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Call 17: Prioritise integration, support for families and participation to give children the best start

By Sally Cavers and Anthony O'Malley

The early years are a collective responsibility

Scotland is fully signed up to the importance of investing resources in a child’s early years – we see this in our laws, policies and funding priorities, writes Sally Cavers. But now we need to make sure that every child and their family really does get the very best start and early childhood, and that these benefits are sustained through to their adolescence.

We are calling for progress in three key areas – integration, support for families and participation – where we want to see a faster pace of change.

As required under our legislation, we need integrated children’s services from pre-birth. This means organisations, governance and structures have to be aligned around meeting children’s and families’ needs rather than bolted on to arrangements that are designed for other purposes, such as health and social care for older people.

We believe that the diverse workforce in children’s services in the early years must be better integrated to fulfil Scotland’s laws and policies. An early years workforce action plan that brings together a shared, training, development and qualifications framework with a unifying regulatory and professional body, and equity in terms and conditions and parity of esteem across the range of disciplines within the early years will strengthen the workforce. This is the single intervention most likely to transform outcomes in the early years.

We need services planned around a child’s learning and development journey. The welcome investment in early learning and childcare (ELC) must ensure alignment and effective transition between services to allow for the needs of children and their families to be best met. The transition from ELC to school should be smoother and we should consider raising the school starting age to maximise the welcome development of ELC.

Integration for children with additional support needs and for their families is essential for their wellbeing. They are particularly dependent on services based on effective partnerships that share collective responsibility.

The goal of reducing the poverty-related attainment gap must be sustained. But broadening how this is achieved beyond schools is essential. Policy and practice must support the broad foundations of a child’s life, providing nurturing services that are developed alongside the families they aim to benefit. Looking to wider support for children and families within their communities is vital –families benefit from this but so will early years settings, schools and their staff.

From a very early age, children can and must contribute powerfully to how services for them are run, and this must be transparent and accessible to all children. In the early years this can be daunting for practitioners, but it should be supported. We are confident that a sea change in participation and engagement is underway and will become the norm for our next generations.

Children in Scotland has been fortunate to have led on projects such as CHANGE: Childcare and Nurture Glasgow East (see below), and Food, Families, Futures, which instigate and test how things can be done differently to make a lasting change. Working with an extraordinary range of partners has been key to making these projects a success.

We are also pleased to support Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland in the North-East of Glasgow and in its planned expansion. Local child-focused community approaches are a development that we think will make the most of Scotland’s national and local commitments to strengthening communities with children at their heart.

We are in no doubt that nationally we have an achievable vision and the commitment needed to secure happy and healthy lives for of our youngest children.

The first question we should always ask communities is: what do they need and want?

CHANGE: Childcare and Nurture Glasgow East has been working with communities in the East of Glasgow since October 2016, writes Anthony O’Malley. The project, with funding from Big Lottery Fund, was set up to test some of the recommendations made by the Commission for Childcare Reform in 2015.

We have spent considerable time talking to families who live in the area about what needs to change in order to support their access to childcare. This has enabled us to develop a solid foundation that ensures we keep the needs of the community at the heart of our work. It was not a surprise that families initially spoke about how much childcare costs and how difficult it can be to get a place that meets their needs. However, a key factor that enhanced families’ access to and experience of childcare and other services working with children, was the relationship between families and professionals. This sometimes undervalued element was often one of the first things people shared about their experience.

One grandparent told us: “Every wean that comes in that door in the morning gets a hug or a big hello”, while a dad using out of school care said: “The biggest thing for me is that my daughter loves being here. It’s the relationships she builds with the staff...she loves spending time with them.”

We are fortunate to be working with professionals with a deep understanding of the importance of nourishing relationships. As Geraldine Millar, head of St Paul’s Primary in Glasgow, told us: “If my children are worried about a problem and it’s affecting them then there will be no attainment in my school – unless I sort this out for them. You need a relationship with a person so they can trust and respect you.”

There are many highly-skilled professionals like Geraldine out there working to improve children's lives. This might include the staff at their nursery or out of school care. It might be a childminder, a respite service or a local play service providing drop-in sessions. Ultimately, it’s these professionals whom we are entrusting with the task of supporting children during this formative stage. They need our backing. This willingness among the community of professionals to drive forward changes to improve the lives of families is a common theme. Many childcare providers have thrown open their doors and welcomed the support CHANGE offers. They are experiencing a period of transformation on an unprecedented scale. The planned expansion of Early Learning and Childcare for 2020 means registered services have ever-increasing demands placed upon them.

Supporting children and their parents and carers during periods of family difficulty has become second nature to many of the services CHANGE works with. During our Family Voices work we heard from a kinship carer who was grateful for support offered by a nursery, saying: “You just need to go to that office door and say, ‘I’ve got a problem’...problem solved.”

This goes beyond registered childcare. We know there are many third sector organisations working just as hard to ensure that children in their early years have access to the support they need to thrive. These services, typically offering activity sessions free of charge, are building meaningful relationships and creating a network of support for families with young children. It's essential we value their work.

If we want to continue to provide the best support to children during their early years, consideration needs to be given to how professionals interact with and show solidarity to each other. The CHANGE Hub, led by Alison Hay, brings together organisations working with families in Glasgow East to share ideas, concerns, good practice and innovation. The aim is to lead change at a local level by creating a template for the future which will reduce barriers to accessing childcare. Current tests of change are underway to support services to access low cost quality food options and increase uptake of holiday provision.

Children in Scotland and the CHANGE project team want to support this vision of creating a better environment for children to grow up in. We need to use what we have learned about relationships to shape the future of early years provision in Glasgow East and further afield.

It would be a pointless exercise to develop these services without first considering what the community wants. This can be achieved through engagement that works locally and by encouraging embedded participation from children and their adult care-givers. This approach allows projects like CHANGE to be directly influenced by communities.

In essence, people are the experts in their own lives and have been able to tell us that simply ‘more’ childcare is not the answer. If we want to provide the best start in life, we need to provide support to quality services working in an integrated manner with our youngest and most vulnerable children. If this is what we work towards then we will have a chance of creating lasting change across the early years sector.

Follow #25Calls to see which organisations have endorsed this call.

General Comment 7 – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: '...the Convention on the Rights of the Child is to be applied holistically in early childhood...'; 'States parties [should] construct a positive agenda for rights in early childhood...'

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United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

General Comment 7: "...States parties should construct a positive agenda for rights in early childhood."

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