Childcare Gap Risks New Generation Of Latchkey Kids

Britain is at risk of producing a new generation of latchkey kids because parents of older children are struggling to find suitable care for them, a report warns today.

{mosimage}It says just one childcare place is available for every 200 children aged 11 to 14, and argues that they are becoming the overlooked age group – unable to access the childminders used by younger children or the youth clubs enjoyed by their older teenage siblings.

Still Home Alone, produced by the charity 4Children, also warns that the problem will worsen next year under changes to the welfare rules.

Lone parents will need to seek work when their youngest child turns 11, five years earlier than under the current rules.

It argues that councils and youth services should work with schools to provide activities at the end of the day and over holidays, urging the government to back such schemes with start-up funds of around £20,000. It also calls on the government to offer long-term funding in deprived areas, where parents may be too poor to pay for after-school clubs.

According to the last census, there are about 4 million children aged between 11 and 14. But official estimates suggest there are only about 20,000 childcare places for this age group.

That suggests that most parents count on the help of friends and family, since the report says that 80% of mothers of older children are in work and 75% of parents believe children of this age are too young to look after themselves.

“If you look at the welfare to work [reforms], there’s a very big gap between what’s needed and what’s provided,” warned Karen Buck, Labour MP for Regent’s Park and Kensington North, who is backing the report. The change to welfare rules would affect up to 650,000 children if all the parents newly seeking work were successful.

“There’s been real progress on the under-fives agenda and I welcome the investment coming in through youth clubs. But there’s an age gap between formal childcare and youth provision – it’s the missing piece of the package. By 10 or 11 years old, people don’t quite regard themselves as children and may resist the idea of a childminder, but may not be ready for a youth club. Working parents really do need to know that their children are safe.”

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, added: “With little after-school support available for children of 11 to 14 and research showing this is a time when children can go off the rails, it seems unfair that parents are often left to juggle the difficult balance between work and their family life unaided.”

The report is sponsored by Napo, which represents people working in the National Probation Service and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

It argues that better services would also reduce risky or antisocial behaviour.