The move is aimed at helping children from poorer homes get a good start in life. Early results are looking good.
Besides those who qualify through national criteria, Lancashire County Council is also funding places for children with additional needs, traveller children, and children of serving armed forces personnel.
Eligible children can get up to 570 free hours of childcare per year, up to a maximum of 15 hours a week, over at least 38 weeks per year.
Lancashire County Council has supported a small but growing number of funded places for two-year-olds since 2009, and positive outcomes have been reported for both parents and children.
Now the government has brought in the scheme nationally, which means local authorities must ensure there are places for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
Bob Stott, Lancashire County Council’s director with responsibility for early years, said: “ We were one of the first authorities to pilot free places for two-year-olds, and the results have been very encouraging.”