Closed petition Issue urgent guidance and voucher scheme to save baby & toddler activity sector

Baby and toddler groups are crucial for the wellbeing of new parents who are desperate for them to return after lockdown. Providers are struggling to reopen due to conflicting guidance. We call on government to issue targeted guidance and a voucher scheme for this overlooked sector.

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So far guidance has covered adult groups and children’s groups, but not 'parent & baby' activities. The advice is conflicting and class sizes unviable, especially with babies included in headcount. Bespoke guidance will enable businesses to return and save new parents from extended isolation.

In addition, smaller covid safe classes will be unaffordable for many parents, while Children's Centres remain closed. A voucher scheme would aid this sector's recovery and support postnatal mental health.

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Government responded

This response was given on 14 August 2020

Government has issued guidance to enable the reopening of community activities including baby and toddler groups and made available a range of financial support available to support businesses.

Read the response in full

The Government remains committed to improving perinatal mental health services for new mothers and their partners. Since April 2019, new and expectant mothers have been able to access specialist perinatal mental health community services in every part of the country. Community health services have continued to provide support during the pandemic through greater use of digital and remote technologies, prioritising higher needs families.

Baby and toddler groups are important community facilities crucial to the wellbeing of new parents. Activities for young children and their families, such as baby and toddler groups, can operate provided they follow relevant government guidance, including guidance for community facilities which are now able to open for the provision of services for children and young people. Guidance on which premises and businesses are legally able to open can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close.

Baby and toddler groups should also have regard to, and where relevant, ensure they are following government guidance on the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-multi-purpose-community-facilities. Ofsted registered early years providers should ensure they are following DfE guidance for early years and childcare providers, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures.

Information on the range of support the government has made available to businesses can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support.

Further information on business support for registered early years providers can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-education-early-years-and-childrens-social-care/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-education-early-years-and-childrens-social-care.

Given the guidance and support that has already been made available to enable community facilities and businesses including baby and toddler groups to reopen, the Government does not believe it is necessary to issue guidance or set up a voucher system specifically for the baby and toddler sector.

Department for Education

Other parliamentary business

Petitions Committee welcomes victory for baby and toddler groups

A campaign by petitioners, including the creator of this petition who gave evidence to a Petitions Committee inquiry, has resulted in the Government updating its guidance to exempt baby and toddler groups from gatherings limits in all tiers.

The Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave heard that parent, baby and toddler groups were vital for the mental health of new parents. In its landmark report, the Committee urged the Government to meet with the sector to ensure necessary support was received.

The Committee wrote to the Government in September when it emerged the lack of clarity within the guidance was forcing many groups to close.

Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell said:

“The recent addition of parent, baby and toddler groups to the list of exemptions from gathering limits in all tiers is a clear, if long overdue, acknowledgement by the Government that they are vital to young families and our society as a whole.

“Our inquiry heard compelling evidence from new parents and experts on how crucial these groups can be for the mental health of new parents, providing support and a much-needed lifeline at such an important time in their lives.

“This addition to the guidance on exemptions is testament to our petitioners and campaigners who worked tirelessly to demand clarity for the sector, and of the power of the petitions system.

“Because of these petitioners’ drive for change, many who otherwise might not have had the support they need will be able to access these groups during what has been, and continues to be, an extremely challenging time for new parents.”

What does the new guidance say?

With the updated guidance now explicitly mentioning these groups, many are now clearly exempt from gatherings limits. The official exemptions in all tiers include:

• Supervised activities provided for children, including wraparound care (before and after-school childcare), groups and activities for under 18s, and children’s playgroups, for formal support groups, and parent and child groups – up to 15 people aged five and older.

• In the guidance for early years and childcare providers, the following exemptions are included:
o Parent and child groups that meet in Ofsted registered settings can operate in all local restriction tiers.
o Groups meeting in community spaces, such as in a place of worship, community centre or library, can operate in all local restriction tiers and should follow COVID secure guidance for the venue.

Read the full guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures#parent-and-child-groups

Read about the Committee’s report here: https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/how-has-maternity-and-parental-leave-been-impacted-by-coronavirus-/index.html

Read the letter to the Government here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/2699/documents/26695/default/
And the Government’s reply here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/2970/documents/28398/default/

Share your experiences of maternal mental health during Covid-19

On Wednesday 10 March, Sarah Olney MP is leading a debate on maternal mental health.

In preparation for her debate, she wants to hear from those who have given birth in the last 18 months. Specifically, she wants to understand the impact of the pandemic on maternal mental health, and whether support services were effective.

She will use your insights to inform the case she puts to the Government, and may quote your story directly during her debate.

Find out more and share your experiences with Sarah here: https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/maternal-mental-health/index.html

You’ll also be able to watch the debate from 2.30pm on Wednesday 10 March on that page.

The debate transcript and other relevant material will be available shortly after the debate.

The deadline for contributions is midday on Tuesday 9 March.

What are Westminster Hall debates?

Westminster Hall debates give MPs an opportunity to raise local or national issues and receive a response from a government minister. Any MP can take part in a Westminster Hall debate.

Please note: Due to covid-19 measures, Westminster Hall debates were suspended from 14 January 2021. From Monday 8 March 2021, Westminster Hall proceedings will resume in hybrid form in a designated committee room. MPs will be able to take part virtually or in person.

Find out more about Westminster Hall debates: https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/debates/westminster-hall-debates/

Stay informed

Follow the Petitions Committee on Twitter for real-time updates on its work: https://www.twitter.com/hocpetitions

Petitions Committee calls for clarity on safe singing in baby groups

The Chair of the Petitions Committee has written to the Government in response to the recent change to Covid-19 guidance about parents singing in baby and toddler groups.

The updated government guidance says that "singing can be undertaken in these settings", but that "it should only be the group leader and children".

In her letter, the Chair of the Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP, expresses concern that this change in the guidance "could severely limit the benefits to parents and children of these classes, cause significant disruption to providers of these classes when they have only just been allowed to restart, and ultimately deter parents from attending classes which they may have signed up for based on different expectations of the services that would be available – ultimately causing them and their children to miss out on the critical support these classes can provide."

She specifically asks if the Government will consider amending the guidance to provide specific clarification for baby and toddler groups on how they could include singing safely in their activities.

Read the letter in full: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/5358/documents/53399/default/

We'll let you know when the Government responds.

Background

Baby and toddler groups were able to restart on 29 March in outdoor settings.

You can read the current guidance for early years and childcare providers here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures/actions-for-early-years-and-childcare-providers-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak#childrens-attendance

You can read the government guidelines on the suggested principles of safer singing here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-suggested-principles-of-safer-singing/covid-19-suggested-principles-of-safer-singing

Previous work by the Petitions Committee on this issue

The Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave heard that parent, baby and toddler groups were vital for the mental health of new parents.

In its report, the Committee urged the Government to meet with the sector to ensure necessary support was received.

Read about the Committee’s report here: https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/how-has-maternity-and-parental-leave-been-impacted-by-coronavirus-/index.html

The Committee previously wrote to the Government in September last year when it emerged the lack of clarity within the guidance was forcing many groups to close.

Together with the hard work of petitioners, including the creators of this petition, the Government updated its guidance to clearly exempt baby and toddler groups from gatherings limits.

Read the letter to the Government here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/2699/documents/26695/default/

And the Government’s reply here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/2970/documents/28398/default/

What is the Petitions Committee?

The House of Commons Petitions Committee is a cross-party group of MPs that looks at e-petitions submitted on petition.parliament.uk. It is independent from Government.

Find out more about the Petitions Committee: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/326/petitions-committee/

Follow the Petitions Committee on Twitter for real-time updates on its work: https://twitter.com/HoCpetitions

Watch a short video about how petitions work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGEOraE08Jk

Petitions Committee calls for further clarity on updated guidance on safe singing in baby groups

Petitions Committee Chair Catherine McKinnell MP has written to Minister for Children and Families Vicky Ford MP to ask for further clarity regarding guidance on safe singing in baby and toddler groups.

In the letter dated Tuesday 27 April, Catherine McKinnell asks the Minister to clarify recently updated Government guidance on how singing can take place safely in baby and toddler groups during the covid-19 pandemic.

Read the Committee’s latest letter: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/5697/documents/56154/default/

This request for further information follows the Minister's response to an earlier letter from Catherine McKinnell calling for clarity on the original guidance, in light of concerns that it limited parents’ ability to take part in these activities. Some parents were worried that many young children might be less likely to take part in, or experience the full benefit of, these exercises without encouragement and participation from their parents.

Read the Government's initial response: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/5696/documents/56151/default/
Read the Committee’s original letter: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/5358/documents/53399/default/