Childcare cannot be allowed to collapse

Childcare cannot be allowed to collapse

Childcare cannot be allowed to collapse



Since lockdown began, our nursery in the East Midlands has remained open at the request of the government, providing childcare for vulnerable children and to those of key workers. It has been a struggle, but we were determined to remain open for the families that needed us. This week, we opened to more of our children under new guidance from the government. But this guidance, like the rest of the government’s strategy for Early Years providers, has been sorely lacking.

While we continued to receive our early years funding from the local council during lockdown, we are unable to fully access the furlough scheme, are not eligible for any of the grants on offer and have not been able to generate any income from those who pay for their childcare. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that the childcare sector has been woefully underfunded for years. We are inspected like schools, must adhere to strict statutory guidance and have significant safeguarding responsibilities, yet this is not reflected in our funding or in the government’s attitude to our sector. 

On the 10th May, Boris Johnson announced that schools should potentially open to more students from Monday 1st June. As with every governmental announcement during lockdown, we in the Early Years sector were left wondering whether that applied to us too. At this stage we have come to assume these announcements do, and to realise that we are an afterthought. 

The following day the recovery strategy confirmed they did indeed mean Early Years providers should ‘welcome all our children back’ on the 1st June. However, the toolkit for reopening was not published until 13 days later, on a bank holiday Sunday, giving us just four working days to finalise preparations. No financial support was provided to aid us in creating a safe environment, or to meet the increased cost of cleaning materials and PPE.

Though social distancing has been touted as the key to staying safe throughout the pandemic, the Department for Education acknowledges this is not possible in early years establishments, yet they are happy for us to return. They are confident children don’t suffer as much with the virus but are unable to tell us how children transmit the disease. This potentially puts our team in a vulnerable position, yet they are happy for us to return. 

Like other frontline workers during this crisis, ministers may laud us as the backbone of the nation but their actions demonstrate that they see us as expendable. It is clear the government has made decisions regarding early years provision without the expertise of anyone from the sector. Announcements come as a surprise not just for ourselves, but for local authorities and for industry bodies that constantly lobby for additional support. 

We have just finished our first week under the new guidance. The children have had a great time as ever, exploring, playing, learning and thriving. This is thanks to our wonderful, resilient team, who have had to implement new routines and increased cleaning all while fulfilling their usual responsibilities and keeping the children safe and happy. 

Adapting the guidance to our sector in such impossibly short time frames, under the stress and fear of a global pandemic, has been exhausting for all of us.

Despite the government’s protestations that childcare is instrumental in helping children under five meet early development milestones, the way in which Early Years providers are continually treated makes us feel like nothing more than babysitters, stepping in so the nation can go back to work. 

We are hoping that we will survive when this crisis is over. For many providers, sadly, we know this has not been possible. It is reported that one in six will likely close due to the pandemic compounded by continued lack of support. And who does the government expect to provide the essential early years expertise for our youngest children then? The impact on mothers’ employment specifically and women’s opportunities and equality more generally will be catastrophic.

Laurie* is a member of the Women's Equality Party and the owner of a nursery in an area of high deprivation

*Not her real name


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