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Highland parents given hope amid childcare crisis

Ullapool mums Dawn Slaughter, left, Jocelyn Napier and Clare Brown are among the parents fighting for more childcare options in their Wester Ross village.

A new survey to gauge the needs of parents in Ullapool might provide a way out of a childcare shortage.

Following pressure from local parents and MSP Maree Todd, Highland Council launched the survey to find out what types of childcare parents would use. The survey is available online until November 1.

The council is asking all parents to respond to the new Ullapool childcare survey, even if they filled out a similar community survey that parents circulated earlier in the year.

Following the recent loss of childcare provision in the village and failed recruiting drives for more childminders, parents hope the results of the survey make their position clear and finally spur the council into action.

How did we get here?

Two of Ullapool’s four childminders retired at the start of the summer this year. It was a huge blow to a village with around 1,500 people in it.

Many parents said the child care shortage has made life hard for their families. Some are having trouble finding work or returning to existing jobs.

Until recently, there was an after school club in the village that provided care for school-aged children. It was operated by the Care and Learning Alliance (Cala), but it closed last year due to funding shortages.

A local parent group has been trying to convince Highland Council to bring funding for childcare back to their village. But the council has repeatedly said that no extra funding is available.

Attempts to identify needs for now and the future

The parents received a boost during the summer when MSP Maree Todd, who served as the Minister for Children and Young people from 2016-2021, backed their cause. She opened conversations with Cala, Highland Council and the parents and is now encouraging everyone in the area to take the survey.

MSP Maree Todd has backed parents in their fight for more childcare options in Ullapool.

“I’m pleased to see the launch of this survey following the significant loss of childcare provision in Ullapool over recent months.

“I know from conversations with my constituents of the substantial impact on the local community, which has affected many teachers and health care professionals.

“In conducting this survey, I’m hopeful that the Highland Council and partners will be able to identify the current and future childcare needs of the Ullapool community.

Small village, big problems

Issues of staffing and funding have been the sticking point in most negotiations so far, said local mum Dawn Slaughter. She worries that the village’s small size means that the necessary care facilities aren’t seen as profitable.

But that misses the point of the matter, she said.

“Yes, perhaps the (after school club) was running at a deficit but the cost to the local economy of no (after school club) now far outweighs that deficit.

“We need the SNP to put some of the Covid recovery pot towards this because Highland Council have repeatedly made it clear that though they will “support”, they are under no statutory obligation to provide funding.”

Highland Council getting more involved

Ms Slaughter and other local parents hope that the survey means the council is open to taking action. An earlier survey, circulated by parents in April, showed the significant need in the village. 29 of the 40 families who responded said they would be affected by the retirement of the childminders.

Others said that they would use before or after school wrap-around services if they were available. Almost half of the 39 who responded said they would use both.

Ullapool childcare survey
Responses from a parent survey in Ullapool. Supplied by Dawn Slaughter

Highland Council previously attempted to recruit new childminders in the village. The parents felt the attempt didn’t fully explain to potential recruits either the intricacies of the certification process or the support that is available to new childminders.

Still no funding agreed

Throughout this period, the council has said that rural childminding provision is challenging and there is no additional funding available.

After the launch of the survey, a council spokesperson reiterated that there is currently no additional funding for Ullapool. But a collaborative solution could come out of the survey results.

“The Highland Council is engaging with the community in Ullapool to establish current demand for childcare services for children under 3 years, the demand for extended hours of ELC for 3-5s and to establish current demand for school-age childcare.

“The Highland Council is currently meeting its obligation to provide 1140 hours early learning and childcare, with the option for English or Gaelic medium provision and a local partner, providing outdoor ELC.

“There have been productive ongoing discussions with CALA. CALA is taking the lead in communicating with Scottish Government about potential opportunities for innovation in finding rural solutions.”

Local residents can fill out the Ullapool childcare survey online before the Monday, November 1 deadline.

 

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