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Balancing the challenges in the Early Years sector

16 July 2013

How parents bring up their children is an emotive hot potato for politicians, campaigners and parents alike. Having children brings into focus values. Irrespective of whether you follow the traditions from the past, or actively try to avoid your parent’s mistakes, parents feel that what they do is the best choices for their children. There are question marks around who is ultimately responsible for early years care and education – is it the parents and family, childcare professionals or even support and policy from local and national government. In the past six months we’ve seen an impassioned debate in the early year’s childcare sector.

For economic reasons the Government would like to see more parents (a.k.a. mums) returning to work after they have children. So they have increased financial support for families where both parents work or a single parent who works more than 16 hours per week.

But for many women the decision isn’t between home and work, as to maintain household income it becomes imperative to continue to work. UCL research suggests 70-78 % of mothers go back to work before their children start school. Instead the decision most parents face is how best to manage the weighing scales of home and work. This is a balance of ensuring the child is happy and getting good quality stimulating care and education, in an affordable setting.

In January the Department for Education published More Great Childcare  which put forward a raft of suggestions on how to reduce childcare costs including changing ratios so childcare professionals could look after more children per adult, introducing childminder agencies, encouraging more graduates into the sector and changing training and inspection frameworks.

The sector reacted strongly against the proposals. In the last six months we’ve been working with the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) to champion the voice of childcare professionals in this debate. As a membership body representing 35,000 nannies, nursery workers and childminders they play an important role bridging the gap between what politicians think and how front line staff actually work.

PACEY has been actively engaging the press, from comments in the national press and blogs on Huffington Post, to appearing on Newsnight. As a collective they have the opportunity to influence discussions in a way that individuals may struggle to do.

But for large membership organisations there is always a challenge in listening to and truly representing the point of view of their diverse membership whose situations vary according to location in the UK, setting or organisation(s) they work with, local politics and individual experience. Representative groups like PACEY can be hugely influential, but only when they can manage the process of talking to their internal audiences (members, staff and volunteers), as well as externally to the press and other influencers.