Flying Start childcare policy take-up jumps by a third

Child health image Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A third more children benefited from Flying Start in 2013/14 than the year before

A target to ensure young children in the poorest parts of Wales have a health visitor and free childcare is close to being met, two years early.

More than 31,000 children joined the Welsh government's flagship Flying Start programme last year, up a third.

But there is still concern at the variation in take-up of part-time childcare for two and three-year olds.

Minister Vaughan Gething said they were "well on the way" to meeting a target of 36,000 by 2016.

The programme is aimed at giving disadvantaged children the best start in life when it comes to health and other services.

It includes more regular contact with health visitors and more support for parents.

The policy was one of the five main pledges by Labour at the last assembly election.

Image copyright Vaughan Gething
Image caption Vaughan Gething opening the new Llangefni centre

New figures on the programme show:

  • A third more children benefited from Flying Start in 2013/14 than the year before (31,322 compared with 23,579).
  • Health visitors saw Flying Start children under four an average of 5.8 times
  • More than 80% of two and three-year olds are hitting or exceeding targets for normal child development
  • 78% of children living in Flying Start areas were fully immunised by their fourth birthday
  • There has been a fall in childcare take-up from 90% to 86% of those eligible due to "specific problems and consequent very low take-up in some local authorities". Torfaen was the lowest with 65%
  • Source: Welsh government

Mr Gething, the deputy minister for tackling poverty, was on Anglesey to open a new Flying Start centre in Llangefni to provide services including part time childcare for 24 children.

It has received £462,500 and from September there will also be drop-in clinics for parents, a pre-natal baby massage group and an after-school club.

Mr Gething said the continued expansion of the service will "enable us to reach a quarter of all children under the age of four", but he wants more consistency in how the programme is delivered.

The Welsh government said free part-time childcare in Flying Start was not compulsory so it expected to see an element of variation across local authorities.

"We do however expect the level of variation to diminish as part of our drive to improve Flying Start outcomes," said the spokesman.

He added that ministers did not expect Wales' health visiting service to be adversely affected by the expansion of Flying Start as more health visitors are being trained and recruited.

Image copyright Welsh government
Image caption Flying Start across Wales has been expanding since 2012

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