MANY parents are still not taking advantage of free childcare, Rotherham Council has warned.
The authority is urging more to take up the places — as a nursery was saved from closure and another was taken over by a national chain.
Childcare providers stayed open through lockdowns but reduced numbers attending put pressure on businesses.
Pollywiggle closed two Rotherham nurseries — The Hall at North Anston and a day nursery in Treeton.
RMBC said it had worked with Lime Tree Nurseries to rescue the former, while national chain Welcome Nurseries stepped in to take over the latter.
Lime Tree founder Zoe Croot said: “Early years childcare is critical for the development of children and is a lifeline for working parents.
“It was important to maintain the provision at The Hall and we worked with Rotherham Council to save the venue as quickly as possible.
“The council has been fantastic and helped us to secure Ofsted accreditation within 48 hours so we could continue to care for the children.”
She added: “The pandemic has been a bombshell for this sector and it has been very difficult as we had to remain open to care for the children of essential workers but our numbers were drastically cut with so many parents furloughed or working from home.
“We couldn’t furlough our staff and we had to increase costs to make sure we could provide a safe, clean environment in the pandemic. The challenge now is that parents still aren't coming back and the risk is that these vital childcare places could be lost.
“More importantly, many children are missing out on valuable experience and lessons. Children born into this pandemic have not been able to socialise with others their own age or experience early years opportunities.
“That will hinder their progression and it is only right that they can have the same opportunities as other children did before.”
Free childcare is available to all three-year-olds and about a third of the borough’s two-year-olds, based on criteria including receiving income support.
Cllr Victoria Cusworth, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We were extremely concerned about the loss of childcare places and are very grateful to Lime Tree Nurseries for stepping in to save The Hall.
“We have some fantastic childcare places available in this borough and we want every parent to take advantage of the free places that are on offer.
“These childcare placements lay solid foundations for the lives of young people in the borough and give them the best possible start in life.
“We have done what we can to support nurseries during the pandemic but we now need parents to give their child the best start possible and make use of the safe, nurturing and valuable spaces that are available.”
Call 01709 822429 or visit www.rotherhamfis.co.uk to find childcare provision near you.