Nicola Sturgeon announces new flexible childcare policy and review of the care system
Nicola Sturgeon - Image credit: Aimee Wachtel/Holyrood
Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the Scottish Government is to consult on more flexible options for free childcare places.
In her closing speech to the SNP conference, themed around inclusion, the First Minister revealed the Scottish Government is proposing what she called “radical new approaches to prioritising choice and flexibility” for childcare.
Parents will be consulted on to two proposals that would give them more control over options for state-funded free childcare hours.
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The first would see parents allowed to pick a nursery or childminder of their own choice, with the local authority funding it, as long as the provider meets agreed standards.
A second option would be for parents to be given free childcare hours funding through individual childcare accounts and purchase the childcare directly, a system similar to self-directed support for social care.
The latter option was suggested by Children in Scotland’s Childcare Commission.
At the moment local authorities decide what free childcare places are offered to parents and parents have to pick from the places that are available.
“Councils work hard to be flexible, but often the places offered to parents are not where and when they need them,” Sturgeon said.
In her speech, Sturgeon also announced an independent “root and branch” review of the care system.
Looking deeply moved, she listed a number of statistics relating to children in care: only six per cent will go to university, nearly half will suffer mental health issues and make up nearly half of the prison population.
She added: “Worst of all – and this breaks my heart – a young person who has been in care is twenty times, twenty times, more likely to be dead by the time they are 25 than a young person who hasn’t.”
The SNP leader said she had had accepted the Who Cares? Scotland challenge to listen to 1,000 care leavers over the next two years.
Their feedback will shape the independent review, which Sturgeon highlighted was something no other country had done before, and which will look into “legislation, culture, practices and ethos” in Scotland’s care system.
“Children don't need a system that just stops things happening to them - they need one that makes things happen for them, a system that supports them to become the people they can be,” Sturgeon said. “One that gives them a sense of family, of belonging, of love.
“My view is simple: every young person deserves to be loved. So let’s come together and make this commitment: to love our most vulnerable children and give them the childhood they deserve. That's what inclusion means in practice.”
Key policy announcements from Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP conference closing speech:
- A four-point plan to boost Scotland’s trade and exports, including a new board of trade in the Scottish Government, a new trade envoy scheme of prominent Scots to boost export, a permanent trade hub in Berlin to add to those in London, Dublin and Brussels and a doubling of Scottish Development International staff across Europe
- A national consultation on childcare, with two proposals, either that parents be allowed to choose a nursery or childminder that suits them and the local authority has to fund it or that parents can receive funding into a childcare account and purchase childcare directly themselves
- The baby box scheme included in the SNP manifesto to be piloted in some areas from New Year’s Day and rolled out to every newborn from next summer
- An independent review of the care system in Scotland for looked-after children
- Increasing spend on primary care to 11 per cent of the frontline NHS budget by the end of this parliament, meaning an extra half a billion pounds for primary care by 2021
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