Research reviews

Child care: how local markets respond to national
Tim Harries, Ivana La Valle and Sarah Dickens, National
Centre for Social Research

Big government child care programmes such as Sure Start and the
Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative have helped disadvantaged
parents who would not previously have used formal pre-school

But the evidence suggests that these programmes have succeeded
partly because they encouraged a new way of working in which a
range of local stakeholders – community groups, child care
providers, schools, and local charities – co-operated to create new
child care places and other services for local families.

When government funding is phased out and these programmes have
to operate more like businesses, they would not be financially
viable if they continued to operate in the same way. Existing child
care providers which are operating like businesses, including those
which received short-term funding to cover start-up costs, were not
able to provide subsidise places and were generally only accessible
to working parents who earned enough to pay the fees or could claim
child care tax credit. Childminders too catered mainly for working
parents who earned enough to pay the full child care costs.

The study also found that most child care providers were unable
to provide the flexibility that parents wanted. Some offered a few
part-time places but could not allow regular changes to the times
the provision was used or allow parents to change their
arrangements at short notice. This would be expensive to do and not
financially viable for many providers.

Providing child care outside typical hours was also difficult
because it meant having enough parents needing the service to make
it viable. Also, many child care staff do not want to work outside
normal hours.

Targeting programmes at disadvantaged areas meant target
families had been reached. But in two of the three disadvantaged
areas in the study there were few employment opportunities for
mothers. This meant the success of the child care strategy in
helping parents into work was dependent on local regeneration

– For more, see

Parents’ Eye report
Daycare Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

Studies have already established that parents from ethnic
minority communities are less likely than other parents to access
formal child care. The Parents’ Eye project explored the
perceptions and experiences of parents from a range of communities
towards child care. Minority communities in six areas of England,
including travellers, asylum seekers, Chinese, south Asian and
African and African Caribbean communities were identified.

In many communities, there is no tradition of leaving a child in
the care of strangers. So trusting the staff was critical to their
willingness to use the service.

Many felt that services did not involve or understand their
communities. They felt discriminated against, excluded and
isolated. Some had experienced direct racism from other parents and
staff. Serving culturally appropriate food or putting up displays
in community languages was not necessarily enough to make parents
feel their culture and religion was understood and respected.

There were examples of services that were successfully engaging
local communities and made a big difference to them. Providers
worked hard to make sure that parents felt welcome and frequently
asked for their advice and opinions. Recruiting staff from ethnic
minority communities can dramatically improve the level of
confidence of parents using services, and the organisation’s
ability to deliver a service which is genuinely sensitive to the
culture of local children, the study found.

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