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Flying Start is leading to improvements
Supporting children, particularly in the early years, is a priority for the Welsh Government and in the current climate it is vitally important that we continue to prioritise the needs of the most disadvantaged and protect the most vulnerable against poverty and marginalisation.
Many of the factors that influence poverty directly and immediately are outside our control, but one of the main areas where we can have the biggest impact on poverty is by providing support for children and their families particularly in the early years.
Flying Start is the Welsh Government’s landmark programme which supports families with children up to four years old that are living in some of Wales’ most deprived communities. It has come a long way since the pilot programme six years ago and now operates in all 22 local authorities, with 18,000 children under the age of four and their families benefiting.
The programme encompasses free part-time childcare, parenting support, intensive health visitor support and support for early language development. It supports families to look after their children’s health, working in partnership with primary and community healthcare.
Parenting support helps parents to understand and cope with their children's needs and manage their behaviour positively. Working in partnership with other agencies means a whole-family approach can be implemented and all of the parents’ needs can be met by professionals.
There has been an on-going evaluation of the impact Flying Start is having and we know that delivering services in this way is starting to have a real, positive impact on children. Flying Start is leading to improvements in language and cognitive development; emotional and social development; and parental engagement. There is early evidence to suggest that Flying Start parents are seeing positive changes in their child’s behaviour and that their confidence as a parent has increased. And when they go to school children who have benefitted from Flying Start services are ready to learn and are more confident at mixing with other children.
There is also much anecdotal evidence to support the findings of the evaluation. I have seen for myself the impact Flying Start is having and I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of Flying Start settings such as the Butterflies childcare setting in Blaenymaes Primary School in Swansea, which I visited recently. I have met many parents and heard for myself the difference Flying Start is making to the lives of young children and their families. Their stories are quite remarkable and I am proud that the Welsh Government has had a part to play.
The success of the programme led to the Welsh Government re-affirming it’s commitment to supporting children in the early years and our intention is to double the number of children benefitting from Flying Start, from 18,000 to 36,000 by 2015. To do this we have allocated an additional £74 million to support its expansion. Some of this will be used to develop the infrastructure needed to deliver Flying Start services in the new areas. Across every local authority in Wales from Llangefni in Anglesey, to Aberporth in Ceredigion and Sirhowy in Blaenau Gwent, new childcare settings will be created and parents will be able to access the help and support they need.
Our increased investment in Flying Start is an exciting opportunity for us to build on all this good work right across the country. We can make a real difference for children and families.
Our efforts to prevent poverty start with targeting investment to give children the best possible start in life and early intervention makes sure that children have the opportunity to learn, develop and play. Those pre-school years are crucial to a child’s development and it’s essential that we identify and deal with any potential issues that can arise during this time to prepare children for school and later life.
From conception through to early adulthood, our aim is to reduce inequalities at the earliest possible stage and break the link between socio-economic disadvantage, educational underachievement and the impaired life chances that this can lead to.
The Welsh Government’s Tackling Poverty Action Plan sets out a clear national agenda for how the Welsh Government and our partners can prevent poverty in the long term as well as helping people out of poverty and mitigating the impact of poverty. It is not only Flying Start that is supporting some of the most deprived communities across Wales; there is also the continuation of the Communities First programme and through ongoing development and implementation of Families First and Integrated Family Support Services.
The best way of supporting children, particularly those living in poverty, is by working with the whole family. Early intervention and support can reduce the likelihood of families developing more complicated and costly needs.
Through multi-agency cooperation and the delivery of innovative services, we hope to improve the lives of families sooner to prevent more complex issues arising. Together, these programmes link up to promote access to services and make them more widely available to disadvantaged families and communities.
We are already seeing the rewards and there are encouraging early signs that the Welsh Government programmes are having a real impact on families in these tough economic times.
Gwenda Thomas AM
Deputy Minister for Social Services