The Scottish Government has announced the date for the nationwide roll-out of its baby box scheme.
New Childminder Best Practice Standards Revealed
Nicola Sturgeon has announced a new best practice standard for childminders as parents demanded answers about how the Scottish Government's flagship pledge on childcare would be delivered.
The First Minister has pledged an expansion in free childcare if the SNP are voted back into power next year, almost doubling the number of hours eligible youngsters receive to 1,140 a year over the course of the next parliament.
Campaign group Fair Funding For Our Kids, however, claimed about 26,000 extra nursery places would be needed for that to be fulfilled.
Council nurseries, private nurseries and childminders currently provide the government-funded childcare all three and four-year-olds and some vulnerable two-year-olds already receive.
Jenny Gorevan, of Fair Funding For Our Kids (Glasgow), said an estimated one in five youngsters were missing out on the current entitlement and added: "How will the First Minister deliver this new, bigger promise if she cannot even give children what they are entitled to now?''
Ms Sturgeon announced that as well as increasing the amount of hours available, the best practice standard for childminders would "ensure parents can rest assured that their children are in the best possible hands''.
While all childminders have to be registered and inspected, they do not have to have any qualifications to gain registration.
But in future it is expected the new training and induction course, which will be developed with the Care Inspectorate, will be completed by childminders before they register.
Ms Sturgeon said: "We are absolutely committed to ensuring Scotland is the best place to grow up, with every child given the best chance to succeed and with raising attainment a key priority.
"Childminders play a vital role in children's development, which helps to reduce social inequality and close the attainment gap.
"They will be central to our ambitions for a massive expansion of early learning and childcare in the years to come.''
The First Minister, who visited a childminder in Edinburgh, added: "At present, childminders are not required to undertake any training or even induction.
"As recently highlighted, well-trained, supported and suitably qualified staff are fundamental to improving quality and have a key role in addressing our most entrenched problems of poverty, poor health and poor attainment.
"That is why, alongside the commitment to increasing the level of entitlement to free early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours per year, we will also ensure that the provision which will be offered is of the highest possible quality.
"These new standards will help drive up quality and ensure parents can rest assured that their children are in the best possible hands.''
Ms Gorevan said: "The First Minister is right to put childcare at the heart of next year's elections. But right now the Scottish Government says it guarantees 600 free hours childcare per year to every three and four-year-old and we estimate as many as one in five kids are missing out.
"We added up all the nursery places in Scotland. If every single place was used to meet the First Minister's 2020 promise there would still be a shortfall of around 26,000.
"The most basic sum tells you the 2020 promise needs a minimum of 650 new nurseries and 3,250 new nursery staff from nowhere within four years.
"That is before you factor in variations in demand, staff retirement, geographical spread, parents wanting to pay for two-year-olds not eligible for a free place and so on. The real numbers are likely to be much, much higher.''
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