Early Years Strategic Alliance

CHILD POVERTY (Maire)

  • The draft strategy makes no reference to child poverty/the poorest children. Its focus and emphasis is on ‘areas of disadvantage’, with particular associations to Sure Start – which though progressive and beneficial is limited in its scope both in terms of geographical area and age range.
  • Given the introduction of the Child Poverty Act 2010 and the current work being undertaken by OFMDFM on the development of the Child Poverty Strategy there is no recognition of the statutory obligation on the Department to contribute to the Executive effort to reduce and eradicate child poverty in line with the Child Poverty Act. Nor is there any acknowledgement of Lifetime Opportunities Government’s Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Strategy for NI, which in adopting a lifecycle approach to tackling poverty contains a focus on the early years (0-4).
  • Current research is indicating that the impact of the proposed cuts will disproportionately impact on those least well off and by extension children. Lone parents and families with children are likely to have their income reduced by as much as 20% with the proposed reduction in benefits, implementation of higher VAT rates and the likely rise in unemployment.
  • Most recently in reviewing implementation of the UNCRC in the UK and NI the Committee on the Rights of the Child while welcoming increases in expenditure on children, noted its concern that the increases were not sufficient to eradicate poverty and tackle inequalities. The Committee also noted that the lack of budgetary analysis and child rights impact assessment make it difficult to identify how much expenditure is allocated to children.

CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES (Paschal)

  • Early intervention and the inclusion of children with disabilities
  • Collaborative and partnership working across sectors (area based planning, assessment of need, delivery, role of specialist agencies, professionals)
  • Contribution to and links with other strategies (eg SEN and Inclusion, Bamford Action Plan, and Speech, Language Communication Therapy Action Plan, Welfare Reform White Paper, Child Poverty Act, Early Years Strategy, Childcare Strategy, policies around NEETS and Skills Strategy – Need for joined up thinking/statutory requirement to co-operate.

COMMUNITY CHILDCARE (Kyra)

  • The real sense on the ground is that the draft strategy is focused on statutory pre-school provision for 3-6 year olds (with the exception of Sure Start). The strategy must look to support vulnerable families with children aged 0-3 living outside of the Sure Start areas
  • Importance of acknowledgment and recognition of the role and contribution of the women’s sector and community childcare sector – disappointing that this is absent from the draft strategy.
  • DE must prioritise investment in the early years and in particular address the historic under-investment in early years education.

SURE START (Joy)

  • Need for strategic vision and the integration of early childhood education and care which has proved in other jurisdictions to improve children’s outcomes and counteracts child poverty (the original vision for the strategy was integrated early years and child care).
  • DE must pro-actively take forward their role as lead Department for Early Years
  • Need for demonstrable actions to support integrated services, examples of gaps within Sure Start context – pregnancy, non group based provision such as home visits/family support and physical infrastructure including Children’s Centres
  • Transitions and age range of Sure Start
  • DE must undertake an Equality Impact Assessment of the draft strategy as a matter of urgency this requires direct engagement with children and their parents and families. The DE must allow adequate time for meaningful engagement.

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