The call comes following a meeting of some of the country’s top play practitioners at the 13th National Playwork Conference, which saw a steering group of play experts, including Adrian Voce, create a list of policy priorities for the playwork sector.
Playworkers want political parties to make playwork qualifications essential to working in holiday schemes and after-school clubs as well as making the planning and provision of children’s play a statutory duty.
In addition, they believe area-wide strategies for free play should be created through Public Health England working with local authorities.
Voce said: “These are long-term calls and it depends who wins the election. Under the last government we had a £235m play strategy for three years with a longer-term commitment for a 10-year plan and ahead of that we had a £155m lottery programme. We are in a very different era now but by all accounts the recovery is under way.
“We are getting some messages out so that the parties don’t forget about play because everybody was supportive of developing a more strategic approach to children’s play only five years ago and it has almost disappeared off the policy map altogether.
“We are saying, hang on a minute, children have not gone away and if they were the sort of measures that were needed five years ago, then evidence suggests they are still needed, and the playwork sector can help to get play back on the policy map.”
Last year, a CYP Now investigation revealed the extent of cuts to local play facilities, budgets and staff, despite research showing play has benefits for children’s health and development and is cost effective.
According to Ali Wood, a member of the steering group, play services have taken a “hammering” over recent years.
She said: “The government promised a new approach to play policy but there had been none and the progress of the previous decade has gone into reverse, with too many local authorities making deeper cuts to play provision than to other services.
“There is plenty of evidence that free play is vital to children’s health and wellbeing, and survey after survey makes it their own top priority.
“It is time politicians stopped making children pay for the financial and economic mishaps of the adult world and to honour their obligation to protect their right to play,” she said.
Earlier this month, research by the playworkers’ steering group also revealed more than 95 per cent of practitioners were interested in a new playworkers body.