FEARS have been raised that families who access free early learning and childcare in East Renfrewshire could be stigmatised.

Councillor Caroline Bamforth expressed concerns about a new scheme to raise the amount of free hours for eligible two, three and four-year-olds from 600 to 1,140.

Eligible families whose children attend the Arthurlie and Isobel Mair Family Centres, as well as Braidbar and Busby Nurseries, are set to benefit from August.

It’s the first phase of the project, which is expected to be fully extended across the local authority by 2020.

Despite describing the scheme as “fantastic”, Ms Bamforth said: “I’m a wee bit worried about stigmatising some children.

“In some areas, Giffnock for instance, 

I wonder if people will think ‘their parents are on benefits, that’s why they’re getting it’.”

Under the plans, criteria has been put in place to identify children who are eligible to benefit until the expansion is fully implemented.

Protected kids and those with additional support needs will be able to access the additional hours. Children in some deprived areas whose parents are on Income Support, Jobseekers’ Allowance and other benefits will also be eligible.

Also qualifying for the scheme are youngsters learning English as an additional language, as well as those whose parents are returning to training or work.

Janice Collins, head of education services, said the scheme would be managed “sensitively” to avoid stigmatising families.

The council has been awarded more than £12million to invest in the scheme up to 2021.