June O’Sullivan believes children’s centres would be better placed to provide childcare to vulnerable children and families because they could then access joined-up support more easily.
Her comments follow the publication of LEYF research on the free childcare offer that highlights a need for stronger partnerships between parents and practitioners, particularly for less experienced staff.
The research, carried out by independent childcare consultant Sue Chambers, was commissioned before the launch, in September 2013, of the government scheme offering up to 15 hours of free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
O’Sullivan said: “We’re targeting people who have already got real anxieties around parenting.
“Many of them are migrants, many are lonely and isolated, many are unclear of their role as parents in this country and we’re seeing high levels of mental health issues – all of this is pretty scary if you’re a young practitioner trying to address that.
“I think it would be great to weave the two-year-old offer in with children’s centres – we have good relations with various agencies but we haven’t got the power to make that difference.”
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, has backed O’Sullivan’s call.
She said: “4Children’s 2013 Children’s Centre Census showed that the majority of children’s centres are actively involved in supporting the delivery of the two-year-old offer, with almost half (48 per cent) intending to offer places in the year ahead.
“Children’s centres are well placed to help deliver the two-year-old offer, providing specialist help and also often the childcare and early learning.
“We would encourage centres to look at what more they can do – whether that’s providing more places or where childcare is not provided directly at the centre, working in close partnership with local providers to ensure that wider support is on offer.”
LEYF’s research also highlighted a need for further training to strengthen practitioners’ knowledge of the specific needs of vulnerable two-year-olds and calls for the creation of a qualification to help staff support parents and children to develop a greater understanding of nutrition.