Many parents of babies or toddlers (or parents-to-be) will be unaware of how the patchwork provision of childcare in Scotland will affect them until they experience it first hand. Few families have it easy where childcare is concerned. The road ahead is littered with ‘surprises’.
For parents who wish or need to return to work after having a baby, the first surprise is that in areas where there is high demand for childcare, you may have to register your baby before they are 3 months old to secure a nursery place in a private nursery when maternity leave ends. This is because in Scotland there is no continuity between statutory maternity leave ending and childcare provision beginning.
Parents who elect to place their baby in a nursery that has ‘partnership funding’ in the hope that childcare costs will become cheaper once their child is eligible for a government-funded place may be surprised to learn that in many local authorities partnership places are allocated annually – there is no guarantee that your child will receive funding when they turn three. Even if the nursery maintains partnership status in that period, because most local authorities only use private nurseries to ‘top-up’ inadequate council provision, a family may find that one child in a nursery gets a funded place while another does not. It is a lottery depending on how many places the council decides to award that nursery.
It might seem like a good idea to switch to council nursery provision as soon as the child is eligible and a number of families do try. However, parents who work (or wish to return to work) are finding that there are too few suitable council places available. Most councils offer half days which are not appropriate to a working family’s needs. There are few year-round extended hours places (from 8.30am – 6pm). Congratulations if you get one of these: you’ve won the childcare lottery.
Under these circumstances, for those who work a place at a private nursery is a necessity, childcare entitlement or none. Some families perform a stressful juggling act where they employ childminders – or family members (for those lucky enough to have them nearby) – to collect their children or transfer them to another childcare establishment while they continue working through the day. Some parents split care between two or more providers during the week in order to access their entitlement or simply because the childcare provision in their area is so inadequate.
We believe it is unfair that some families are able to access a ‘universal entitlement’ while others cannot.