Local services for young children have a vital role in reducing the effect of low-income. But what do the young children and families think? Heather Ransom considers findings from a project that listened to their views.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) has published ‘Changing the Odds in the Early Years’, a report which examines the role of national and local government and what works in tackling poverty during a child’s early years.
To inform the report, NCB’s Research Centre was commissioned to carry out interviews and focus groups with low-income parents to find out about their experiences of housing support, early years provision, and health services.
In addition, a researcher trained in the Mosaic Approach, worked closely with young children alongside their parents and practitioners, to make sure their voices were heard too. The report also examined the challenges facing local authorities when tackling child poverty, with this work being carried out by OCC.
So what did families and young children themselves say about the services they rely on?
Housing was identified as the area where improvements were most needed. Too many families were found to be living in poor quality accommodation – difficult to heat, too small, or in need of repairs – or which was simply not suitable for those with young children. For instance, a high rise flat with no access to a garden or nearby park. Moreover, young children’s views were rarely sought by housing staff.
The report recommends that housing strategies and quality standards be reviewed in order to improve access to quality social housing and make private housing more affordable.
Parents valued access to free early years services, enabling them to access play and learning opportunities for their children they would not have been able to afford otherwise. They were also happy with the quality and accessibility of health services, especially those using the Family Nurse Partnership, although some difficulties were reported in getting GP appointments.
But the threshold to be eligible for early intervention services was often felt to be too high, resulting in some families feeling they needed to have reached a crisis point before support was given. Given the impact of budget cuts on families, the report is calling for free early years and health services to be protected, along with increased availability and access to preventative support for parents.
With child poverty on the rise again, and Ofsted reporting last week that the development of disadvantaged children is significantly behind their peers by age 5, more emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring that low income families are able to access support and opportunities so that they can provide their children with the best start in life.