Image copyright PA Image caption Many three and four-year-olds will be entitled to 20 hours free childcare a week on top of the existing 10 hours early education provision

Every parent in Wales will have access to free childcare for their three and four-year-olds by early next year.

The policy had received criticism because it was rolled out in some areas in September 2017 and others would not benefit until 2020.

But the Welsh Government has said it now plans to have it rolled out nationwide by April 2019.

It means parents will get 20 hours free childcare on top of the existing 10 hours of early education provision.

The move was called "groundbreaking", with the Welsh Government saying it is aimed at "reducing the strain" and ensuring childcare is not a barrier to parents returning to work.

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Media captionParents share their experiences of paying for childcare

Currently, the scheme is only fully available in eight of Wales' 22 local authority areas and partially in six.

But following criticism of how some families were benefitting while others missed out, it is set to go nationwide sooner than planned.

"We've always been clear this will be a phased roll-out," the government spokesman said.

"However, we recently increased the pace of roll-out, which means by January, 18 local authorities will be delivering the offer, with the remaining four local authorities coming on line on or before April 2019."

By the new year, it will be fully available in Denbighshire, Wrexham, Flintshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport and Monmouthshire and parts of Powys.

Then in April, it will be rolled out across Bridgend, Vale of Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire and fully across Powys.

Image caption Calls have been made for care providers, councils, education watchdog Estyn and parents to work together to make the scheme a success

To be eligible, both parents must be working and the childcare provider needs to join the scheme.

Louise Macken, who runs Footsteps Day Nursery in Welshpool, Powys welcomed the move.

But she added: "If it is done in the way that it ought to be done.

"With nurseries compensated adequately, parents are aware of what is expected and what their child is accessing, and the county is able to provide the resources, training courses and what's necessary for nurseries to be able to provide those 30 hours."

She called it a "massive change" which should be implemented slowly to ensure all organisations were working effectively together.

This was echoed by Cerys Furlong of charity Chwarae Teg, who said the scheme faced a number of challenges.

"It may not be reaching those who need it the most, and the age for eligibility may mean that support comes too late for parents to get back into work," she said.

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Matt Slape and Fiona Davey, from Newport, have two children and plan to use the scheme when three-week-old Ophelia is old enough.

"It means that when Fiona returns to work we can benefit financially and not be spending the bulk of the money on childcare," Mr Slape, 32, said.

"If we use 12 days a month at £42 a day that means we are saving £504 a month. That would mean Fiona could go back to work full-time rather than part-time."

Charlotte Harding, who runs the Welsh Mummy Blogs website, said: "It will make it far easier for a lot of families.

"At the moment it works out cheaper for mums to be stay-at-home parents rather than go out to work."

She also said it would help single mothers who rely on the benefit system because they cannot afford childcare to go out and work.