Local support for children and families during the pandemic has been wide-ranging but there have also been notable local variations, new study reveals.
Co-authored by Frontier Economics and Coram Family and Childcare, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, this new research draws upon interviews with 122 local authority early leads in England between February and April 2021. There was an 82% response rate.
The study found that some local authorities offered considerable additional financial assistance, while several areas reported no additional spending.
Most areas have not seen, and do not immediately anticipate, widespread closures that would lead to shortages of childcare. However, many felt it was too early to tell what the full impact for the sector would be once financial supports finishes.
‘The pandemic has shown how nimble and flexible local authorities can be in the ways they support local childcare provision and the role they play in ensuring families can access the care they need,’ said Gillian Paull, senior analyst at Frontier Economics.
‘But the variation in the level of this support across the country suggests that some areas benefit from stronger local political support and greater resources for supporting childcare and early years.’
Greater concerns were expressed for school-age childcare, including breakfast and after school clubs, where local authorities had seen large drops in places and worried about future shortages.
All councils surveyed reported providing support to childcare settings on health and safety issues, including advice and assistance and access to PPE. Almost all of those involved in the study said they had supported parents around childcare use through guidance, advice and helping families to find childcare places.
Local authorities were mostly unable to say whether the quality of childcare had been significantly affected by the pandemic, partly because they were not making their usual visits to settings. The report noted that addressing this information gap on how the pandemic has impacted on quality is ‘essential’.
Megan Jarvie, head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: ‘Local authorities play a crucial role in supporting families and childcare providers so that families can find the childcare they need to support children’s development and help parents to work. These findings show the great potential local authorities hold to support the childcare market through the current threats when they have the right support and funding.’
Eleanor Ireland, education programme head at the Nuffield Foundation said: ‘Local authorities have played a vital role in supporting childcare providers to deliver early education and care to pre-school children and enabling parents to work during the pandemic.
‘However, many local authorities have concerns about possible shortages of care for school age children and this will need to be monitored in the coming months to prevent difficulties for working parents.’