Childcare Sufficiency

The Childcare Act (2006) requires local authorities to take reasonable steps to ensure sufficient childcare so that families can work or train. To understand how well childcare matches families needs a Childcare Sufficiency Assessment (CSA) process is undertaken by the Local Authority. This process involves consulting a range of groups as to their childcare needs and comparing this to the available provision.

A full Childcare Sufficiency Assessment is carried out once every three years with a lighter refresh annually. This report presents the findings from the third full CSA carried out in York.
It should be noted that the childcare market is dynamic and changes can happen over a short period of time. This report presents a snapshot in time and as more data and information becomes available the picture of how well childcare matches families’ needs will develop.

 

Facilitating the Childcare Market in York

There are a number of ways that the Childcare Strategy Service works to meet gaps in childcare demand, including, but not limited to;

  • Market forces where childcare providers are active themselves in identifying demand and seek to set up new provision
  • Supporting childcare providers to remain financially viable so that they remain open
  • Direct stimulus where there is active encouragement of new providers to the market in targeted areas and this can include recruitment of childminders.

Therefore, in most cases additional capacity is created through a combination of commercial market forces and stimulation and support led by Childcare Strategy which can sometimes involve a commissioning process for the delivery of new childcare. The constant changing level, nature and quality of provision in the City means it is often a difficult market to predict in terms of gaps and over-provision: the picture can look very different within a few short months.

It is proposed that York’s award winning Shared Foundation Partnerships are encouraged to take on the role of assessing sufficient childcare through regular parental questionnaires. In the longer term this will provide a more accurate picture of the childcare market and provide responses, in the main, that are community led.

National Context

Throughout 2013 there was great debate over how to develop the childcare market nationally. This debate is of great importance to York as many of the challenges that are faced in York are also faced right across the rest of the country.

More Great Childcare

In January 2013 “More Great Childcare” set out the steps the Governments felt should be taken in order to raise the quality of childcare and give more choice to families. These steps included:

  • Raising the status and quality of the childcare workforce through the introduction of Early Years Teachers and Early Years Educators.
  • Amending staff to children ratios in group childcare and childminders. This proposal was subsequently dropped following consultation.Changes to regulatory regime including; the requirements that local authorities use Ofsted judgements as the sole arbiter of quality, inspecting weaker providers more frequently and allowing for childcare providers to pay for re-inspection.
  • The introduction of Childminder Agencies (CMAs) that would encourage those put off a career in childminding by self employment to be able to enter the childcare market.
  • Encouraging schools to take younger children by removing the requirement for schools to register separately in order to provide childcare to two year olds.

More Affordable Childcare

The Department for Education published the “More Affordable Childcare” policy paper in July 2013. This paper built on “More Great Childcare” and set out the government’s plans to:

  • Help families to meet the costs of childcare;
    • Through the introduction of Universal Credit increasing the childcare element to a maximum of 85% of childcare costs where both parents (or the lone parent) earn enough to reach the minimum tax threshold. This compares to the current maximum of 70% through the Childcare Element of Work Tax Credit).
    • Through the introduction of “tax free childcare”. A new national scheme that replaces existing employer based childcare voucher schemes with an HMRC administered system that will see the government contribute 20p for every 80p paid into the scheme by families. This will provide up to £2,000 of support per year per child.
  • Increase the amount of affordable provision;
    • Through building on proposals outlined in More Great Childcare and bringing forward legislation to introduce a new childcare registration system at the earliest opportunity, following consultation. This would replace the current sets of rules with a single, consistent set of welfare and safeguarding requirements for all childcare providers.
  • Give parents the right information so they can make informed choices about childcare.
    • An independent organisation would be commissioned to improve the way information is provided to families. This work has since been jointly undertaken by Ipsos MORI in conjunction with the Family and Childcare Trust. York has supported this work and held a number of meetings with the Department for Education outlining best practice from York.

Where next?

The debate surrounding the role and future direction of childcare in England is gathering pace. It has been 10 years since the government published the 2004 ten year childcare strategy. With this strategy now at an end and with childcare looking to be a key strand of a forthcoming general election there is great opportunity but also uncertainty for York.

There is the opportunity for York to shape the childcare conversations happening nationally to address some of the systematic challenges faced locally.

There is uncertainty for the local authority and childcare providers in seeing which proposals put forward by different think tanks and political parties become reality and how these impact on the childcare market in York.

Summary of key messages locally

  • Overall childcare in York reasonably matches the needs of local families. In particular:
  • The quality of childcare as judged by Ofsted and by local families is very encouraging.
  • The take up of the new two year old funding exceeds the national averages.
  • The geographical spread of childcare reasonably reflects the needs of families but could be improved further.
  • The childcare market has shown a high level of resilience through a turbulent economic period and responded well to a rising birth rate in York.
  • Childcare costs compare well to national figures but are higher than elsewhere in Yorkshire and Humberside. Take up of support with childcare costs is encouraging but families would benefit from further support in understanding different ways they may be able to reduced their childcare costs. There are clear messages from families relating to the affordability of childcare which mirrors the national picture.
  • York has bucked the trend nationally of falling childminders and is seeing the number of childminders actually increasing. This reflects work to remodel the support offered to people considering a career as a childminder.
  • York continues to play a leading role in trying to address systematic challenges in the childcare market nationally. This can be seen through the Childcare Hubs programme and chairing the National Association of Family Information Services.
  • Training and resources have been invested to improve the accessibility of childcare for disabled children and young people through the Disabled Children’s Access to Childcare project and the Early Years Inclusion funding. Some families with disabled children have expressed they feel unable to access childcare but the reasons behind this are not clear and warrant further work to engage with families.
  • Childcare providers have engaged with work to improve the flexibility of childcare. York now has 37% of childcare providers offering opens times before 8am and 37% of childminders offering additional flexibility beyond their standard opening hours into evenings and weekends. However there are still challenges in how the childcare market can support shift workers or unusual hours.
  • There is also further work to be done to engage employers and encourage them to adopt family friendly working practices.

This Childcare Sufficiency Assessment has shown that generally the childcare market in York meets families needs but highlights some areas that could be further developed or warrant further investigation. This report focuses on issues for childcare sufficiency and will inform the development of an action plan aimed at addressing these gaps.

Places

Overall the geographical spread of places reasonably matches families needs. The childcare market in York has shown a high level of resilience through turbulent economic times. The number of childminders in York has increased over recent years following a transformation of support to those considering a career in childcare. This contrasts with a national picture of falling numbers of registered childminders. There has also been a significant increase in the number and range of childcare providers that can be used for two, three and four year old funded provision as a result of changes in the national code of practice. This has resulted in greater choice for families.

There are pressure points within the Local Authority. Supply data suggests pressure point in the following wards Hull Road, Heworth Without, Holgate, Fulford and Bishopthorpe.

Feedback from families would suggest in terms of absolute numbers of families the wards of Skelton, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without, Holgate, Micklegate and Heworth have the highest numbers of families strongly agreeing with the statement that childcare is a barrier to them working or training. Although the number of families expressing this opinion are much lower in Osbaldwick and Dunnington, the proportion of respondents agreeing with the statement is above average.

Some families have expressed that accessing before or after school provision can be challenging. When exploring levels of demand by school attended levels of demand exist but may not be at a level where by an out of school club could be sustained. Schools are encouraged to work with their Shared Foundation Partnerships in responding to the needs of families and learning from the two Childcare Hubs will support his.

The role of creches

The role of crèche provision in the childcare market should be highlighted in this report. The York Learning service at City of York Council provides a crèche service to support family learning programmes as well as some parenting and children’s centre services.

The legal responsibilities in relation to local authorities taking reasonable steps to secure sufficient childcare relates to childcare registered with Ofsted or where the Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit can be used. Although the short term, crèche provision supplied by York Learning does not fall into this scope it should be recognised that this crèche provision plays and important role in supporting families access a range of training and support programmes. This is reflected in discussions between childcare practitioners and also in feedback from families taking part in the parental consultation.

The sustainability of these crèches is being increasingly challenged. Ensuring this does not create a barrier for families should be address through the council’s wider transformation programme and consider the best way to meet these childcare needs.