by Stacey Dingwall
Despite the numerous opportunities to do so during the last few years, disengagement from participation in the electoral system in the UK remains an issue. At the start of the year, trust in the UK government had fallen to 26%. Ed Williams, the chief executive of Edelman UK, who published the survey findings, suggested that they were a result of the general public feeling let down by the “system”. This sentiment has been identified as one of the key reasons last year saw the vote to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. People have grown tired of elected leaders who they feel don’t understand or listen to them.
So who do people listen to? Recent survey evidence suggests that people are more likely to listen to ‘people like me’ – particularly in a world dominated by social media – rather than place their trust in institutions. Evidence has also highlighted the benefits of peer support, which involves people drawing on their own experiences to help others in similar positions make decisions. An evidence review by NESTA of the different types of peer support available found that the support is valued by those who take part and that it can improve how people feel and what they do.
10 years ago, the Family and Childcare Trust received funding from the government to coordinate six month Parent Champion childcare pilot schemes in Camden, Newham and Tower Hamlets, after it was found that a lack of awareness among parents about the availability of childcare was the reason behind low take-up. The schemes were run from children’s centres, with volunteers working as Parent Champions who talked to other parents in the community about their experience of childcare services and encouraged them to make use of what was available.
Coram’s evaluation of the first year of the schemes found that Parent Champions were effective in communicating with parents and encouraging take-up of local services. More than half of the referrals given by Parent Champions to their peers were taken up, and just under half began to use the recommended service regularly. It was noted that parents responded well to the fact that the Parent Champions were “someone like them” and experiencing the same challenges.
A decade on, there are now 49 Parent Champion schemes in operation, through which the Family and Childcare Trust estimates it has reached 15,000 families. There are now plans to expand the initiative into Wales and Scotland, and develop a scheme specifically targeted at refugee and migrant families.
One of the reasons it’s so important to increase the take-up of childcare services is the impact that childcare has been shown to have on children’s educational attainment. Closing the attainment gap is an issue that’s been prioritised by both the UK and devolved governments, and something we’ve frequently covered on the blog over the years.
In September, working parents of three and four year olds in England will become entitled to 1,140 hours of government-funded childcare per year, equivalent to 30 hours per week over 38 weeks of the year. As well as increasing maternal employment rates, the government has stated that a key focus of the policy is to try and close the attainment gap between children from deprived backgrounds and their peers. However, as the Education Policy Institute pointed out in its assessment of the impact of the entitlement, it’s difficult to see how this might be achieved as parents on the lowest incomes won’t actually be entitled to the increased entitlement.
Therefore, it’s clear that schemes that work to ensure that parents are accessing everything they’re entitled to are essential. Parent Champions have had demonstrable results – the Department of Education published statistics last year which showed that 72% of disadvantaged two year olds were now accessing their free early education entitlement, up from 58% on the previous year. With estimates that only just over half of parents are clear about what support is available to them with regards to childcare, it’s plain that they still have some work to do.
If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in our other articles on childcare
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