Minister defends help for struggling families on school holiday club visit
- Credit: Danielle Booden
The children’s minister has defended provision to struggling families during a visit to a children’s summer holiday activity and food club in Norwich.
Vicky Ford paid a visit to St William's Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew to see a scheme that gives children the chance to take part in a range of summer holiday activities and access healthy food.
Some of the summer holiday places are being funded as part of the Big Norfolk Holiday Fun Scheme, known nationally as the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme, are for children who would get free school meals during term time.
The minister met children taking part in forest school activities, including picking raspberries in the school allotment, and was shown a new wildlife garden before joining in a game of kick rounders.
She said: “These activities and food projects have been really important in building kids’ confidence and resilience that will help them when they come back into the classroom in September.”
The ministerial visit had been blasted as being "hypocritical" by opposition councillors and some charities providing help to struggling families.
Labour spokesmen for children and young people at Norfolk County Council, Mike Smith-Clare, said she should see the “appalling realities” for poorer families, not a “chocolate box picture”.
Ms Ford denied families needing help with food was a damning indictment of government policies, adding that the HAF programme was part of a £1 billion commitment to provide extra holiday and after school provision.
“When we offer parents that combination of cheap childcare, free childcare for their kids, plus the food and the fun activities, it is about one in five parents who actually want to take it up,” she said.
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“I think it is so important to recognise that it’s not every parent that will want it but it’s there and available.”
In 2019 Norfolk County Council controversially closed 38 of its 53 children's centres to directly provide services through a new Early Childhood and Family Service.
“When it comes to providing support to families there are lots of different ways that local authorities do that,” said Ms Ford.
“Some use children’s centres but some don’t. I have been championing a family hub model which can be a physical place, but it can also be elsewhere.”