Hmm. We could speculate that whenever a warfleet from the eventual Federation member cultures slows down to impulse, it wants to deploy a protective screen of small craft, at any era (including those where the small craft are incapable of warp). Their role might simply be to be the first to get blown up by an approaching enemy, thus providing warning. Or, since they are (also?) deployed in the immediate vicinity of the fleet where they can provide no real advance warning, perhaps they rather serve to intercept small kamikaze craft or missiles in a second-to-last layer of defense.
The absence of such craft from Picard's "Redemption" fleet would simply emphasize that this was not a warfleet, not establish that fighters were unavailable or in disfavor in the 2360s.
Fast-moving raiding flotillas of Klingon battle cruisers or Romulan warbirds would be a somewhat different issue...