Providing Childcare for All as part of tackling Child Poverty – Action for Children
At Action for Children, we are calling on the government to meaningfully invest in children’s services, tackle poverty and improve support for children aged 0-5. This includes asking for the delivery of a Childcare Strategy, providing the framework for regionally equitable and affordable provision, giving all children the opportunities to thrive as well as giving their families the chance to provide. We aim to see every child and young person have a safe and happy childhood, with the best start in life, which will give them the foundations they need to thrive. Therefore, we’re pleased to join the Childcare for All campaign that calls for universal, child-centered childcare that meets the needs of children, families, childcare workers and providers and that benefits society in the immediate and the long-term.
During the pandemic, the value of key services like childcare was brought into clear focus, with many parents struggling to find ways to continue working. Through our services, we’ve seen and heard that so many families have taken a sizeable financial hit as a result of reduced hours, being forced to take unpaid leave, work from home whilst juggling online learning with their kids or for many key workers, paying high childcare while providing essential services to the wider community. Our recent findings in our Childhood During Coronavirus Report highlighted that 37% of families said that the pandemic had led to financial pressures, with increased household costs from having all the family at home full-time. Below is an example from one family in Northern Ireland who has struggled to cope:
Cora is a key worker working in local care home part- time. She also has a three-year old and since the outbreak of Covid has been worried about working due to the outbreaks in homes. However, her and her daughter rely on her income and already are struggling. Action For Children’s Emergency Fund has helped Cora ensure she has food on the table every day for her daughter.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened. I would’ve struggled to get those essentials.”
Cora*, 27, started taking her daughter Ivy* to an Action for Children children’s centre in September 2019 to help her development in social situations. Cora herself works as a care assistant for people with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour part-time. She said:
"Before we were alright, we could get by. But there are a lot of care homes with covid19 so I don’t know what will happen. I need to go to work to make money to feed us, if I stay home, I will have no income. Childcare is hard. Ivy still sees her Dad, but it is just between his house and mine and he has muscular dystrophy so sometimes it is too painful for him to get up and about. It’s scary though, we live about 45 minutes away, so it is a fair bit of travel to get to one another. And her Dad is vulnerable now. There have been times he will just stand at the door and wave rather than be together.”
As time progressed, Cora noticed that due to being home more and Ivy no longer being out, bills and food shopping was becoming expensive and she wasn’t sure how she’d stay on top of it. She said:
“Before she’d go to my family or her dads, but now she is home and I have to do every meal. It is expensive. Action for Children got me the Emergency Fund and it just meant I was able to have food in the fridge. I could go down to the shop and top up my electricity. And had I not gotten that support, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I would’ve struggled to get those essentials. It’s so nice to know that there is someone there that cares about us. I was surprised when they first called and checked in. But it’s like having another family.”
It's so clear that real families in Northern Ireland have been impacted negatively, whether financially, emotionally or otherwise through this period. The needs of children and their families should be at the centre of our recovery initiatives and our political agendas in the long-term.
We, at Action for Children, believe that getting the Childcare Strategy right is foundational in addressing child poverty and properly investing in good infant mental health and family support structures. We emphasise that supporting emotional development and focusing on the strength of families is key to the wellbeing of our society. Addressing the social inequalities that are now drawn sharply into focus is paramount to our recovery from this pandemic and to reduce the potential of longer-term harms for our children.
We think that the current provisions for ages 0-5 do not effectively align with the body of evidence that shows how investment in this age group pays huge dividends in terms of cognitive, emotional and social development and often reduces the needs for remedial interventions later in life.
The recent Youth and Wellbeing Prevalence Study conducted by Queens University emphasised that children whose parents had poor mental health were twice as likely to have anxiety or depressive disorder themselves. The study also highlighted that deprivation increased the rate of any mood or anxiety disorder by a ratio of 1.7 for children. As Cora’s example highlighted, access to childcare is closely linked to preventing child poverty.
We are proud to join with Childcare for All to continue promoting the need to support children, young people and their families through holistic frameworks that deliver better outcomes for our society as a whole. If you want to learn more about what Action for Children are doing to help children, families and young people in Northern Ireland then visit actionforchildren.org.uk or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Please note all names have been changed for the safety of those involved.