Local authorities are facing significant challenges in making sure that parents have access to wraparound childcare that meets their needs due to significant funding pressures, the complexity of accurately mapping supply and demand, and recruiting staff, according to a new study published today by Coram Family and Childcare (CFC).
Insights into wraparound childcare, commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA), explores the views of key stakeholders, including parents, sector experts and local authorities, on current provision of wraparound childcare (before and after school childcare).* The research follows the announcement in the Spring Budget in March 2023 of an investment of £289 million over two years from September 2024 to enable local authorities to support the expansion of wraparound childcare for all primary school aged children.
Local authorities are facing significant challenges with increased demand for services and lack of funding, with an identified funding gap of £4 billion over the next two years. Alongside existing challenges in the childcare sector, making sure there is sufficient wraparound provision available is a challenge for some local areas, and understanding the availability of provision, particularly unregistered provision, can be challenging for already overstretched local authority teams.
This is reflected in the findings of the report, which found that against the backdrop of greater volatility in the wraparound childcare market since the pandemic, sector experts were consistently seeing shortages in the availability of wraparound care. This is in line with findings from CFC’s most recent Childcare Survey, published in March 2023, which found that only a quarter of local authorities had sufficient provision for parents working full time with children aged 5-11.**
During the research, sector experts highlighted the difficulty in quantifying these shortages, with one expert commenting: “There needs to be real data and real information rather than a parent saying ‘yes’ but then only using childcare every four weeks. Providers also need a clear understanding of who else is around you. Is there really a need for new provision or is there enough already there?”
Conversely, parents reported that wraparound provision was not always flexible enough to reflect their working lives. They felt providers could be too rigid around needing to book sessions so far in advance that they couldn’t always guarantee a spot, and the hours could be too limited. Parents working atypical hours, those who had long commutes and single parents also reported difficulty in finding wraparound childcare to match their needs. Sector experts noted that the government’s focus on term-time childcare only was a missed opportunity and that unless holiday childcare was factored in, the intervention was unlikely to achieve its aim of supporting parents to work.
The research also found that children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) were particularly poorly served. One parent observed from her own experience that “parents with children with additional needs are excluded from wraparound childcare”.
Amid the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges across the sector, there was concern from providers about the difficulty of finding staff who were willing to work an hour in the morning and from 3.30-6pm and how this would impact quality. Quality was also an area of concern for parents, who tended to consider that the skills and empathy of the staff were more important than the activities that were on offer. Parents also viewed up to date training and skills on working with children with SEND to be able to support all children as particularly important.
Ellen Broomé, Head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “We know that wraparound childcare is vital for giving parents greater flexibility to work and providing important opportunities for children to learn, develop and have fun outside of school. Yet it has long been the ‘Cinderella’ service of childcare provision, lacking adequate funding or policy recognition.
“We have arrived at a crucial time for this service. Today’s report sheds light on what we must do to ensure that all families benefit from this renewed focus and investment. To make the most of this vital opportunity, the government’s expansion must pay close attention to what parents need.”
Cllr Louise Gittins, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This report sheds useful light on the challenges facing local authorities, parents and providers in meeting existing and expected demand as part of the wraparound expansion.
“Local authorities work hard to ensure that this is a success and want to continue to work closely with central government to make improvements to the programme. However, they are under significant pressures and are having to target their teams in areas that need immediate focus, meaning some local areas have not been able to prioritise wraparound care.
“The shortages highlighted in the report reflect the wider complications of this area and the lack of central focus on wraparound. Despite the scheme being announced in April there has only recently been further information from the Government on how local authorities should focus more widely on this as an area, as well as the funding required to support local authorities to implement this programme. Therefore, it is vital that local authorities have long term, sustainable funding to enable them to effectively support providers, schools and families to deliver and access wraparound provision.”
Read the full report at familyandchildcaretrust.org/insights-wraparound-childcare.
*The research included: a focus group with parents and Coram Family and Childcare Parent Champions, interviews with experts on childcare delivery and policy, webinars with local authorities across England, and interviews with four local authorities with different approaches to wraparound childcare.
**Childcare Survey 2023: coram.org.uk/resource/childcare-survey-2023/