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‘Millions of parents unable to get early years support’



Millions of parents have been unable to access vital early years services, according to a children’s charity.

A report, released yesterday by Action for Children, found that of 2,003 parents with children aged zero to five in England surveyed between 20 June and 2 July, 82% said they were struggling or unable to access early years services – equivalent to 4.3 million parents across England.

The charity urged the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to use the upcoming spending review on 27 October to ensure every family has access to early years services locally, as part of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda to address regional in equality.

Imran Hussain, Action for Children director of policy and campaigns, said: ‘Vital lifeline services which were already stretched [before the Covid-19 pandemic], 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 forced closures of family hubs and children’s centres during the Covid-19 crisis, with some moving online or over-the-phone, made access worse, the charity added.

Since the pandemic, more parents – 27% compared to 22% found in previous research before the pandemic – said services have been completely unavailable within their local community.

And 78% of parents who were unable to access a service say they are worried about the impact on themselves or their child – including fears about their child’s social and emotional development, their own wellbeing, their child’s ability to make friends, isolation and mental health.

Early years services include essential non-childcare programmes to support education and development, child-parent relationships or extra mental health support. They also allow professionals to identify families in particular need of early intervention. 

Last month, research found Sure Start children’s centres prevented over 13,150 hospitalisations a year among 11- to 15-year-olds in England before their funding was cut.

Sure Start centres– which offer health, parenting support, childcare and parental employment services in a one-stop shop for families with under-fives – received £1.8bn a year at their peak in 2010. Since then, spending has fallen by more than 60% and many centres have closed.  

Nursing in Practice looked in-depth at the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on children’s mental and physical wellbeing earlier this year.