New duties for councils will be key to the Childcare Bill

At the beginning of November, the government published the Childcare Bill, the first ever government legislation devoted specifically to under-fives and childcare.

Intended to assist in the implementation of last December’s 10-year strategy for childcare, the bill will place a new duty on local authorities covering three main areas: improving the outcomes for young children, securing sufficient childcare, and providing information to parents.

Improved outcomes will be measured against the five Every Child Matters outcomes of being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution, and achieving well-being, with new targets to be set on reducing inequalities. Local authorities will also have to ensure that all services for under-fives – including early years provision, health, social services and JobCentre Plus services for parents – are fully integrated.

In relation to the duty to secure sufficient childcare provision, the focus will be on working with providers from across all sectors to meet the needs of working parents and those undertaking training or education to prepare for work. This applies to childcare for non-disabled children up to the age of 14 or of disabled children up to the age of 16.

Within this there is a specific emphasis on meeting the needs of low income families eligible for the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit. However, the Daycare Trust has warned that, with take up of this tax credit relatively low and those families entitled to it not necessarily being the poorest, the net needs to be widened to also include vulnerable children of non-working parents.

By 2008, the bill will also introduce a new, reformed legal framework for regulation and inspection of all early years settings (see Single Quality Framework).

For children from birth to the end of reception year, all registered settings will be required to deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage – a framework of requirements covering specific areas of learning and development that will carry the same weight as the national curriculum in schools. However, many in the sector have criticised this proposal, warning that it could result in less time for play.

The Childcare Bill from

Single quality framework
Under the bill, the government will introduce a single quality framework for providers working with children from birth to the end of Foundation Stage and an Ofsted Childcare Register for school age provision.

Children’s minister Beverley Hughes confirmed last month that the Ofsted Childcare Register standards would be compulsory for all settings caring for children under the age of eight. Initial plans to stop registering non-school based providers of group child care for six- and seven-year-olds were dropped amid widespread concern about the creation of a two-tier system that would leave some children exposed to unnecessary risk.

“Registration will be compulsory for child care providers for children up to age eight, while remaining voluntary for those providing care for children up to 14,” Hughes said.

“This fits with our overall aim for the Bill that it should drive up quality, ensure children are safe and simplify the existing bureaucratic regime.”

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