without family nearby and willing to help. This is the case for the foundation phase on its own of course, at least when it is taken in a maintained setting.
Working parents I speak to, myself included, want a single setting environment for the full 30 hours. At the least if they use the foundation phase hours in a maintained setting they need sufficient private daycare with a wrap around/ pick up service to pick up the slack.
Where the pilots are being rolled out in different parts of an authority, rather than borough wide, parents are asking how it works if they work in a participating area, and that’s where their existing childcare is, but they live in another area which isn’t in the pilot. Similar questions are being asked by parents who are eligible but are traveling to another authority for work and want to use private daycare there.
Too little, too late
Depending to the age of the child, and the level of childcare required parents feel there could be times it’s not worth the effort or moving.
For example if your child will soon be starting school.Not all nurseries are participating and the disruption might not be worth it if you only use a small amount of childcare (perhaps using family for the bulk of it) or arrangements aren’t flexible enough.
Many note that by the time your child is three you have already incurred great costs, changed your working pattern or reduced your hours. Some mothers will have made a decision not to return to work. Parents need help from birth if they are to return to work if they want to.
Large groups of people will also be excluded because they don’t meet the criteria for the childcare component. For example parents who work less than 16 hours and homes where only one parent works currently. If the idea is to help people into work or work more, excluding them because they’re not working at the point of application. seems counter to its aims. The self employed may also have irregular working hours and pay and may struggle to demonstrate they meet the criteria.
That said, one of two years of subsidised childcare is a big help financially, whenever it comes, for those who qualify.
Communication and timing
Parents feel that the information from local authorities, particularly those just starting the pilots, isn’t always as proactive as it could be or easy to find.
For the areas about to come in board, I’m sure more will come soon but already there is a sense of uncertainty with September not far away and applications opening soon. Parents need information sooner so they can look at nursery provision and additional childcare arrangements, perhaps even changing their working pattern.
Happy with existing arrangements
Many parents will choose to maintain their current arrangements. For example, they prefer their children to be cared for by family. If they have a shift based or irregular work pattern, committing to a formal arrangement may not be possible.
Could this be why fewer parents are taking up the offer than expected? Or is there something else going on, like a shortage of places? I honestly don’t know.
The availability of places is a concern for many. I know that if I had to travel further to secure a place I’d have to reduce my working hours to accommodate the extra commute. Moving my child between settings myself during a work day just isn’t workable either.
It feels like on the whole parents are welcoming of the support. Me included.
Do I think the scheme wil help? Absolutely. Still I’m not clear how it will in practice for us as a family. It’s not that we think the scheme is inherently unworkable but their are elements which might be for some parents like us , for example if balance and availability of nurseries prepared to participate isn’t right. Other parents share concerns about how it’s implemented and the practicalities of arrangements, heightened by different authorities adopting different approaches.
Much of this feels like parents want to know how it will work in a range of common scenarios. They need those things outlined early if they are working so they can consider their options in good time. Eligibility criteria alone isn’t enough for those who are working and need to consider work schedules, commutes and changing to perhaps another provider (or how to juggle two of needed). You can of course contact your local Family Information Service and they’ve will be able to give you tailored advice , but sometimes some well timed case studies and FAQs is enough to give you an idea of your options.
I’m also only hearing this from parents who aren’t currently using the scheme, and who are either in one of the forthcoming pilot authorities or in neighbouring ones. I’m not hearing much from parents using the scheme in the pilots that have been running a while.
I know a few parents using the scheme who have said that once it was all sorted it has made a huge difference to them. That fills me with hope, although frustrated with phased roll outs within authorities which compound confusion and inequality. Officials have said online that while uptake is not as high as expected, it’s early days and participating parents and nurseries are giving positive feedback.
Having 30 hours a week of our childcare funded would definitely make a significant difference to us . We just need the timing to work and a single setting to be available that will offer the hours. Alternatively finding a participating childminder or playgroup that is able to pick up or drop off to state nursery. It will be difficult as there’s very few of them available by us. If not we might need to consider using only an element or having to stick with existing arrangements.
Will you be taking up the childcare offer? What barriers will there be to you taking it up, or do you think it will run smoothly for you? How much of a difference will it make?
Are you already in one of the pilot areas and is it working for you? Parents like me who are currently preparing to join or looking ahead to the schemes expansion would welcome any insight into how well it’s working and tips for making the most out of it.
If you’re interested in finding out more, then please join my Facebook group community today. Welsh Mums Working is a place for you to share what you know and get information from other parents in your area. This is not substitute for official advice from your Family Information Service.