I think there needs to be a fresh look at crèche services to support all our aims and desired outcomes. As an ex crèche worker, I believe this ‘Cinderella’ service needs a renaissance and a new recognition.
We’re all familiar with the financial conditions children’s centres and wider services have been operating within for the past 10 years. If I had a pound for every time someone tells me crèches are expensive or not value for money, I’d have enough money to fund all whole load of them. Seriously, I don’t need reminding funds are tight and services are under pressure to demonstrate the difference they are making. But I think a lot of us are missing a trick unless we look at crèche services through a profoundly different lens.
The main problem is they are seen as a supporting offer, linked to other services. Offering children a quality childcare environment whilst their parents are engaged in other activities. Often that can be criticised as a parent-is-priority activity. This is a great shame. Because we are all wanting to support parents with their opportunities. Parents’ and children’s needs can both be met at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.
Crèches offer so much. They provide children with often their first quality childcare experience, being apart from their parent(s) outside of their extended families, with qualified childcare workers, and socialising with a small group of other children. All useful experiences for children if we are thinking ahead to a time when they may be accessing their early years entitlements at two-, three-, or four-years-old, for 15 or 30 hours, or more a week. They are starting their own childcare and early learning journeys right here, right now. In turn preparing and equipping them for school and beyond.
And for early identifier roles, crèches offer new opportunities to work with children and families should there be a need that could be better met earlier and efficiently. And in doing so open the doors to local services and support on offer for SEND, health, learning and safeguarding.
One problem is they’re not always linked very well to other services. The biggest barrier, and it is wholly understandable, is parents should remain on site. That said, it does restrict what parents can do when their children are in crèche. It doesn’t help a parent who needs to visit another agency (for whatever reason) for the benefit of themselves, their families or their child or their younger or older siblings, or attend a job interview, short-distance travel such as to another children’s centre to access different services or meet other parents, or training related to their goals. Surely there should be a better way.
I have been disappointed to observe the frequent setting up of crèches, only for them to be cancelled due to low demand. Parent groups, support and training do need to cluster together so crèches can be more sustainable and places are filled. And places should be prioritised. One such priority must be that places are available for parents on pathways to employment, and prepares them and their children take full benefit from their early years entitlements. Other activities are important, but some are more important than others if we are focused on long-term outcomes.
Indeed, crèches should be also viewed as a key parental empowerment offer. Especially, but not exclusively, for women. Like for their children, crèches provide first time experiences to be apart, building trust in other professionals, and starting new relationships and role models for them. This early relationship between parent and professional can open up a whole world of opportunity for parenting support, and their own learning and employment, such outcomes should be measured, celebrated and evidenced.
Crèches do fill a gap that often the local childcare market cannot always fill. Childcare providers are under a great deal of pressures and cannot readily offer short term, temporary or highly flexible childcare in these ways. They would if they could. But the barriers that prevent this need to be examined, I am wondering what more can be done to alleviate these blocks?
I remember the time, in the 1990s, when crèches were justified because of a total lack of local and suitable childcare. The childcare market has continued to mature over the past 25 years, and offers a range of funded and paid for services. However, there remains a gap that crèches should and could address for the greatest benefit of children and parents alike, and meet all our statutory duties. But it needs a fresh pair of eyes, a new confidence, and recognition of the outcomes achieved, as well as a joining up of resources. Crèches are and should be considered to be a vital service in their own right. We should crèche, but in new ways.
This blog was first published in Children’s Centre Leader www.chcentreleader.com