Early years support services further to of reach

Action for Children has warned that 4.3 million parents are missing out on or struggling to access essential services including child development and parenting support for children under the age of five.

Early years services include essential non-childcare programmes to support children’s education and development, child-parent relationships or extra support for parent or child mental health. These services also allow professionals to identify and help families who may be in particular need of early intervention.

The Action for Children charity claims that more than three quarters of parents who couldn’t access these services - typically offered in children’s centres and family hubs - are worried about the impact on themselves or their child.

Since the onset of the pandemic, more parents  said services have been completely unavailable within their local community as the covid crisis forced many to close or move online. The most common parental concerns centre around a child’s social and emotional development (45 per cent), a parent’s own mental health and well-being (45 per cent), a child’s ability to make friends and socialise with other kids (44 per cent) and feelings of family loneliness (42 per cent) and children’s mental health (41 per cent).

Parents polled recognised the need for support during these vital first years to help give their children the best start in life, with 79 per cent wanting greater access to early years help, and 69 per cent believing more investment is needed for all early years services.

The charity is calling on the government to use October’s Spending Review to give parents a minimum service guarantee of the services they should be able to access to help them give their child the best start in life.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Being a parent is the hardest and most important job many people will have. It’s good we are hearing ministers talk about the family as an institution that is vital to levelling up, but the fact remains that some children are being left behind by a lack of access to crucial early years support.

“Family life has been hugely disrupted since the pandemic hit and today’s report shows vital lifeline services which were already stretched, may be ‘out of reach’ for most parents, leaving them to struggle alone. We know from our own frontline services that helping families as early as possible is more effective in the long-run so investing in high quality centres and hubs in every community should be a core part of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

“The government’s manifesto commitment to family hubs is an opportunity to ensure all parents and young children get the support they need to thrive. We urge the Chancellor to take urgent action in next month’s Spending Review to ensure councils can deliver a minimum service guarantee for parents and young children so all children get the best start in life.”

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