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Charity slates political parties for not putting ‘best interests’ of the child at the heart of early years policymaking

09-Apr-14
Article By: Nina Hathway

Joining the debate as to whether universal childcare provision is a good thing or not, a charity called Save Childhood Movement argues the case for a better balance between economic aspirations and child and family wellbeing.

Across the political spectrum there is now consensus that early years provision is important for children's development and for helping parents - especially mums - into work. The question of 'what is best' for young children is, however, a point of contention among researchers, policymakers, commentators and politicians - not to mention parents.

Some argue against public involvement in the care of young children in principle, while others assert the importance of parents (usually mothers) being able to stay at home to look after their children,

In its manifesto 'Putting Children First', the Save Childhood Movement argues that governments must put the best interests of the child at the heart of all early years policymaking and expresses its concern that this is not currently the case.

Wendy Ellyatt, chief executive, Save Childhood Movement says: "We are currently very concerned that universal childcare provision is being pushed through in England without due attention to the vital quality of care that includes developmentally appropriate environments, greatly improved parental support and engagement and the training and empowerment of a skilled workforce.

“One of the key aims of any Early Childhood Education and Care System is to allow every child to flourish and to achieve his or her full potential and we feel there is a real danger that without the necessary quality controls English children will be greatly disadvantaged.

“With this manifesto we are arguing that the best needs of the child should be at the heart of all future policymaking, that we need to acknowledge and better support the vital importance of family and community life and that there needs to be a national debate about the values that we wish to see nurtured in larger society."

It calls for a much stronger focus on relationships and the importance of family life, highlights the importance of developmental readiness and confirms the dangers of pushing through universal childcare without the appropriate evidence base and significant investment in improving the current quality of provision.

As stated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: "Expanding access to services without attention to quality will not deliver good outcomes for children or the long-term productivity benefits for society. Furthermore, research has shown that if quality is low, it can have long-lasting detrimental effects on child development, instead of bringing positive effects."

Developed by the members of the movement's expert Early Years Advisory Group, and with the backing of the larger sector, the manifesto sets out three key elements that taken together call for “an integrated … appropriately financed system built upon an evidence-based understanding of the child as a citizen with developmental rights”. It also details 11 key policy points that should to be taken into account for the development of an appropriate ECEC.

With the 2015 election in mind, the movement is calling for all political parties to incorporate the identified elements in their own manifestos and to acknowledge the urgent need for a better balance between economic aspirations and child and family wellbeing.

Professional bodies have been swift to offer their support. Liz Bayram, chief executive, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said: "We wholeheartedly support the 11 policy points raised by the Save Childhood Movement. They offer a timely reminder to all political parties that a high quality early years experience in its broadest sense supports all children to reach their full potential and that childcare is about far more than just supporting parents to work and children to do well in school."

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive, Early Education said: “We welcome the Manifesto for the Early Years, which captures what really matters in its title ‘Putting Children First’. Early years policy must be evidence-based, and the evidence shows us that positive home learning environments and high quality early childhood education are the best ways of giving children a good start in life. Politicians must not rush to expand the quantity of early years education and childcare without first ensuring that the quality is right.”

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Stephanie Wilson

Stephanie Wilson

11 May 2014 11:05 AM

As a parent of two young children, one already in school, and the other due to start in Sept 2015. I agree with what Beatrice Merrick's statement. "Politicians should not rush to expand the quantity of early years education and childcare without first ensuring that quality is right."