Universal Credit and Childcare

Universal Credit and Childcare

Vulnerable families do not always use free childcare even though we know that early years education can be hugely beneficial for them . Suffolk County Council’s Family Information Service has a system in place to promote the take up of entitlement by Children in Need. This blog will demonstrate how the FIS has developed a procedure to ensure that all Children in Care (looked after children) attend their funded early education place at two, three and four years, including those in foster care and with special guardianship arrangements. It is a requirement of the Childcare Acts 2006 and 2016 for councils to offer a childcare brokerage service to help vulnerable families find a childcare place for their child. There are a range of barriers which may prevent or limit access to early years education, including a lack of confidence on behalf of parents to engage with local services. 

Childcare brokerage practices have developed in Suffolk over the past decade based on the Family Information Service’s research study completed in 2011, which showed that offering a childcare brokerage service to vulnerable children improved the take up of childcare entitlements. The recommendations of this research were supported by senior managers, councillors, and the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board.  The childcare brokerage service uses information from various databases to identify those vulnerable children not attending a childcare place, and it proactively follows up with the professionals working with those children to encourage take up. The Early Years and Childcare Brokerage Officer holds regular briefings with the relevant social work and early help teams so they are aware of the benefits of the entitlements. The support offered through the service includes contacting suitable childcare providers and accompanying parents to child support activities. 

By comparing the council’s local figures to the annual early years census, take up amongst vulnerable children remains below that of the whole population. There are a number of known reasons for this including the instability of some foster care and special guardianship arrangements. To address this the council offers Childcare Support Funding to pay for additional hours of care to supplement the early education entitlement, which helps prevent foster care and special guardianship arrangements breaking down. Suffolk Family Information Service encourages social workers and early help practitioners to document which childcare providers the children are attending on their case management database. The council’s Financial Inclusion and Advice Service and Family Information Service will provide training for council staff so they understand the impact of Brexit, Universal Credit and other childcare benefits on early years entitlements to ensure that (as far as possible) take up is maximised by vulnerable children. The work is multifaceted and there is much to consider with this approach, including complying with the relevant data protection laws. However, Suffolk County Council’s experience demonstrates that a proactive childcare brokerage service to target known families is an effective method of improving the take up of childcare entitlements by vulnerable children.