Early years support services 'out of reach' for millions of families, report says

Tory cuts have left kids under five grappling with undiagnosed disabilities because of a lack of access to early years services.

Katie from North Devon felt disconnected when her child turned one, as she couldn’t access help from professionals and noticed delays in her child’s development.

“It was very worrying.

“I could see that he was delayed and behind where other kids his age were.

“I would take James to see the paediatrician and we would be seen for five minutes and told to come back in a few months.”

James went through several assessments before being formally diagnosed with autism.

She told the Mirror: “I didn’t know anyone who had a child with severe additional needs and I had no idea where I could go for support.”

It comes as a report from Action for Children reveals 4.3 million parents of young children in England have been unable or are struggling to access vital support for their child despite needing help.

More than three quarters of parents were unable to access a service say they are worried about the impact on themselves or their child.

Parents polled recognised the need for support during these vital first years to help give their children the best start in life, with 4 in 5 (79%) wanting greater access to early years help, and 69% believing more investment is needed for all early years services.

New mum Taylor Smith from Malvern, Worcestershire was pregnant during lockdown, which made it difficult to access the usual support.

She told The Mirror: “I wish I knew exactly what I was entitled too. It’s just quite difficult trying to get direct support.

“When I had Ava, we were still in lockdown so we couldn’t mix with others. I would have liked to have gone to more baby groups to meet other parents and see how they are with their children.

“I’m a first-time mum so sometimes I’m not sure if what I’m doing is right and I really needed somewhere that I could meet others and share experiences.

“I’m worried that if we go into another lockdown, it will undo the progress Ava has been making. The support from the group has really made a difference for both me and Ava and I don’t know what we do if things shut down again.”

© Getty Images/iStockphoto Parents unable to get support for their kids under five worry about their child’s social and emotional development

The charity is calling on the Government to use October’s spending review to give parents a guarantee of minimum services they should be able to access.

Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years said: “Working parents are under huge pressure every day as a result of the Conservatives’ failure to deliver high quality, affordable childcare for all.

“Chronic underfunding has seen vital children’s centres disappearing, childcare costs soaring and nearly 3,000 early years providers close during the first half of 2021.

“It’s time for Ministers to put the needs of families first and ensure parents can access vital early years services which set children up for life.”

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Family life has been hugely disrupted since the pandemic hit and today’s report shows vital lifeline services which were already stretched, may be ‘out of reach’ for most parents, leaving them to struggle alone.

“We know from our own frontline services that helping families as early as possible is more effective in the long-run so investing in high quality centres and hubs in every community should be a core part of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda.”

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