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The early years of a child’s life are critically important. Research tells us this, as does experience. They are important in their own right, and as the foundation for success at school, in making friends and relationships, and for all adult life. Schools, social services, health services, and youth workers do great work in giving children second chances, but wouldn’t it be better if we could help mothers, fathers and all those who care for babies and young children in their foundation years build on their instincts with evidence of what makes a difference and give support where it’s needed?
This Government is committed to giving every child a fair start in life and takes its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child very seriously. We are setting out how we are changing the services available to parents to help this become a reality.
Our vision for the foundation years
The Government wants this country to provide a family-friendly environment for all children to grow up in, where families are welcomed and supported, children are safe, and childhood is celebrated and enjoyed. We recognise that families come in all shapes and sizes, have different needs at different times, and are constantly changing.
Mothers and fathers play the most important part in raising children but many other people make a vital contribution: grandparents and the wider family, friends, neighbours, teachers, and early years and health professionals. We need to value and support all those who make a contribution to helping children grow up healthy, happy and ready to learn. We want to enable families and professionals to have the information, skills and confidence they need to help all our children develop well and fulfil their potential.
We know that high-quality health services, early education, and care for young children and their families make a real difference. The Government’s aim is to put in place a coherent framework of services for families, from pregnancy through to age five which focus on promoting children’s development and help with all aspects of family life. We have increased free early education for all three and four year-olds to 15 hours a week from September 2010, in order to make sure children are well prepared for school. In addition we will:
Our aim is to offer choice for all families, while also providing more targeted help for those in greatest need. We have increased local flexibility, so that communities can tailor the pattern of provision to local requirements while also making sure that all children and families have entitlements to the most important services. Some families may need more support than others to offer their child the best possible start. For children growing up in disadvantaged families, their early experiences can either embed disadvantage, or give them the opportunity to break free of this cycle.
The Government is committed to removing bureaucracy in order to free professionals up to do the job they trained for, so they can spend most of their time in direct contact with children and families rather than on paperwork and form filling. Professionals working in the foundation years have told us that they want the freedom to be able to meet the needs of the whole child, providing the right help at the right time, and recognising the importance of social and emotional development as well as more formal learning. This is vital if children are to be healthy, happy, safe, and successful.
The realities of modern family life mean that services and professionals need to engage with both parents as individuals and together as a parenting team. We will work to remove any barriers that make it difficult for mothers and fathers to choose how they share their parenting and earning roles. The nature of the parenting partnership is changing to reflect the reality and aspirations of both mothers and fathers to share earning and caring roles more equally. High-quality, flexible childcare plays an important part in supporting working parents, including parents with disabled children, so that they can be confident they are making a positive choice for their child.
Giving children the best possible childhood involves all parts of society: it is not something that Government can or should do alone. We want to encourage communities, voluntary groups, businesses, social enterprises and public services to play their part. Businesses selling goods and services to families, employers enabling parents to balance work and family life, and local communities designing public facilities like transport and recreation should all have children’s best interests at the heart of what they do.
What research tells us
There is a growing body of evidence that supports what most parents know by instinct – the early years of a child’s life are critical to their future chances, and what parents and families do makes a big difference. Evidence suggests five critical factors during the foundation years:
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4Children, the national charity all about children and families.
A UK-wide charity providing advice, information and support to the parents of all disabled children.
DadTalk is a community of men championing fatherhood and exploring what it is to be a dad
The Daycare Trust provide advice and information to parents and carers, providers, employers, trade unions and policymakers on childcare issues.
A new website for parents which includes information and advice for families in the foundation years
Information site about looking after grandchildren
Home-Start provides a unique service for families - recruiting and training volunteers to support parents with young children at home.
Pools knowledge, advice and support for parents.
A family of local sites across the UK offering information to mums
The Fatherhood Institute is the UK’s fatherhood think-tank
National charity supporting grandparents and their families. Includes a helpline and advice.