The importance of quality community childcare and the challenges being faced at the moment
Post by Lucie Stephens
Childcare is part of the essential social infrastructure of local communities  but this role is often overlooked or under-developed.
Children's experiences during their first five years of life impacts significantly on their future health, wealth and happiness. High quality, affordable and accessible childcare can deliver for children, for parents and for employers and the wider economy. The first five years of childhood are more pivotal for development, future health and happiness, than any other single moment in our lifetime . High quality care helps all children to build the firm foundations they need. It also narrows the attainment gap between children from low-income households and their more advantaged peers, reducing inequalities and creating benefits that last throughout a child's time in school and beyond . The government recently published it’s ‘Best start for Life’ review, identifying the importance of the first 1001 days of life as critical for building strong societies and identifying support for children and families (including childcare) as essential elements in tackling inequalities. 
Being able to access childcare also removes barriers to employment, particularly for mothers. Affordable, accessible, high quality care enables more parents to balance their work and caring responsibilities, contributing their skills to the workforce and increasing household incomes. Where once early years provision was considered by policy makers to be a choice for families, research by the Nuffield Trust in 2020 found, ‘today’s generation of under-fives is the first in which a majority are spending a large part of their childhoods in formal education and care settings and have parents who are both in paid employment’. 
Access to childcare, due to cost or location is especially difficult for poorer families. Currently the UK’s nurseries are among the most expensive in the world. Annual childcare fee increases are regularly higher than inflation  with fees rising three times faster than wages in recent years. Poorer families are especially impacted. Research by Save the Children found 52% of Mums currently not working would prefer to work if they could arrange good quality childcare that is affordable, reliable and convenient . The Peabody Index published in March 2020 (undertaken prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) found that 1 in 10 of their social housing residents are parents of young children aged 0-5 years old, and two-thirds of them (67%) have found it difficult or impossible to find affordable childcare . These issues have been compounded due to Covid, with childcare provision, especially in poorer areas at risk of large numbers of closures. This threatens to deepen vulnerabilities and inequalities. 
Childcare workers are often poorly paid and undervalued despite the importance of their role. Childcare professionals are some of the lowest paid workers in society. In 2020 the Social Mobility Commission found that ‘one in eight (13%) early years professionals are paid under £5 per hour, while the average wage is only £7.42 per hour. This is well below the National Living Wage of £8.72 per hour’ and much less than the labour market average of £13.27 . 98% of the childcare workforce are female with an annual staff turnover rate in the sector of 24% . We met many mothers who were forced to leave jobs working in childcare themselves because their wages wouldn’t cover the cost of care for their own child while they worked.
Co-produced childcare develops strong partnerships between parents and childcare professionals, to build a ‘family of families’ around each child and the childcare setting. Co-produced childcare moves away from a transactional relationship with parents (who are ‘customers’ or consumers) and into a relationship based on partnership, recognising the important role that parents play in children’s critical early years. At its heart co-production brings together and values as equally important, the different learned experience of childcare professionals and the lived experience of parents and children. Working in this way enables early years settings to connect to all of the wider skills, experiences and resources that exist in their community. Growing this family of families around a nursery supports childcare professionals and enables children and parents to be more resilient and to thrive in their time outside of the nursery.
The OECD has identified a range of social benefits that can be derived from ‘high quality early childhood education and care’, including better health, reduced likelihood of individuals engaging in risky behaviour and strong ‘civic and social engagement’, with positive ‘spill-over effects’ for society as a whole. OECD (2011) ‘Investing in high-quality childhood education and care (ECEC)