Reinstate Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland

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#UsForThemScotELC

We are parents, carers and concerned members of society who call upon Local Councils and the Scottish Government to support families with young children, to rise to the challenges presented by the times and underpin the promise of their own policy Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC).

We call upon the Scottish Government to:

  1. Reinstate full Early Years Childcare provision in line with the needs of our children and their families. 
  2. Re-commit to providing 1140 funded hours across all Scottish Councils immediately and set a new deadline this year to replace that of August 2020 where this is not possible. 
  3. Improve accessibility to the 1140 hours to all Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings meeting quality criteria through sustainable and flexible funding options.

Families are at the heart of society. Every child’s life is dependent on access to food, housing, social interaction and education, the quality of which sets the foundation for each individual to become a wholesome and contributing part of society. Removing early years childcare support and provision, in many cases without warning and in most cases without consultation, is deepening the cracks and increasing the pressures families are already facing. As a result there is an existing and looming crisis of parents at breaking point and unable to work or return to work due to lack of childcare (mothers in the majority) (1). The retraction of 1140 funded hours on top of reduced incomes across the board makes early years childcare out of reach for many, and in so doing increases inequality, female discrimination and poverty.

In January 2020 First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated that Scotland is creating an economy where ‘collective wellbeing is as fundamental as GDP’. This is the time for society to decide what values are important going forward. The landscape of life and society in general has been reshaped by Covid-19.  We have a decision to make, individually and collectively, on the values we wish to keep and those we wish to change. 

Children are the next generation of our parents, educators, health workers, scientists and engineers, to name just a few, and are our society’s most valuable asset.  Please do not let them down.


Current situation:

Huge numbers of families with children under 5 years of age continue to struggle on and are being let down by the Scottish Government. Despite some nurseries reopening their doors on 15th July, this is happening inconsistently across areas of Scotland and childcare settings, in the majority of cases with very limiting hours and/or reduced hours, a huge reduction in funded hours and a step back on the 1140 funded hours commitment for all pre-schoolers in Scotland. This is often without much communication or prior warning to parents and carers. The huge differences and inequalities across Local Councils (2) and childcare settings are unacceptable. 

Retraction of 1140 funded hours deadline has worsened the impact of an already difficult situation. Some nurseries have closed their doors, many parents and carers are, without warning, priced out of childcare even where it would be available.  Without the income or time to budget to compensate for the change (hundreds of pounds per month per child) families are left in limbo, unable to pay for the childcare, to change their work commitments/arrangements, or both. 

Some families have been left without childcare for their children under age 3 going forward altogether despite the fact it was either provided before COVID-19 or promised to be provided for at a certain date. This has also been the case for many pre-school children.

Parents and carers are exhausted from juggling childcare, home-schooling and work without support. Some have lost their jobs or have significantly reduced household income as their ability to work has been severely affected and they are no longer able to meet work commitments. A disproportionate number of women to men seem to be taking the brunt of further widening inequality (3). Parents and families are left with no feasible way forward for returning to work.

Children have been stressed, anxious, isolated, missing the love of extended family members and social circles, missing out on learning and their routines. Children from vulnerable backgrounds or requiring additional support have been left to survive largely unsupported. Many have been exhibiting increasing challenging and worrying behaviour (4). Charities and agencies across the world have been registering a huge increase in psychological struggles across the board (5) and many psychological studies demonstrate the damaging effects of lockdown conditions over the last 4 months with children in lockdown developing or at the risk of developing long-term anxiety and/or depression (6, 7, 8, 9).

We therefore call for urgent action to return children’s support systems and childcare routines.

 

Requests to the Scottish Government:

We recognise the recent moves to ease the situation for under 12s but we call upon the Scottish Government to investigate and assess the increasing research out there on children’s roles in spreading and contracting the virus (10, 11), the risks thereof for them and their carers and the level of containment of the virus. We would like Scotland to assemble data from Scottish care hubs which have continued to provide care throughout the pandemic (with parents at high exposure to risk, children often neither distancing or in bubbles, and no officially reported issues), as well as EU countries who have successfully kept schools and nurseries open or reopened them. 

We ask the Scottish Government to present a transparent and appropriate Early Years childcare response in line with the level of risk from Covid-19. The response needs to be balanced with the risks presented by the current situation (in particular rising levels of poverty and vulnerability, impact on children’s development and mental health) (12) as well as the risks and potential harm presented by the proposed measures for Early Years childcare settings themselves (in particular limitation and control of social contact, reduction of choice and personal freedoms). 


We ask to see evidence demonstrating how the risks and benefits have been weighed up to reach any decision which limits Early Years childcare provision. We believe that continuing to limit childcare when the virus is successfully suppressed in most of Scotland is a disproportionate and damaging response to what are now low levels of the virus in the community, particularly when balanced against the low risk that the virus poses to children and the overall emerging trend suggesting that ‘children have a limited role in spreading the virus’ (13).

We ask the government to demonstrate how proposals focus on the best interest of children as primary consideration in line with Article 3 of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

If the level of virus in Scotland increases and social exposure needs to be managed on a credit type or other system then we call on the Scottish Government to change priorities and to focus post-COVID regeneration on a return of services for children as critical infrastructure.

We recognise and appreciate the concerns of staff. We have been in discussion with 2020 Together (We Can), a group representing over 200 UK nurseries, who support this petition (14). We believe therefore that with inclusion of all parties in discussion and in light of current research a way forward can be found.

We call on the Government to reopen Early Years Childcare in their full capacity, with funded and unfunded childcare on offer.

We ask for the commitment of 1140 funded hours to be reinstated and honoured everywhere where it was run as a pilot and everywhere else where efforts were not specifically disrupted by COVID-19. The majority of private, voluntary and independent providers already provide this level of care to ELC to families and are therefore in a position to implement the funded 1140 hours with immediate effect (15). Crucial to this is that providers are paid a nationally set, sustainable rate to ensure long-term sustainability and quality as well as equality of settings which ties in with the funded hours provision. We are aware that some childcare settings have found the combined challenges insurmountable and have closed for good further reducing childcare availability.

Where it is not physically possible to provide 1140 funded hours by the promised August 2020 date we ask for a new deadline for this year by which this will be achieved for all of Scotland. We understand that there are some practical challenges to delivering the provision as some disruption has occurred due to COVID-19 and would ask that Scottish Government prioritises support for those. The Care commission report stated that the ‘Joint Delivery Board, Scottish and Local Government will work together to bring forward new implementation proposals at the appropriate time.’ We believe that time is here. 

 

Conclusion:

Honouring childcare provision for families will help children heal, communities regenerate and will help economic recovery as parents and carers will be able to work more productively, return to work and return to/rebuild their businesses. We must not leave children and families in Scotland behind.

This is the time to decide what kind of society Scotland is - one that supports families in a meaningful and sustainable way - or one that doesn’t.

 

References:

1. TUC: Forced out: The cost of getting childcare wrong https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/forced-out-cost-getting-childcare-wrong

2. Most Scottish Councils cannot commit to nursery hours target. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-53190816?SThisFB&fbclid=IwAR2DrvMAPFLNOUaoqXgEh59SQ9xkct3yrIgz3xaGFxcQBveJ7aN-DNNdjVo

3. TUC: Forced out: The cost of getting childcare wrong https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/forced-out-cost-getting-childcare-wrong

4. Response source: COVID-19 pandemic causing poor mental health in third of children https://pressreleases.responsesource.com/news/99569/covid-19-pandemic-causing-poor-mental-health-in-third-of-children/

5. Children show increase in mental health difficulties over COVID-19 lockdown http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2020-06-16-children-show-increase-mental-health-difficulties-over-covid-19-lockdown

6. ’Children at risk of lasting psychological distress from coronavirus lockdown’: Save the Children https://reliefweb.int/report/world/children-risk-lasting-psychological-distress-coronavirus-lockdown-save-children

7. Coronavirus: Kate Silverton on her fear for children's mental health https://www.bbc.com/news/education-53224324?fbclid=IwAR2-YujiJ3WXR9u3B49zhCdg3CYq9PZMRi8htz_TX2BMupeZZdiFMo9IETg

8. Impact of children's loneliness today could manifest in depression for years to come. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200531200333.htm

9. Global Citizen: Children in the UK Are Developing PTSD During COVID-19 Pandemic https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/children-uk-mental-health-ptsd-covid/ 

10. COVID-19 IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: NO SIGNIFICANT TRANSMISSION AMONG CHILDREN OR FROM STUDENTS TO TEACHERS https://www.pasteur.fr/en/press-area/press-documents/covid-19-primary-schools-no-significant-transmission-among-children-students-teachers?fbclid=IwAR3Nm1nnRa5FXPJTT_uDU0jz_DAjUxzw-K8Ny9Ri5Pt3W7rTmtbOESGxieE

11. Transmission of COVID-19 https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/covid-19/latest-evidence/transmission?fbclid=IwAR10S6SnZAWm3ctpyaWJyyQSHuHuU-lbtgnI344yLmkCADKLroFBxuEBivc

12. The Children’s Society: The impact of COVID-19 on children and young people https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/cv-19-impact-on-children-report-from-the-childrens-society.pdf

13. The Scientist: COVID-19 Is “Very Different” in Young Kids Versus Adults https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/covid-19-is-very-different-in-young-kids-versus-adults-67637

14. The petition was sent to a representative of Together 2020 for comment and we received the groups support.

15. An overview from a high percentage of Together 2020 members underpins this statement.