CHILDCARE for up to 22,000 children in Wales could be under threat after government funding for before-and-after school clubs was slashed.
Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs will only receive £400,000 instead of the £1m funding from the Welsh Assembly Government, which has helped to set up 1,200 before-and-after school and holiday clubs for children.
Thousands of working families across Wales rely on the clubs, which provide early morning and afternoon childcare.
But the 60% cut in funding will mean Wales first-ever independent organisation for the development of out-of-school childcare will have to slash the amount of support it can offer.
Wendy Hawkins, director of Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs, said continued support for childcare clubs was essential now, as initial funding to set the clubs up is coming to an end.
She said, "As we will only be getting 40% of our funding, we will have to lose two-thirds of staff across Wales.
"Because the New Opportunities Fund money has come to an end, clubs are now perhaps more in danger of folding than ever before, but the very support they need is being taken away from them.
"We have been given money by the Welsh Assembly Government for the last three years to develop and support out-of-hours childcare.
"We will only have 40% of resources at a time when these clubs are wanting more support - we just won't be able to give it."
The funding blow comes after Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that more money would be poured into schemes for children in deprived areas and to create an extra 10,000 childcare places, earning him the title of "childcare champion".
And, during a visit to Gabalfa Primary School in Cardiff, last week, he outlined his commitment to good quality childcare, saying that ensuring British children have the "best start in life" would be a legacy to match the creation of the NHS in 1948.
Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids was formed in October 2001 to develop and support out-of-school childcare clubs in Wales - it has since set up 1,200 for children aged three to 14.
The organisation also plays a crucial role in helping to expand the capabilities and qualifications of the carers and workers in the childcare clubs, through promoting courses, training and support in order that they gain further qualifications.
Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru's Shadow Environment Minister and a long-time advocate of quality childcare, said, "This cut would be disastrous for childcare provision, particularly in some of the most disadvantaged communities across Wales.
"It might affect the ability of some parents to combine work with caring for children, and thus risks increasing child poverty.
"We will use all the methods at our disposal in the Assembly to get this cut reversed."
A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly Government last night said that Assembly officials will be meeting representatives from Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids Club later today to discuss current funding arrangements.
She added that the new health minister, Dr Brian Gibbons, had asked for a report on the outcome of the meeting and would consider the situation in due course.