A childcare expert has warned that local authorities may not be able to meet the requirements of new early years legislation themselves.
Last month, the Scottish Parliament passed the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, a package designed to “transform” services for our youngest citizens.
As well as the heavily publicised increase in pre-school education for three and four-year-olds from 475 to 600 hours a year, the Bill also makes extra provision for vulnerable two-year-olds.
The new rules, which come into effect in August, will mean all two-year-olds considered as ‘looked-after’ and those who come from workless households will also be entitled to the 600 hours of childcare.
Now, Maggie Simpson, chief executive of the Scottish Childminding Association, has said the change in the law could have a significant impact on councils if they try to meet the demand solely in their own establishments.
She estimates that, in areas such as Falkirk, 15 per cent of households have looked-after or vulnerable two-year-olds.
However, that figure then jumps to around a quarter of homes when tots from workless families are included.
Mrs Simpson told The Falkirk Herald: “This is a significant number of two-year-olds, and I would question if there is even the capacity for these children at the council’s current pre-school centres and nurseries.
“Unless, of course, Falkirk Council is intending to build some new nurseries.”
The chief executive said she was hopeful the local authority would enlist the help of partners to help them cope with the increase in demand for early years services.
And she argued that Falkirk’s 200 qualified childminders would be a more suitable option, particularly for two-year-olds.
She said: “I agree that for three and four-year-olds, the local authority pre-school establishments are good options – they work very well and have done for some time.
“But if we are talking about two-year-olds, then we have to look at what is most suitable for their needs which are completely different – even things like nappy changing would be required.
“We need to remember that two-year-olds are not included in Curriculum for Excellence which covers three to 18-year-olds.
“I would be disappointed if Falkirk Council did not consider working with local childminders to cope with this change.
“This is all about the flexible delivery of care to meet the requirements of the new legislation.
“The council must ask for parents’ views, and I hope the next time parents are surveyed, Falkirk Council will ask parents what they want and they need for their children.”
This week, a Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “The government’s initial plans for extending childcare provision to 600 hours per annum included two-year-olds who were being looked after or were subject of a kinship care order.
“In Falkirk, many of these children already receive some support within our establishments.
“The government recently announced it would be extending this provision to include those two-year-olds from workless households.
“We are currently assessing how many two-year-olds fall into this additional category to assess the potential increase in demand and to consider how it can be met.”