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Photo. A child of preschool age with a black jacket, blue bag and green cap stands looking at a nursery notice board. The picture is taken from behind.

More than a third of parents unable to access suitable childcare

Posted 22 November, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

New research has revealed that affordability and flexibility are key barriers for parents trying to find childcare settings for their pre-school children.

Flexible Childcare Services Scotland (FCSS), a national charity that runs 23 childcare settings across Scotland, conducted the research with 600 parents in order to better understand some of the challenges of accessing childcare for younger children.

Their findings revealed:

  • More than a third of parents (36%) find it difficult to find preschool childcare. Of these 76% said this was due to affordability issues.
  • Two fifths (41%) of parents of preschool children said they were unable to access childcare during the working day.
  • 64% of respondents indicated their employer provided little or no flexible working.

In addition, parents spoke about the difficulties of securing childcare hours which fitted around their working patterns or employment commitments, affordability and long waiting lists. These issues are anticipated to only be exacerbated by the ongoing, and increasing, cost-of-living crisis with a recent report (click to access) from the Poverty Alliance and the Scottish Budget Group identifying this will disproportionately impact women and single parents.

Flexible Childcare Services Scotland’s Chief Executive, Susan McGhee, said:

“This research shows the harsh reality that families across the country face – to work or not to work. As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, this problem is likely to be compounded putting even greater challenges on families.”

Created by One Parent Families Scotland, FCSS was launched in 2019 in response to findings from the charity that the parents they were supporting were unable to engage in training, education or employment due to a lack of flexible childcare provision.

FCSS believes the model it operates in its own centres in Dundee, Inverness, Keith and across Aberdeenshire, along with the models adapted for other childcare providers, can deliver the flexible solutions modern families need. This includes the free childcare management software, Caerus, which helps childcare providers manage their entire setting, and release any extra capacity as flexible spaces. This model will help parents save money as they only pay for the spaces used, and will allow providers to maximise their occupancy and income through using all spaces available.

Click here to find out more about Flexible Childcare Services Scotland

Headshot_Jenifer Johnston

Comment: New Scottish Government plans give me hope for working mothers

Posted 1 November 2022, by Jennifer Drummond

Jenifer Johnson (pictured) reflects on the promises of the new Best Start Plan and her hopes for a policy landscape that makes the connection between women in work and affordable, accessible childcare

I felt so… short-sighted? Putting the phone down after speaking to the nursery about fees, my sums for going back to work after a year of maternity leave didn’t add up. Three days a week for a private nursery place was going to cost more, much more, than I’d anticipated. I’d just – gratefully - arranged to lose 40% of my income to go back to my job part-time instead of full-time. But the nursery bill took my breath away.

I mentally kicked myself. I should have saved more. I should have saved before I got pregnant. I should have been saving for years. Putting the phone down I realised there would be no way of keeping my career where it was at because the childcare I needed to do so would cost more than the mortgage.

And then there were two.

Juggling childcare and career

I had my kids in 2014 and 2016 so the Scottish Government Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) policy helped me in a rolling way. The introduction of 600 hours of paid for early learning and childcare eventually took a chunk out of the nursery bill for small person #1. Then small person #2 got the full benefit of a funded 1,140 hours of ELC. The nursery attached to our primary school expanded to fit the policy change, and the quality of care there was far higher than the private nursery.

The downside was the school hours and the term-time holidays. My ever amazing mum stepped into the breach when I went back to work full-time, with some hours from the private nursery awkwardly tacked onto the sides and frantic drives between them in lunch hours and after work.

Connecting the dots

But the Scottish Government has now, thankfully, realised two important and connected things. Firstly, that women go to work. Secondly, that children exist before the age of three. This has been captured in the new Best Start Plan (click to access), which aims to "build a system of school age childcare and an early learning and childcare offer for one- and two-year-olds, starting with those who need it most".

I read an awful lot of policy papers, so I don't say this lightly - there are some truly wonderful things in this sensible document.

The Plan proposes developing a new offer for one- and two-year-olds rooted in expanding access to funded childcare for more of the child poverty priority families over the course of this Parliament. The woeful availability or affordability of wraparound school-aged childcare is in scope as well, starting by identifying and supporting targeted early adopter communities across Scotland where good school age childcare can be modelled for other areas.

Critically, there is recognition in the Plan that women work. It notes: "For parents and carers, international research suggests that affordable and flexible ELC can improve standards of living and address child poverty through reducing pressures on family income and enabling parents and carers, particularly women, to participate in work, education or training.”

There is an affirmation that childcare is a vital element of Scotland's economic infrastructure, that ELC enables parents and carers to work and increase their working hours, and that ELC provision can help to address gender inequality in pay. All of this is also part of the Scottish policy-land dictionary acronym of 2022, NSET - the National Strategy for Economic Transformation.

For the first time, this connection is a real thing.

Changing focus to better support working mothers

A few years ago I challenged a Scottish Government minister on the 1,140 hours policy, asking why parents weren't just given the money from that Fund to spend on childcare they needed when children were ages 0-5 so that going back to work after maternity leave wasn't so financially tough. It could give women the chance to keep their careers at the level they were at by spreading state-backed spend as they needed to. There was a firm shake of the head. "This policy is nothing to do with working women. It's about attainment. Career choices don't come in to it." I think my jaw hung open all the way home. Where did the Scottish Government think I was when I needed childcare for my children? After maternity leave you are skint, heading back to work and hit with a massive nursery bill. A bit of bridging from the state would go a long way to support Scotland's productivity.

I hope this new Plan could change - at the very least - the visibility of work and childcare as connected parts.

When my small people have kids, when I am a Gran, I hope that childcare is available and affordable enough for women to thrive in their careers. I hope that the professionals (mainly women) working in childcare are paid a decent wage which rewards the hard, hard work of nurturing the babies and toddlers of strangers. I hope that school buildings and playgrounds are open at weekends and holidays, and don't just exist as resources behind locked gates during term-time. I hope kids can go somewhere warm and fun and nice before and after school, at a bearable cost, so that families can have the best chance of employment. I hope Scotland gets so much better at this. With this new document, I feel like it could finally become reality.

Jenifer Johnston works in communications and public affairs. She is on Twitter @TheLastGoodGirl. 


Young children of pre-school age explore a stretch of pebble beach by the water. A young boy in yellow is crouched at the water edge.

News: Pilot project to support childminder recruitment launches

Posted 5 April 2022, by Jennifer Drummond. Image supplied by SCMA.

A new partnership project has been launched to support the recruitment and training of more than 100 professional childminders across Scotland.

The Scottish Rural Childminding Partnership pilot is focused on ten areas across Scotland which have been identified as in urgent need of high quality, flexible childcare.

Led by the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) it aims to support economic and community development through the creation of more than 100 new professional childminding jobs and up to 900 much-needed childcare spaces for families in remote and rural areas.

Graeme McAlister, Chief Executive of the Scottish Childminding Association said:

“Childminding is a vital community asset providing local flexible childcare and family support which is so important in remote and rural communities.

“The pilot is an important step towards addressing the urgent demand for high-quality childcare from parents and carers, recruiting childminders in areas where they are most needed.

“As we emerge from COVID-19 there may be people considering a change of career which supports working from home – this is a fantastic opportunity for those living in these target areas to access a wealth of support in setting up their own sustainable childminding business and to undertake a rewarding new career.”

Benefits across the community

The £170,000 project has partnership funding from South of Scotland Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland.

The pilot is designed to not only offer high-quality early learning and childcare settings for children in the local area, but support parents joining or remaining active in the workforce.

Douglas Cowan, Director of Communities and Place, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said:

“This new initiative will support and extend the provision of a vital service for young families in the target areas, enabling more parents to return to the workforce. It will also provide much-needed opportunities for self-employment and business growth. This is a very welcome win-win that will deliver real benefits to many communities in our region.”

Jane Morrison-Ross, Chief Executive of South of Scotland Enterprise, said:

“Organisations in our towns and villages across the South of Scotland rely on parents and carers being able to source local, high-quality childcare provision. This innovative pilot will provide a valuable opportunity for people from a range of backgrounds to re-train mid-career.  This is a great example of an opportunity for entrepreneurs delivering real value for people and communities.”

Support for new recruits

Those who are accepted onto the programme will be supported by a dedicated member of the SCMA team, through induction training and the registration process to establishing their new business. On completion of the registration with the Care Inspectorate and HMRC, the new childminder will receive a start-up grant to cover initial costs and a unique package of childminding-specific training courses.

Launched at the end of March, the Partnership pilot will be active in Argyll & Bute, Dumfries & Galloway, Highland, Moray, North Ayrshire (Arran and Cumbrae), Orkney, Scottish Borders, Shetland, Stirling and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Click here for more information on the Scottish Rural Childminding Partnership pilot


News: Programme for Government fails to increase Scottish Child Payment

Posted 8 September, 2021 by Jennifer Drummond

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has presented the legislative agenda and funding priorities of her government to the Scottish Parliament, including a number of commitments designed to support children, young people and families.

The 2021-22 Programme for Government includes announcements to continue with the expansion of the free school meals programme, funding to support increased teacher recruitment, a new Family Wellbeing Fund and proposals to extend funded early learning and childcare to eligible one and two-year-olds.

Whilst there was an agreement to extend the Scottish Child Payment to now include children up to the age of 16, a commitment to increase the value was notably absent.

Many of those who have campaigned for a doubling of the Scottish Child Payment called the omission disappointing and urged for it to be included in the forthcoming Scottish Budget.

Amy Woodhouse, Head of Policy, Projects and Participation at Children in Scotland said:

“As members of the End Child Poverty Commission, we have campaigned for solutions that would make a much-needed difference in tackling child poverty, and have strongly advocated for a doubling of the Scottish Child Payment as the most effective method to address the concerning increase in child poverty rates.

"We of course welcome the extension of the payment to cover children up to age 16 by the end of 2022, however we would urge the Scottish Government to act on its commitment to double the payment as quickly as possible."

"We were disappointed that this commitment was not made in this years Programme for Government and strongly urge the Scottish Government to prioritise this in its budget setting."

Peter Kelly, Director of The Poverty Alliance echoed this view. He said:

“The Child Poverty Act, passed unanimously In 2017, set out the route to ending child poverty. We are now far off that route. Getting back on track requires the immediate doubling of the Scottish Child Payment. Without this, the path to meeting our child poverty targets will become ever-more difficult, as will the lives of people locked in poverty across Scotland. We cannot allow that to happen. The Scottish Government must urgently commit to taking this action in the upcoming budget.”

Other key priorities outlined in the Programme for Government 2021-22, include:

  • Free 'wraparound' childcare to be established for the lowest income families
  • Investment of £120m in mental health services in the year ahead, including funding to deliver CAMHS and reduce waiting lists
  • Investment of £1bn over the course of the parliament to continue work to close the poverty-related attainment gap
  • Funding for councils to recruit 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants
  • Extension of free school meals to all primary school pupils, all year round
  • Extension of funded early learning and childcare to all one and two-year-olds, starting with low income households
  • Commitment to a review of the children’s hearing system
  • A £500m Whole Family Wellbeing Fund over the course of the parliament to improve the preventative support available to families before crisis point.

Click here to read our view and policy analysis of the Programme for Government

Click here to view the full statement on the Scottish Government’s website

Childcare expansion: prioritise quality and inclusive practice, and ensure that the child’s experience is central

11 March 2020

Children in Scotland has responded to the issues raised by today’s Holyrood debate on childcare expansion and the recent publication of Audit Scotland's review of progress (click to read).

Sally Cavers, Children in Scotland’s Head of Inclusion, said:

“We believe that the quality of childcare on offer is the vital element of this expansion, and that the experience of the child – particularly given the significant increase in hours – is central.

It should be acknowledged that the government’s childcare expansion plan is a very significant infrastructure project for Scotland. In this context we welcome the fact that at this stage 90% of providers appear to have met the standards required.

But we would be concerned by any indication of compromises in standards and the potential impact this could have on children.

Tied to the issue of quality is the skills and status of the early learning and childcare workforce. They are the front line in supporting all childhood development in ELC settings. Pay, training and attitudes to the contribution they make should reflect this.

We note that Audit Scotland’s report highlights Brexit’s likely impact on recruiting and retaining staff to work in childcare settings – a concern that has been raised by our own members.

Another fundamental consideration of the expansion process is inclusive practice. Childcare providers have responsibilities under Additional Support for Learning legislation to ensure that provision is accessible for young children with additional support needs, and we continue to reiterate this message to the Scottish Government.

Children in Scotland administers the Early Learning Childcare and Inclusion Fund, which provides funding to ELC settings to support children with additional support needs in Scotland access their funded ELC entitlement, and we are fully supportive of ongoing efforts to make centres more inclusive.”

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