Accessing school age childcare in rural and island areas: research

This report looks at the existing models of childcare in rural and island areas, the challenges parents face accessing childcare, and challenges providers face delivering childcare.

6. Opportunities and best practice examples

Key points

Many opportunities exist, both in Scotland and internationally, to address the challenges parents and providers experience in rural and island areas. These opportunities centre on increasing the flexibility of childcare models, greater financial support, and increased community collaboration.

Greater flexibility, as in increasing flexible childcare options, could include the use of flexible hours, flexible booking/payment models, or pop-up provisions. Such options have been successfully trialled in rural and island areas.

Greater financial support could involve extending funded places in childcare to school age children, and fostering partnerships with private businesses. One provider interviewed is already piloting subsidised spaces in partnership with a local company.

Our findings suggest that community collaboration is key to provision in small rural and island communities. Increasing community collaboration could link providers with other funded services in rural and island such as leisure centres, environmental services, and wellbeing services.

6.1 Introduction

Although there are many challenges to accessing and providing accessible and consistent school age childcare in rural and island areas, our research also found a number of key opportunities that exist already within Scotland. This chapter explores these opportunities and benefits for both parents and providers. The chapter also sets out a number of examples that represent 'best practice' for these opportunities.

6.2 Greater flexibility

6.2.1 Flexible hours, booking and payment models

Flexible hours, the ability to make and cancel bookings at short notice, and options of ad hoc agreements, could all better meet the needs of rural and island families with irregular seasonal and shift-based working patterns.[38] This is especially true where informal childcare from friends and family is not an option.[39]

Flexible options could make school age childcare more accessible for those with non-standard working patterns, increasing demand for providers. It could also make childcare more affordable by only charging parents for time used, and reduce parents' barriers to employment and/or education.[40]

However, it is important to note that, as flagged by several providers in our interviews and in other research,[41] flexibility can mean additional costs for providers. For this reason, flexibility may need to be paired with other initiatives that would offer financial support.

Many parents from Na h-Eileanan Siar and Shetland require even more flexibility due to the nature of their working schedules (mainly those working in the oil and gas industry). We suggest that pilots for trialing flexible hours, booking and payment models be conducted in these two areas. Pilots to explore this option must be worked with and tailored to the requirements of the local community.

Best practice examples

Hame fae Hame[42] and Flexible Childcare Services Scotland (FCSS)[43] are two examples of providers that have successfully introduced various flexible elements to their services. The Scottish Government’s Access to Childcare Fund supported Hame fae Hame to develop and test a more flexible model of school age childcare in Shetland. The service has been able to offer flexible childcare services for children aged 12 months to 12 years. The service has flexible hourly rates, as well as no charges for holidays or sick days. Flexible Childcare Services Scotland (FCSS) also offers flexible hours, pay per hour rates, no upfront costs, drop-off and pick-up services, home-based and mobile crèche options.

Internationally, the Australian Government introduced The Child Care Flexibility Trials[44] to address the challenges faced by Australian families with non-standard or variable work hours. It tested flexible models of childcare, including extended hours, short notice bookings, and flexible cancellations. Though only a trial, the project demonstrated how flexible childcare can benefit families with non-standard childcare requirements. There was particularly high uptake for some providers of initiatives around flexible cancellations and extended hours, some of which were adopted by providers on a longer term basis.

The experiences of these providers suggests that potential elements to consider for future pilots include:

  • flexible and extended hours (including during holidays),
  • pay by the hour,
  • no charges for holidays or sick days,
  • flexibility in cancellation, or
  • ad hoc booking.

6.2.2 Pop-up or travelling provision

Another opportunity that could help some families and providers is flexibility of location. In areas with highly dispersed communities and low numbers of providers, pop-up or travelling providers, which move location, could address gaps in childcare by region, and by season. This type of model is already working in some rural areas, as one informal provider we spoke to found.

While offering travelling childcare would not be suitable for parents who need consistent daily childcare, it could be beneficial for parents in need of holiday care, those who need temporary ad hoc care, or parents who want to use childcare on an occasional basis for the social benefits.

Explorations of this opportunity should also consider that although this model benefits parents, it still does not ensure consistent demand for providers.

Best practice example

In London, the Westway Trust runs a pop-up community crèche for organisations in need of temporary childcare for children aged 3 months to 8 years old.[45] The Trust is a partnership between several organisations whose missions focus on enabling parents to work or carry out their normal routine while their childcare needs are met. The scheme is not for profit, has flexible fees based on the type of organisation worked with (with cheaper rates for voluntary organisations), and creates flexible employment for local people who need work that fits around their own childcare needs.

6.2.3 Flexible employment

Another consideration is that providing flexible childcare options is only a partial solution to the barriers parents face accessing childcare.[46] Flexible or 'child-friendly'[47] working arrangements with employers are also necessary to remove barriers to accessing childcare, and barriers that parents (though especially mothers) face when trying to access employment. Formalising flexible working could also remove some of the stress and anxiety associated with the casual/informal flexible working arrangements some parents have in place.

6.3 Greater financial support

6.3.1 Extending funded places

Extending funded places to include school age children, could reduce financial barriers to accessing and providing childcare.

This could reduce short term and long term barriers to employment and education created by lack of access to childcare. It could also make services more economically sustainable, enabling providers to offer greater provision to their communities.

Extensions of funded places could be piloted in remote small towns with childminders. Several parents pointed out that childminders are the most suitable option for areas that are remote, as they have a smaller, and more dispersed population. In these areas, other providers such as day care centres or after school care providers are less likely to economically succeed. Pilots to explore this option must be worked with and tailored to the requirements of the local community.

Best practice examples

This type of model has been successful in Norway, where there is no gap between the end of parental leave and the start of entitlement to childcare.[48] In 2011, the benefits of this were reflected by 83% of mothers with children aged one to two being in employment.[49]

Explorations of this opportunity should consider how to avoid exacerbating the fears of certain providers, as discussed in Chapter 5. Improved communication, further consultation, or co-designing future strategies with providers are areas to consider.

6.3.2 Partnerships with private business

There is an opportunity for large local employers/corporations to support parents and providers through subsidised childcare arrangements, either directly, through providers, or by providing funded spaces for employees.

The assumption is that this could make childcare more affordable and accessible for parents by reducing the cost. It may also create greater financial security for providers and their staff, due to more consistent demand, better stability, and the ability to plan services ahead of time.

Businesses may also create staff security for employers of parents and carers. By reducing barriers to accessing childcare, parents and carers would be less likely to limit their hours or stop working in order to meet their childcare needs.

Best practice example

Only one provider interviewed has started to pilot subsidised spaces in partnership with a local company, so further research is required to explore this option in more depth.

6.3.3 Subsidies

There is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to provide subsidies to childcare providers during periods of low demand.

We anticipate this could help keep providers economically viable when numbers are low, and able to maintain their usual staff levels and opening hours. It may also stem the feedback loop between inconsistent demand and a decline in provision discussed in Chapter 5, and enable providers to offer greater flexibility in their services, reducing barriers to parents' employment.

According to the Improving our understanding of child poverty in rural and island Scotland' report, other benefits would include the "harder to measure but vitally important outcomes" of addressing population decline in rural and island areas, and supporting the attainment of young children.[50]

Other subsidies around transport, rent, and facilities could also benefit providers.

6.4 Increased collaboration

Many providers highlighted that having local support and good relationships with the wider community was important for them to successfully provide childcare.

Figure 2 shows the range of actors involved in childcare in rural and island areas that came out of our survey and interviews, and how they connect. It is divided into four sections: actors which provide childcare, actors which use childcare, actors which support childcare, and actors which fund childcare. It shows the many connections between actors, and illustrates the kinds of collaborations providers have regarding staff, facilities, scheduling, transport, and training, among other things.

Figure 2. Map of System Actors
A flow diagram shows the relationships between childcare users, childcare funders, childcare providers, and supporting organisations in Scotland. Black arrows show the one or two-connections between them.

There are opportunities for supporting greater collaboration with other funded services in rural and island areas - some of which already provide informal childcare - such as leisure centres, swimming pools, environmental services, and wellbeing services. This in turn could help provide a 'blended' or mixed model, where a group or partnership of providers shares the delivery of childcare. A toolkit for mixed models has already been devloped in England.[51] Blended models might also include sharing facilities or staff to operate childcare provision.

We anticipate that blended models of childcare could offer a wider range of opportunities for school age children, and the reliability, stability, and qualifications that formal childcare providers offer. Blended models may also ensure a more even distribution of provision throughout the year, and help with retention of staff through employment partnerships. They could also provide additional support needs services at previously non-specialised providers. They may also help with resourcing of Gaelic speakers in informal childcare provision.

Many providers have arrangements with other community services (around rent, food, fundraising, training, facilities, and scheduling) to support their operations. Others are members of wider local and regional groups which collaborate around community needs. This means that networks could already exist in other areas, and be used in future pilots.

Best practice examples

The Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT)[52] successfully works with other community groups, as well as local and national government, to provide a range of collaborative community services - one of these includes school age wraparound childcare.

In Morayshire, the Action for Children employability scheme[53] is trialling partnerships between childcare providers and local employability or careers schemes. These partnerships may be beneficial to providers for recruiting and retaining staff, as well as parents looking for work.

6.5 Outdoor learning

Rural and island areas have the particular advantage of having open spaces, access to forest, rivers, hills and the sea as the ideal landscape for outdoor learning. Building on the existing advice in the Scottish Government's 'Out to Play' practical guidance,[54] there is an opportunity for increased provision of childcare in outdoor settings.

Childcare in outdoor settings fulfills many parents' preferences for childcare, as it provides more varied activities and experiences than traditional sports-based options which are common in rural areas. It can also cater to children's interests, as current outdoor provision is often child-led. Outdoor learning is also educational and offers opportunities for learning, although is not an extension of school.

For providers, fully outdoor provision can be cheaper to run and a more viable option in rural and island areas. Lack of, or reduction in, costs from rent and utilities, makes it more economically sustainable to run a service with a smaller number of children. We suggest that future pilots in areas which suffer from a lack of available and affordable spaces, focus on outdoor learning.

6.6 Conclusions

Many opportunities exist in Scotland and internationally to address the challenges parents and providers experience in rural and island areas. These centre on increasing flexibility of childcare models, greater financial support, and increased community collaboration.



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