Barriers to accessing early years services for children

Tuesday 21 September 2021
Young children playing in ball pit in nursery assisted by three workers

Far too many families struggle to access early years services. We’re calling for the government to change this

At Action for Children, we know just how crucial the early years are. It is crucial that families are supported during this time: to help children’s development, improve parent and child wellbeing, and keep families safe.

Non-childcare early years services are essential to giving children the best start in life. However, this vital support is too often overlooked by policymakers.

We wanted to find out more about the types of support parents need during this time, and their experiences accessing it.

Read our report

What we did

We surveyed just over 2,000 parents of 0 to 5s in England between June—July 2021, to find out about their experience of using early years services.

We also added questions to Opinium’s omnibus survey of adults across the UK, which ran in July 2021.

What we found

  • Parents want early years support: nearly 3 in 5 parents (59%) said they had used more than five services.
  • Too many parents are struggling to access services: 82% of parents had either been unable, or struggled, to access a service.
  • The most common barriers to accessing services were that services were not available, or that it was unclear how to access them.
  • More than three quarters (78%) of parents who had been unable to access a service said they were worried about the impact of that on themselves or their child.

What needs to change

With the family hubs agenda and Early Years Healthy Development Review, the Government has a huge opportunity to improve things for the youngest children and their families.

We’re calling for the government to establish a minimum service guarantee of the early years services families should be able to access in their local area.

This will not be possible without key building blocks, which include:

  • investment through the upcoming Spending Review;
  • clear information and outreach;
  • a consistent outcomes framework for 0 to 5 services, supported by inspection and regulation.