A child's right to play is enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To support this your local council probably runs half term and summer playschemes, giving children the opportunity to play in a safe environment.
Torfaen Play, the arm of Torfaen County Borough Council which deals with these things, delivered summer playschemes across 32 different sites last year. They were attended by around 2000 children between the ages of 5 and 15, plus 140 children and young people aged 5-18 with additional learning needs and disabilities.
These are open access playschemes, which mean children can come and go as they please - staff cannot legally stop them from leaving the site. This also means that they are not a suitable alternative to childcare for parents who are at work.
However in Cwmbran, Cwmbran Community Council also runs summer playschemes and has done for decades. I even went to one myself, many years ago! Last year the Community Council playschemes ran on eight different sites, and were attended by around 1000 children. These schemes are closed access, meaning parents have to book a place and children cannot leave the site. As you can imagine, this has long been a godsend to parents as for £5 per child you got twenty days of summer holiday childcare, from 9:30am to 4:00pm.
Then things hit a snag.
In Wales, childcare settings are regulated by the CSSIW (Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales), in the same way Ofsted regulate in England. So while those closed playschemes, staffed primarily by university students on summer break, were ticking merrily along, CSSIW was bringing in the decision to inspect all childcare settings providing more than two hours of care for children under 8. At its heart this was a move to improve the standards of home based childminders, but the knock on effect went much further.
They inspected Cwmbran Community Council's schemes for the first time in 2014 and were not happy with what they found. [Report HERE.] The volunteers were too inexperienced, all staff needed to be DBS (police) checked every year, not just the first year, and also needed two references before appointment, even if they had worked at the playscheme the year before. Care plans needed to be in place for all children with health problems or on 1:1 provision.
More seriously, at least one member of staff to every ten children needed to be a qualified paediatric first aider. That, in practice, meant all staff would need to be qualified - the cost of which would be more than providing the whole scheme at one of the sites. Staff also needed to be better qualified in general. PICs (Person in Charge, i.e. the site manager) need at least two years experience working in a play setting and possess a level three qualification in either childcare or playwork. 25% of the rest of the staff need at least a level two qualification, then a further 25% need a level three qualification. That don't come cheap - you either train your staff who, you'll remember, tend to be university students who are only going to return once or twice, if at all, or you try to recruit people who are already qualified.
For the peak childcare season when you can't offer any of the perks.
Last year, for the 2015 playschemes, a plaster was stuck over the problem. All volunteers were dispensed with, and children under 8 could only attend for two hours to remove the scheme from the CSSIW requirements. This year that will not be an option: CSSIW inspection will cover all settings delivering more than two hours to children aged under 12 from April 1st 2016.
It's no joke!
There were three real options:
- A drastically reduced number of closed playschemes (two instead of eight).
- Reduce the playschemes from all day to two hour sessions.
- Cancel the playschemes altogether.
The most palatable decision was to reduce the playschemes to two hours, thus relieving them of the CSSIW requirements. This year Cwmbran Community Council will pay Torfaen Play, who obviously have much broader experience, to deliver their new playschemes across 14 different sites - and they will be free because every cloud has to have a silver lining, after all. The full details still need to be hashed out, but it is important to note that the new playschemes, like the others run by Torfaen Play, will be open access.
So children in Cwmbran will still have access to play - but their parents will no longer have access to that cheap source of childcare. You can't help but feel that CSSIW has thrown out the baby with the bathwater.
Have you been affected by the new CSSIW regulations? What is the playscheme provision like in your area?