Closed petition Introduce 20 hours free childcare for children from 9 months old.
Being around other children is a key aspect in their development, with their early years being the most important. Many parents remain at home for long periods of time, unable to work or introduce their young children to other babies on a daily basis.
Many parents give up work until their child is 3 as they are unable to afford to go back to work due to childcare costs. There are many people who would return to work and their tax contributions would cover the child care costs.
Being around other children will allow them to develop social skills and assist their development from an early age.
This petition is closed All petitions run for 6 months
This response was given on 19 April 2023
It is a Ministerial priority to ensure families have access to high quality early years education and childcare, to deliver the best outcomes for children in this critical time for child development.
One of the Minister for Children and Education’s priorities includes identifying and implementing a model of early years services that is high quality, equitable and affordable that can deliver good outcomes for all children and families. Ultimately, the aim is to provide an equitable offer, ensuring that all children in Jersey have access to quality early childhood education and childcare (ECEC).
The Minister has ensured a continued focus and prioritisation of Early Years by formally delegating the political responsibility to her Assistant Minister Deputy Louise Doublet.
In 2023 the Minister will continue to actively consider provider architecture, sustainable funding models and workforce implications for Early Years.
This includes financial implications for the Government Plan 2024-27 and assessing how early years funding is spent and how well this supports the outcomes for children.
The petition for the introduction of 20 hours free childcare from 9 months old would require a considerable programme of work. It is important to ensure any future model of early years is right for Jersey. This includes engagement with local early years providers to understand and address the current challenges of workforce pressures. We know that the sector is currently under strain due to the increased cost of living and difficulties in recruitment. In recent years, three local early years settings have closed, seeing a loss of approximately 75 children’s spaces. Currently most, if not all, private settings are full, many with waiting lists until September 2024. Working parents tend to choose private settings due to the extended hours provided all year round. School nursery settings offer reduced opening hours during term time only. Regulations for staffing arrangements also differ across settings, with school nursery settings required to have at least one member of staff who has qualified teacher status.
To ensure any additional programme’s success and sustainability a phased approach to implementation will be required. This could include consolidating a targeted offer for 2–3-year-olds as a first step. A targeted offer is already in place for this cohort, funded by the Jersey Child Care Trust with additional time limited funding from Early Years COVID Recovery programme (part-time - up to 12 hours a week - nursery placements for children aged between 2-3 years old with a developmental or financial need at two).
The Special Needs Inclusion Programme is available from birth to school age, for children who have an additional need and are accessing a private nursery or preschool setting. Providing sustainable Government funding would provide funding stability for the voluntary sector in the targeted offer available for 2-3 year olds.
Early childhood education and childcare (ECEC)
There is a balance between childcare and early education. There is a case for increased early education for 3-4 years olds – this taking place in a school setting with qualified teaching staff.
There is also an identified gap within education settings in their ability to offer affordable wraparound (childcare) to enable working parents to easily access early education within this setting. Increasing the Nursery Education Fund (NEF) from 20 to 30 hours saw a number of parents choosing to stay in private settings due to increased hours and all year-round availability of care. Flexibility is a key factor in enabling parents to return to work. Childminders may be able to provide some of the flexibility required.
Evidence-based programmes for early years
During 2023 the Minister has committed to an increased focus on delivering evidence-based programmes for early years, including Government of Jersey supporting targeted childcare for 2–3year-olds, and an integrated development review for 3 years olds. Ensuring families get the right help at the right time and that information is easily available and accessible is important. A new webpage and social media page for children and families, including a list of registered childcare, holiday clubs and activities, parenting programmes and support details in one place have been published. Everyone in Jersey can download the ‘50 things to do before you’re five’ app for free. The app includes 50 fun, low cost or free activities that help to promote positive health and wellbeing habits with your child. Recognising the importance of communication and language in the early years continues to be prioritised. Programmes are in place with Jersey Library and Every Child Our Future (ECOF) to increase literacy levels and enjoyment through all ages of our population. There are weekly events taking place at the Jersey Library to encourage early social and literacy skills for babies, toddlers and their parents or carers.
In addition, the Learning at Home website has been designed to support parents and carers with their child’s learning and includes specific guidance and resources for 3- to 5-year-olds.
Voice of the young child
Further action to be taken by the Minister includes establishing ways to meaningfully involve and engage children and young people in delivering improvements to services by developing participation standards across Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES) and introducing accountability and governance structures. The Participation standards will be developed for and with the early childhood sector to ensure that the voices of all children, including those who are pre-verbal or non-verbal are listened to by adults who care for them, enabling them to respond appropriately to how babies and young children are feeling. A toolkit to support the early years sector has been developed and is currently being reviewed by the Best Start Partnership prior to implementation.
Voice of parents and carers
A balanced approach is required to ensure that the best interests of the child are met in addition to the needs of parents and the economy. This petition demonstrates local interest in extending the hours of free childcare provided. We will continue to consult with parents and carers as this policy work develops.
The early years are a critical time in child development. Providing quality affordable early childhood education and childcare, which delivers the best possible outcomes for children in Jersey, is one of the Minister’s priorities. Consolidation of the existing targeted offer for 2–3-year-olds is the first step. Ongoing engagement across all key stakeholders will ensure any future model of early years is right for Jersey. An agreed approach to funding by both private and the public sector would need support by the Council of Ministers and the States Assembly as part of a future Government Plan.