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Flagship early years programme needs to reach more children in need, says Assembly committee

An Assembly committee says the Welsh Government's flagship Flying Start programme needs to reach more children in need.

Credit: PA

The programme provides services to children under the age of four in some of Wales' most deprived postcode areas. It is cited as one of the Welsh Government's top priorities in tackling child poverty.

The committee says that a significant change is needed if the flagship Flying Start early years programme is to succeed in reaching out to those in most need of support.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee found that more flexibility is needed so that funding can be used to help children who live outside existing Flying Start areas.

The programme has four key elements.

  • free part-time childcare for two to three-year-olds
  • an enhanced health visiting service
  • access to parenting support
  • access to early language development support

With nearly two thirds of people who are income deprived living outside geographical areas that are defined as deprived, the Committee heard that a significant number of children living in poverty were likely to be excluded from Flying Start support.

Credit: PA

The Welsh Government has provided funding of more than £600 million to Flying Start since its creation in 2007. The committee says it is concerned that there is limited hard evidence at this stage to show that children and parents supported by the programme have experienced improved outcomes.

We welcome the hard work of those delivering Flying Start services across Wales.

Nevertheless, with the majority of children living in poverty falling outside defined Flying Start areas, we believe that more flexibility is needed to allow the programme to reach those most in need.

We also believe that more needs to be done to demonstrate the benefits of the programme, and we welcome the Welsh Government's assurances that it is looking at different ways to show the direct improvements Flying Start is making to the lives of children and families in Wales.

We will monitor this work closely, and believe it to be particularly important given the large amount of money invested in this programme annually, with just under £80 million allocated in this financial year alone.

– Lynne Neagle, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee

The Welsh Government says it welcomes the committee's report.

Giving children the best possible start in life is a top priority for us.

Flying Start is a key early intervention programme, helping to improve the life chances of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas in Wales.

In 2016/17 more than 37,600 children benefitted from Flying Start services and we will continue to support as many families as possible through the programme.

– Welsh Government Spokesperson