In light of the move towards resumption of the Northern Ireland Assembly, PlayBoard, the lead organisation for play in Northern Ireland, has highlighted a need for the prioritisation of an Early Learning and Childcare Strategy that embeds the value of play at its core.

Work on a draft strategy has progressed over the past two years with PlayBoard and wider stakeholders from across the childcare sector working with Department of Education officials to shape a strategy capable of delivering quality, affordable childcare that meets the needs of children, young people, families and wider society. 

In addition to helping shape the emerging strategy, PlayBoard, as lead representative body for the play-based School-Age Childcare sector, has had a central role in shaping and delivering childcare services since 1995. This has included delivery of the Executive’s Bright Start programme which has focused on building the capacity of the School-Age Childcare sector to meet parental need, whilst delivering quality, developmentally critical play-based childcare support.

Highlighting the need for prioritisation of the Early Learning and Childcare Strategy, Frances Walsh, PlayBoard’s Regional Co-ordinator for School-Age Childcare said:

“Childcare providers in Northern Ireland continue to face significant challenges as they seek to deliver affordable, quality services that meet the needs of children, parents and carers, whilst remaining financially sustainable at a time of continued economic challenge.

The resumption of the Assembly provides an opportunity for MLAs to prioritise completion of the Early Learning and Childcare Strategy, delivering much needed support to a sector that is at the core of children and families’ lives, contributing not only to individual developmental outcomes but to the wider economy and society as a whole.”

In prioritising the Early Learning and Childcare Strategy, PlayBoard is calling on the Executive to recognise that play is at the core of children’s lives, delivering significant benefits in terms of physical health and well-being, learning, skills and social development. 

Access to good quality, developmentally essential play opportunities such as those provided by the play-based School-Age Childcare sector and Bright Start funded groups, must therefore be at the core of an effective childcare system.  

Bright Start School-Age Childcare Services

Since 2014, Bright Start funding has supported the growth and development of the School-Age Childcare sector across Northern Ireland. During this time, the sector has delivered essential play-based after school services, supporting the development of children and young people whilst providing an essential service for working parents and carers.

Bright Start funding is currently in place until the end of March 2024. PlayBoard will continue in our best efforts to highlight the critical importance of Bright Start funding. We are seeking support, not only from Bright Start funded groups and the parents/carers who would be directly affected by the withdrawal of funding, but from all those who believe in the well-being of children and young people across Northern Ireland. 

We are asking you to contact local political representatives to let them know about your concerns and your support for the continuation of Bright Start funding. To support you, template text for use in letters/emails have been developed and can be downloaded below:

NI Assembly – contacting your local MLA