500 Free Nursery Places Spark Concern

Toddlers from disadvantaged families in York are to get free nursery places. Under a new initiative, free nursery places are to be given out to 500 two-year-olds in York. The Department for Education and Skills has given £622,000 to City of York Council to spend over the next two years.

Families and children eligible for the free places include:

  • Children of teenage parents
  • Children from large families
  • Single parent families
  • Traveller community children
  • Children from ethnic minority groups

The project aims to provide 7.5 hours of free early learning and care a week for 38 weeks of the year from January 2007 and ensure a framework is established to support families and the children.

York is one of 14 local authorities taking part in the project across the country.

At a meeting of the Children’s Services Executive Advisory Panel (EMAP) on Thursday, councillors will discuss combining the management of this project with an existing project for three and four-year-olds.

Back in September, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in a keynote speech at New Earswick Folk Hall, revealed a major action plan to tackle social exclusion problems in four key groups – children in care, families with complex problems, teenage pregnancies and mental health patients. The Prime Minister said: “This is not stigmatising the child or the family.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation director Lord Best said he would be concerned if the dominant theme for parenting policy was one of compulsion, labelling those participating as future troublemakers. “Targeting families on this basis could prove self-fulfilling if it stigmatises the child,” he claimed. “Compulsion can undermine efforts to extend help to hard-to-reach families by singling them out.”

He also stressed the continuing importance of combating child poverty in tackling exclusion. He said: “The underlying causes of many of society’s problems can be traced back to child poverty and, although the Government is making progress, there is still a long way to go to meet the Prime Minister’s pledge to end it by 2020. Tackling child poverty is as important as addressing the needs of those with complex, multiple problems.”

He said social and economic exclusion were two sides of the same coin, and the foundation had a special interest in ensuring that poorer households were not segregated from the mainstream of society. He said: “Living in more mixed communities ensures the problems of social exclusion are not exacerbated. As with the excellent Sure Start initiative for pre-school children and their families, support needs to be available through mainstream service providers, including the voluntary sector, with greater emphasis on reaching out to the most marginalised families with effective and carefully tailored help.”