£5.5m boost for free care of county’s two-year-olds

Witney Gazette: Sarah Barrett with three-year-old daughter, Erin.  Picture: OX 64291 Mark Hemsworth Buy this photo » Sarah Barrett with three-year-old daughter, Erin. Picture: OX 64291 Mark Hemsworth

MORE two-year-olds will be entitled to free childcare as the Government dishes out more than £5.5m to Oxfordshire parents.

It will mean just under 2,000 two-year-olds in the county – 40 per cent – will be entitled to 15 hours of free childcare a week from next September.

Until now only parents of two-year-olds getting benefits because they are on a low income, or receiving certain benefits, qualified for the free childcare, but now the categories of those entitled to the child care funding have been extended.

The change is part of £755m of funding across the UK announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday and in total Oxfordshire will receive £5,652,580.

Currently, 1,160 two-year-olds are entitled to the scheme.

While the move has been welcomed by childcare providers and parents, there are concerns about whether all nurseries are suited to look after two-year-olds.

Mum Sarah Barrett was concerned parents who actually need free childcare would not be entitled under the scheme.

Ms Barrett, of Rose Hill, who has a three-year-old daughter Erin, said: “When my daughter was that age, I would have really needed that.

“My concern is about who gets the priority for this. Will it actually be the people who really need it? Those parents who have to work, like I did.

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“If it is people who are at home and could look after their two-year-old then I don’t really agree with that.

“But it is good that children will be educated from an earlier age.”

Anna Thorne, manager of Donnington Doorstep Family Centre, in Townsend Square, Oxford, said: “This has been the plan for a while now.

“We do provide places for funded two-year-olds and we will develop the provision in order to be able to take more two-year-olds.

“It can be a really great thing, but there are issues around it. It is really important the provision is going to be homely, loving and caring, because they are two-year-olds and it can be very different.

“When you have working parents they will need childcare, but only so long as the provision that is taking the funded places is able to do so at a high enough standard.

“There needs to be plenty of staff that are suitably qualified as well as making sure there is lots of stimuli for the children.

“There is a concern that the local authority is cutting funding for Early Years support and without that it could make this job much harder.”

Mr Clegg said: “Parents, local authorities, nurseries and childminders should take up the offer their children are entitled to, make sure places are available and expand local childcare provision.

“Every child deserves to have the best start in life, regardless of their background, financial situation or family set-up, and this funding will help even more children and families get on in life.”


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