I wish to update the House on two important changes the Government are making to childcare.
I have today laid a new statutory instrument, the Childcare (Disqualification) Regulations and Childcare (Early Years Provision Free of Charge) (Extended Entitlement) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. This SI, which will come into force on 31 August 2018, makes important changes to improve the fairness of the childcare disqualification arrangements and extend 30 hours free childcare to children in foster care.
The childcare disqualification arrangements are an important part of the strong set of safeguards we have in place to ensure the safety and welfare of our children and young people. These arrangements apply exclusively to individuals working in childcare in schools and the private and voluntary sectors, up to and including reception classes, and in wraparound care for children up to the age of eight. These arrangements build on the safeguards provided by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) regime, which all schools and early years childcare providers must operate.
Under the arrangements, any individual who has committed an offence, or who is in breach of other criteria set out in legislation, is prohibited from working in these settings. The arrangements also include provision that disqualifies an individual from working in childcare because of an offence committed by someone who lives or works in their household, known as disqualification by association. This means that a member of staff is unable to work in childcare even though they themselves have not committed a relevant offence.
Disqualified individuals can obtain a waiver from Ofsted against their disqualification. Employers must suspend or redeploy the individual until a waiver is granted, as individuals who are disqualified cannot work in childcare without an Ofsted waiver. This provision has unfortunately been widely misunderstood and a number of individuals have been redeployed or suspended unnecessarily. Consequently, the disqualification by association provision is having a detrimental impact on employers and employees, as well as family life. It is also having a negative impact on the rehabilitation of offenders.
In response to widespread concerns about the disqualification by association provision, the Department for Education undertook a public consultation on options for its reform. We were most grateful for the near 450 responses received. The responses to the consultation largely reiterated the earlier concerns. The consultation strongly favoured reform, and the majority of respondents advocated the removal of disqualification by association in non-domestic settings.
Making new regulations enables us to address these concerns, by removing the disqualification by association where childcare is provided in non-domestic settings, where other safeguarding measures are well observed and followed. The disqualification by association provision will however continue to apply where childcare is provided in domestic settings, where it provides an important safeguard.
We are supporting the changes we are making with new statutory guidance. This will reinforce existing messages about the importance of employers undertaking safer recruitment checks and provide them with advice on how they can manage their workforce in the absence of the disqualification by association component of the arrangements. The Department for Education will also continue to provide a helpline and mailbox to employers and employees to help them with the arrangements.
The Government are also extending 30 hours free childcare for three and four-year-olds to children in foster care. This is a key Government early years policy, and foster families should have access to the same support and opportunities that all families have.
This Government’s ambitions for children during and after being looked after are the same as for any other child: that they have access to good health and wellbeing, fulfil their educational potential, build and maintain lasting relationships and participate positively in society. The role of the foster parent is central to achieving those high ambitions for the children in their care. Fostering provides stability, a home and an alternative family. Children in foster care want to feel part of a family and have a normal family life. We need to support foster parents and local authorities in a way that achieves that. That includes foster parents being able to work outside their caring responsibilities, where it is right for the child.
The SI I have laid today enables us to realise those ambitions, by allowing children in foster care to receive 30 hours free childcare where the following criteria are met:
That accessing the extended hours is consistent with the child’s care plan, placing the child at the centre of the process and decision making, and
that, in single parent families, the foster parent holds additional employment outside of their role as a foster parent; or
that in two parent families, both parents hold additional employment outside of their role as a foster parent.
The SI makes it clear that the eligibility of children in foster care will be determined by the responsible local authority.
We are supporting the changes with new statutory guidance and operational guidance. These will provide local authorities with detailed guidance on how they can discharge their duty to secure 30 hours free childcare for children in foster care, and ensure that the additional eligibility criteria are met.
Copies of the SI, our statutory and operational guidance documents, and the Government’s response to the consultation on changes to the childcare disqualification arrangements will be placed in the House Library.